The Grand Canyon marks a milestone this week — 100 years since it was designated part of the US National Parks Service. Here are five things to know about the world's most famous hole in the ground.
1 It wasn't always grand
Before it was considered grand, the canyon was once considered big and annoying. One of the first North American national wonders to be discovered by Europeans, the Grand Canyon was a hindrance to travel — its vastness offering no passage by water or land. In 1857, Lt. Joseph C. Ives took a steamboat up the Colorado River in search of what the Spanish called the Big Canon. After his steamboat hit a rock and sank near Black Canyon, Ives travelled to the inner gorge, briefly touching the South Rim. The explorer went on to make a very infamous proclamation on the gorge: "The region is, of course, altogether valueless . . . after entering it there is nothing to do but leave."
However, with the advent of geology, scientists started to see there was value in the Grand Canyon after all — artists were also drawn to the landscapes. Then-president Teddy Roosevelt added further value — and nationalism — to the mix, declaring it "a natural wonder . . . absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world".
2 It's extremely popular
Despite the slow start, the Grand Canyon is now one of the most visited national parks in the US. An estimated 5.9 million people visit it every year, according to the national park service. That's quite a far cry from the 44,173 who visited in 1919, the year the park was created.
3 It has a vast history
The Grand Canyon was carved out over 6 million years, created by geological activity and erosion from the Colorado River. It's easy to see why it's become one of the most studied landscapes in the world — it holds extensive fossil records, a multitude of geologic features and rich archeological history. The oldest human artefacts found in the canyon are nearly 12,000 years old, dating back to the Paleo-Indian people. Since that time, the park has been continuously used and occupied. It also contains an estimated 1000 hidden caves — and only 335 have been recorded and even fewer mapped. Only one of these caves is open to the public — the Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa.
4 You need to plan ahead
If you visit, you'll need to plan your trip well in advance as due to the park's popularity, accommodation and dining options are often booked out. There are five lodges within the Grand Canyon and these take reservations a year in advance — some even offer a lottery system for bookings. The popular El Tovar Dining Room at the Phantom Ranch is also worth reserving ahead — guests at the ranch can make dinner reservations 90 days in advance, while visitors not staying at the ranch can reserve 30 days in advance.
5 It can be expensive
If you can't get a booking in the park, the nearby small town of Tusayan has accommodation options, but can get very expensive. To save money on your hotel, make sure your trip doesn't coincide with the American school breaks. Arrive prepared and bring the things you might need while you're there so you don't have to buy them in the town — think food, water, sunscreen, first aid equipment and hiking gear. Although there are many tours and attractions around the Grand Canyon that cost money, simply exploring on your own time is free. Camping within the park is also fairly inexpensive and a great option for the more adventurous traveller — however, you'll need a backcountry permit for all of the campsites in the Inner Canyon. As with all accommodation here, you'll want to apply for this well in advance. There's also a commercial campground in Tusayan, 11km south of the Grand Canyon Village, as well as a Forest Service campground 3km south of Tusayan in the Kaibab National Forest.
From New Zealand, fly to either Las Vegas, Nevada, or Phoenix, Arizona.