Had enough of winter? Here’s an opportunity to swap your shovels and blowers for sandals and tea out by the pool, a chance to escape to one of the greatest festival cities on any continent. This coming March, the Phoenix, Arizona area will play host to two of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders to mark a single state at the same time– the teams who’ve reached the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament, and the magnificent Grand Canyon National Park.
The Final Four is the culmination of a competition between the premier collegiate basketball programs in the United States. The event is not just about the games… it’s a nearly week-long conversion of the quietly-pleasant host into a Southwest’s 24/7 version of Mardi Gras, a full-tilt adoption of all things basketball, on the courts, in the streets, in the hotel lobbies, and anywhere where a pick-up game might be picked up by total strangers who become nothing of the sort by the end of their match.
The best part of this Grand week is the ability to “sandwich” the boisterous action of the national college basketball tournament with a trip to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Majestic Grand Canyon.
Barely a half-day’s journey by car or public shuttle from the site of the tournament at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Canyon offers both pre- and post-game lodging. The air is clear and crisp at Grand Canyon National Park, a fitting environment for vigorous activity or simply absorbing the indescribable beauty of this premier wonder of the natural world. Take advantage of our clear skies and view the Milky Way as you’ve never seen it before!
Adventures from Above…
Keeping up with the Final Four decibel range how about trying the ultimate in outdoor awe – a tandem skydive from 15,000 feet above Tusayan with views of the Grand Canyon itself. The adventure is offered by Paragon Skydive.
For those of you that want to stay inside an aircraft the South Rim offers daily helicopter and airplane tours.
Behind the lens…
To begin, make sure you have plenty of battery power in your camera or device. You’ll find your finger has a life of its own, and you’ll wind up the day with dozens or more fabulous images of this natural wonder of the world.
The first stop in your photo excursion will likely be the iconic Mather Point, a Kaibab limestone peninsula located a literal stones’ throw from the new rim-side amphitheater, and the South Rim Visitor Center itself.
Be sure to bring your wide angle lens and a tripod so you can capture the most beautiful stars and night sky views over the Canyon. Without saying you know you need to capture those iconic sunset and sunrise photos as well.
Those who wish to meet the outdoors on their own two feet will find a hiker’s field of dreams right here. Legacy trails – maintained by the Park Service – include the Bright Angel (9 miles to the Bright Angel Campground), the South Kaibab (7 miles), the North Kaibab (14 miles), and the 13-mile paved Rim Trail that brings the Canyon’s edge right next to those with mobility issues.
In all, 358 miles of trail have been established in the Park, 126 of which are maintained. Please be sure to check with a visitor center for detailed maps and conditions before heading out for any hike. Trail adventures that are overnight will require permits.
Those looking for guided or interpretive information should check out the free daily list of Ranger Programs offered by the National Park Service. Another great resource is the Grand Canyon Field Institute which offers several classes and trips including create your own group Family Hiking Adventures.
If you’re into the details of the view you see before you, you might appreciate the in-depth information you will receive on either of the Canyon’s guided Jeep tours. The highly-visible Pink Jeep Tours begin their excursions from the IMAX Theater, well-covered with a convertible top to fend off those rare instances of inclement weather. Trips of 2-3 hours in length leave frequently, staying on the smoother pavement as they pursue their destinations. Off-road tours are the specialty of Grand Canyon Jeep Tours and Safaris, and their rugged-looking vehicles reflect that focus. Tours here are from 1 ½ to 4 ½ hours long, encompassing the Rim Trail, Indian paintings, the sunset, an 80’ fire lookout tower, and wildlife photo “expedition”.
Adventurers wishing to cover ground on two wheels can bring their own bike or rent from Bright Angel Bicycles and Café at Mather Point. With approximately 20 miles of Greenway trails to travel, including a newly-paved 6 mile section reaching all the way to Tusayan and a nearly equal inventory of roadside miles, the Canyon cyclist is afforded a trip through nature unavailable to the motorized visitor.
If your vision of trails leans more toward 4 legs than 2 wheels, mule rides are available through the Park concessionaire Xanterra or in the National Forrest with Apache Stables.
History and Architecture and Culture at the South and East Rim
Check out the East Rim atop the Watch Tower which is a 70 ft. stone observation tower built by the legendary Mary Colter. She was a well know architect that worked for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad in the early 1900’s creating a number of historical buildings all right here at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Be sure to stop at Mary Jane’s Hopi House located in Grand Canyon Village to check out the galleries of original Native American art. Also within Grand Canyon Village you will find more of her “Park Rustic” architecture at Bright Angel Lodge, and Lookout Studio. A short bus trip from Grand Canyon Village will take you to Hermit’s Rest. Then you will truly be a Mary Colter expert!
For more information on visiting the Grand Canyon visit www.GrandCanyonCVB.org or call 1-928-638-2901 for details.
H Mike Sheehan
Mike has been a Freelance and Speechwriter since 1962. He’s written for Tucson Citizen, The Writ, Maricopa Lawyer and Downtown Illustrated. He also wrote “Dogs in the Hot Moon Lt T.I. Sheehan and the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862”. Mike now calls the Grand Canyon his home. He has worked for the Grand Canyon Association and currently works for the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Please stop by the office and say hello when you visit!