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How to Hike the Grand Canyon

Bring Water!

The Grand Canyon is a desert, and even though it is only spring, the sun is hot and bright, and thus it is easy to become dehydrated. For a day hike, 3 liters of water is necessary, 4 is preferred. For 16 people, we brought 55 liters of water, and we still only had just enough to get out of the Canyon!

The Colorado River is the perfect vessel to carry water through western North America and three distinct deserts: the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts. The dry air above these deserts draw in moisture from the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), which then falls on the Rocky Mountains, feeding the Colorado River. Without this perfect combination of various climates, the River would not have the power to carve the rock into the Grand Canyon five million years ago. Thus, water makes the natural wonder as we know it today!

Have Your Layers!

Most of Arizona is a desert, which means temperatures fluctuate wildly between day and night. Wear light, synthetic layers, long sleeves and pants during the day as protection from the sun and heat (my sunshirt with a hood is my favorite piece of clothing). However, make sure you have a warm puffy jacket and sweatpants with you when you get back to camp! It can easily get below freezing during the night, and the wind only makes the cold worse! Cozy up by a fire to take the cold away before you head to sleep.

Know The Canyon’s History, Study Rock Made By Time.

Kaibab Formation
Toroweap Formation
Coconino Sandstone
Hermit Shale
Supai Group
Redwall Sandstone
Muav Limestone
Bright Angel Shale
Tapeats Sandstone

This is an acronym for the sedimentary rock making the upper half of the Grand Canyon, reaching back 600 million years of geologic time. Then the GREAT UNCONFORMITY, where over 1 billion years of rock was lost through erosion before the Tapeats Sandstone was deposited. The few snippets that remain are called the Grand Canyon Supergroup, nubs of geologic history folded in at an angle with the rest of the rock. At the bottom are the oldest rocks in the Grand Canyon at 1.7 billion years old, called Vishnu Schist, metamorphic rock with igneous intrusions of ancient magma, forming veins of Zoroaster Granite. All these different rocks of different ages make all the wonderful colors of the Grand Canyon.

Know When to Stop!

Take lots of breaks while hiking! Climbing up and down thousands of feet in a matter of hours is tiring, so stop to rest and catch your breath often. Be sure to drink water to stay hydrated and eat lots of snacks to keep your energy up. And look up at the views around you! Admire all the wonderful scenery of the Canyon. You’re in such an amazing place, don’t just look at your feet the whole day!

The Glen Canyon Dam upstream of the canyon blocks sediment, causing the beautiful blue-green color of the Colorado River. Otherwise, the water would be a murky brown. The dam has many downsides too. Without the regular flood cycle of the Colorado River, rock falls in the river that create rapids don’t get swept away, endangering rafters. Furthermore, a lack of sediment prevents sandbars and islands from building up in the river, heightening erosion.

Did you know that there were plans to build two dams in the Grand Canyon itself? The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built and regulates the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams, wanted to build the Grand Canyon dams in the 60’s. Luckily, a public outcry prevented the Bureau’s plan from happening, saving the Grand Canyon from destruction, but is a reminder just how easily our natural wonders can be destroyed.

Make Friends!

Having friends makes any grueling hike better, and you can share in the wonderful experience of the Grand Canyon together! You might even learn something new from them. We met up with Jed, a longtime river guide in the Grand Canyon, who taught us all about the canyon’s geology and history. He led us down into the Canyon to Horseshoe Mesa, giving a wonderful view of the canyon from below. Back at camp, he played his guitar beautifully around the campfire, singing to us songs that he wrote himself. With him, our experience of the Grand Canyon was made especially memorable

The Havsuw’ Baaja, “people of the blue-green water”, anglicized as Havasupai, have lived in and around the Grand Canyon for over eight centuries. During the winter, they would live on the plateau surrounding the canyon, then migrate down to the small, flat plains next to the Colorado River to farm. They developed a network of trails and storage nooks embedded into the canyon walls. The creation of Grand Canyon National Park forced the Havsuw’ Baaja from their native lands, though in 1975 a portion of the canyon was returned to them, and they are now the only humans permanently residing inside the Canyon’s walls.