The Colorado River from the south rim

The Colorado River is so far away from the rim that it can be hard to pick out amongst the folds of rock. A 400 mm lens brings the river and the bottom of the Canyon into clear view. In the middle of one of the most famous and heavily visited places in the world, one gets the sense that it can feel rather isolated and closed in down there. Upstream from the National Park, the river is held back by Glen Canyon Dam. Built in 1963, the dam created Lake Powell and an extensive recreation area. For the Grand Canyon the dam has had the effect of controlling the waters of the Colorado River. No longer does the river rage or shrink at the behest of nature, instead its flow is now determined by man.

View north from South Rim

A photograph from our first ever visit to the USA. It has faded a little but is still worth showing. The National Park is huge, nearly half a million hectares (1.2 million acres) in size but it is very difficult to get a true sense of its scale. Early morning or evening light helps by creating shadows that can emphasise the depth and width. Even here, miles from any large city, pollution can be a major problem, on a bad day robbing the eye of the distant detail that helps to define the scale of the canyon. This day in October 1981 was not especially good for pollution so while the canyon itself is reasonably sharp the hills on the horizon are distinctly fuzzy.

The Grand Canyon from south rim

The view was much clearer when this photograph was taken in 1993 enabling the colours to be picked out in the rocks even in the far distance. At its widest, the canyon is 29 kilometres (18 miles) wide so if you are visiting, hope for a very clear day.

Grand Canyon - South Rim

It is not the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon in Peru is claimed to be twice the depth and the Copper Canyon in Mexico is 300 metres/1000 feet deeper. Even so the view of the Grand Canyon can be breathtaking especially when the light is right.  On a clear and sunny day, preferably when the sun is not too high, the stark walls of the canyon and the deep shadows in the folds of the rock give you a real sense of its scale.  A National Park since 1919 and now also a World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon is at  its deepest 1829 metres (6000 feet) deep and it is 446 kilometers (277 miles) long. This page covers the canyon  from the South Rim and there is another  page covering the North Rim views.

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The Grand Canyon & Colorado River

This picture was taken from the more South Rim, the most popular route through the National Park. The North Rim is higher at over 2440 metres (8000 feet) above sea level and is rather less accessible. The lower elevation of the South Rim means that is able to stay open year round. Along the South Rim drive the Colorado River runs along the southern side of the canyon and as shown in this picture it can be glimpsed from many of the viewpoints even though this part of the canyon is very deep.

The Grand Canyon & Colorado River from south rim, AZ, USA
 The Grand Canyon, looking north from South Rim
 The Colorado River from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ, USA
 The Grand Canyon from south rim, AZ, USA
 Grand Canyon Railway steam locomotive No 18, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, USA

Grand Canyon Railway locomotive No 18, Grand Canyon Village

Most people drive to the Grand Canyon, but you can arrive by vintage train. The Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams on the Interstate 40 to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Railroads in Arizona were built primarily for transporting ore from mines, but this line had the distinction of being built in 1901 purely to carry tourists and supplies to support tourism. Declining traffic forced the closure of the line 1968, but was renovated and reopened in 1989.

The watchtower at Desert View

The drive along the South Rim you encounter a succession of stops to see the canyon from different viewpoints. At the eastern end of the drive is Desert View where you can climb a 1932 re-creation of an ‘Ancestral Puebloan tower’ to get a better view, although the benefits of getting an extra 21 metres (70 feet) higher above canyon that is over 1800 metres deep are not immediately obvious. Here you will also find the obligatory snack bar and tourist shop.

 The watchtower at Desert View, Grand Canyon, AZ, USA
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- Although it is not the deepest canyon in the world, its steep bare rock sides make it very spectacular.
- There are plenty of overlooks giving different views of the canyon.
- The canyon is very wide and pollution, often from California, means that you will be lucky to have a really clear view right across it.
- The South Rim is not a place for quiet contemplation of its grandeur. It is very busy and you are unlikely to have an overlook to yourself.
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