Looking down from above is the way most people view the Grand Canyon. It’s a stunning view initially, but after a while the outlooks all begin to look the same and you want to experience the canyon more interactively. You can take a long, tiring hike down into the canyon. Or, if you have a day and want to see the canyon up close and personal, you can take a day trip down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.
Two rangers at the South Rim had told me there were no day trips into the canyon; the only way down is to stay at the hotel at the bottom, or take a multi-day rafting trip through the canyon. However, I discovered that is not entirely accurate. You can take day tours within the canyon – from the lesser explored West Rim.
I was fortunate to discover a jeep tour that takes you in through the West Rim down to the Colorado River. A trip into the canyon is a great way to explore canyon, and it provides a different view of the canyon – this one from the ground up and up close and personal.
My tour was through Grand Canyon Old West Jeep Tours, which operates out of Williams, AZ. It is expensive, but it was a different way to experience the Canyon and I was getting tired of the sameness of the views from above.
There were 25 people on the tour along with our driver Scott and our guide Carol. They first bused us in a small coach to the “landing site”, but there was plenty to do on the way. En route, Carol gave us some information on the area:
- Kaibab (as in the Kaibab Forest) is Paiut for “inverted mountain”, i.e., the Grand Canyon.
- Kaibab National Forest is the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world.
- The FAA was created as a result of a fatal crash of 2 jet airliners over the Grand Canyon in the 1950s.
- Arizona was formed as a result of volcanic activity, so cinder is mined here, but there is also an earthquake fault line.
- People own the land, but other people may have the grazing rights to the land. Landowners (such as Carol) can fence off any areas they don’t want cattle on. Carol said they had to fence off some areas because cattle ate everything, like tarp, rope and roofs.
Our drive went through Seligman, “The Birthplace of Route 66” and our first stop was at Grand Canyon Caverns, which aren’t in the Grand Canyon nor affiliated with it. I’ll get to those in a later post.
After those interesting but unrelated detours, we arrived at the “launch point” on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, where we were assigned to jeeps – four jeeps in all.
The Havasupai own the only drivable road into the Grand Canyon, as well as the portion of the Grand Canyon we spent the day in. There is a fee to enter the Grand Canyon this way and the company had to show a permit to the lone Ranger in the park for the tribe (Ernie, I think his name was, very nice guy). Soon enough, we were bouncing down into the canyon on the dirt road.
The jeeps were like safari jeeps, with a tarp cover but no windows so the hot sun wouldn’t beat down on us. We drove through 4 named canyon ranges in the Canyon – Hell’s Kitchen (because it got hotter as you drove farther down into it), Diamond Creek, Granite Gorge, The Narrows, where we arrived at a beach alongside the Colorado River, and Diamond Creek (more of a trickle).
Flora & Fauna
In all, we drove gradually down about 4000 feet to 1400 or 1500 feet above sea level. Along the way, Carol would stop and tell us a bit about the geology and flora and fauna of the canyon.
Mostly, which plants to stay away from, which ones are okay (juniper plants provide gin-flavored berries, cactus for water, aloe and cottonwood trees, which indicate water is nearby). The road we were on was an old stagecoach route and there were two springs where they could stop (Mineral Springs was one, and I think Peach Springs was the other).
There was a hanging tree where people were hung as well (which is supposedly haunted by orbs). Someone also once tried to build a hotel down there, but he built it on a wash and a flood washed it away. We could see where the earthquake fault went through and where volcanic activity created granite.
We also stopped and fed some wild burros who live in the Grand Canyon.
These burros are descendants of burros which were set free when they stopped trying to mine for gold in the Grand Canyon. There was Jenny and her 3.5 month old daughter TJ and another very pregnant female who came right up to the jeep and were fed carrots.
We also saw Buckwheat, a very battered 4-year-old male, on the way out, who received apples and carrots. He had no tail, half of one ear and a torn nose, courtesy of other burros. Poor little guy.
Rafting & Wading
When we arrived on the banks of the Colorado River, there was a group of college age men getting ready for a multi-day rafting trip. You can only take multi-day rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, except the Havasupai offer a one-day only trip.
Several day trip rafts floated by during our hour at the bottom. Most of the traffic on the road on the way down was rafting-oriented. There were no other jeep tours in the area. It was relaxing to get away from the hoards we experienced on the South Rim.
We ate bag lunches on the beach – turkey sandwich with lots of turkey, chips, apple, Oreos and water and Gatorade. Then we were free to just enjoy.
I snapped some pixs, then waded in the cold (50 degree temps) Colorado River, which felt good since it was over 90 degrees at the bottom of the canyon. Several of us waded until our feet went numb. I also looked for a small rock to take home for a souvenir, as the Havasupai allow you to do that (you can’t in the National Park).
The ride back out was accomplished more quickly, as we only slowed down to look for big-horned sheep (nada) and only stopped to feed Buckwheat. At the landing, we got back into the coach for return to Williams.
The way home was quiet and sleepy after our big adventure.
I enjoyed being in the Canyon rather than the rim views. It was the difference between looking down on something and being surrounded by it and experiencing it.
If you want to go
http://www.grandcanyonjeeps.com. Look for Inner Canyon Jeep Tour. They also offer white water rafting or floating day trips. $286 current price for the jeep tour.
Where to stay
Stay in historic Williams, AZ on Route 66. It’s an easy hour drive to the South Rim. A number of the stores and restaurants had an old west or Route 66 theme. There were even horse carriage rides.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn, 950 N Grand Canyon Blvd, Williams, AZ 86046.
Where to eat
The hotel has Doc Holliday’s Steakhouse, which has decent steak. We also dined at Jessica’s Restaurant, billed as Greek/Italian/American food. We had gyros, fries, root beer and THE BEST BAKLAVA EVER. It was warm, nutty and drenched in honey. The gyros were tasty and the root beer was actually Route 66 Beer in a commemorative bottle we kept, as the restaurant is on old Route 66.