Monday, January 11, 2010

The Grand Canyon is NOT Disneyland

Arizona is known as the "Grand Canyon State". Chances are, if you live in the United States, you will at some point go to see the Grand Canyon. Chances are, it will be with your family. Chances are, that because you think this is a National Park, and because there are paved roads and traffic signs, friendly park rangers, and thousands of other people, this is a safe, regulated place.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, people die at the Grand Canyon every single year, from what can almost always be called unnecessary and reckless.

There are a few common denominators. The people who have fatal accidents are usually young, single, and of the male gender. Big shock there. Another common factor is that most deaths are from water - either a lack thereof (dehydration) or too much (flash floods, or drowning in the Colorado River).

The Canyon is very different from what people imagine it to be. You would think that you are up against giant walls of rocks and boulders, something like Yosemite (but in red rather than gray), but really, you are on flat, plain land with little vegetation until all of a sudden you come to this gigantic, deep chasm in the earth. The Canyon is hundreds of miles long, and several miles wide at the widest point, much bigger than most would suspect.

Canyon hiking is unique in that the way down starts out so easy, and you may find yourself far into the canyon before you realize that you did not bring enough water (if I remember right, they recommend 4 gallons of water per person per day) or reserve enough energy for the strenuous hike back up. You may be lured into thinking that water is just around the corner, i.e. the bottom where the Colorado River flows, but the walls are steep drops and while the river may only be hundreds of feet away (as the crow flies), it may take you 10 miles to get there. Temperatures inside the canyon can be 30+ degrees hotter than the temperature at the rim, as hot as 140 degrees at the height of summer.

This is actually much steeper than it looks in the picture

Personally, I would not recommend hiking into the canyon with children at all. We have gone to the Grand Canyon with our family several times, and enjoyed ourselves without setting foot inside the canyon. The trails down are very narrow, just a few feet across in the widest places, not somewhere I would like to go with rambunctious little boys. There are almost no hand rails anywhere, so you could slip one time and fall to your death hundreds of feet below.

Instead, we take the shuttle loop along the rim, which takes about an hour and has many wonderful vistas. There are also hiking trails along the top rim that are beautiful. You will see many people who leave these trails and step up to the edge of the canyon, or let their feet dangle into it as they sit on a precipice. Considering that the canyon is made out of porous limestone that can easily break away, this is not a smart idea at all. People really do die from accidentally tripping and going over the edge, or from posing for the camera while walking backwards and taking one step too many. It is sad and sobering.

See the paved path on the bottom left? See the limestone canyon rim beyond it? See the crazy people walking up all the way to the edge?

In fact, a couple of park rangers who have participated in the search and recovery of too many of these fatalities, have written an entire book on the subject. Before I read it, I shared the same carefree recklessness that most casual tourists show, but the book really opened my eyes.

In 2009 alone, a total of 12 tourists died at the Grand Canyon. 10 of these were accidents, one a suicide, and one a heart attack (which may have been due to heat or exertion). One of these was a well experienced, athletic young man, who died of tragic circumstances. The Arizona Republic reported on this last week, but do not read the story if you think it may depress and haunt you, it is very sad indeed.

By all means, do go and see this natural wonder, but please stay safe. You are no match for the Grand Canyon.


  1. Ooh, chilling. That is why when we came to visit you I said NOOOOOOOO to visiting it. I would rather see the pics!! Chad thought I was being silly. That kind of thing really freaks me out. I know you all are very cautious with your children though and it is probably beautiful. Sounds like a good book!!

    Oh cute pics of Miriams hair!!


  2. This was an interesting post! I have not yet been to the canyon myself - but this is much different than how it is usually described. Thanks for posting an honest, cautious review over it!

  3. Great post! I have no desire to ever visit the grand canyon. I'd be afraid someone would fall.


  4. The Grand Canyon is pretty, but it is also dangerous. I cannot believe how close those people are in that photo!

  5. I first went to the Grand Canyon during Christmas time 16 years ago with my mom. We didn't hike at all nor get near the edge that visit. I went back late the next Spring with a friend. That time we hiked the Bright Angel Trail down to one of the (Devil's?) Switchbacks. I never felt afraid or in danger of falling over the edge, but sure got hungry, sore and thirsty, especially on the way back up! A few shirtless ubber-athletes not carrying anything ran passed us back up that trail!! Then on the way back from California days later, my friend set his mind and feet to hiking it again, but further, to Indian Garden. It took him from morning until after dark to return while my legs were still recovering from the first time.
    No, I agree, I wouldn't walk near the edge or hike it with small or very young child(ren). Mrs. Anderson, have any of your family or friends walk on the glass bridge/walk-way across/over the Canyon?

  6. I also think people should be very careful at the Grand Canyon. We went several years ago and the Park Rangers were searching for a lost hiker.


Your KINDLY WORDED, constructive comments are welcome, whether or not they express a differing opinion. All others will be deleted without second thought.