The Grand Canyon, a true wonder, is good for the soul, so get up there!
By Hilary Dartt
Amanda Lane is on a mission to inspire locals to visit the Grand Canyon, National Park.
Not only is it just a short drive—two hours to the South Rim and four to the North—from the Prescott area, she said, but it’s also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
As the owner of The Hike Shack, Amanda said, she’s surprised at how few locals have been to the Grand Canyon.
“People tell me, ‘I’m going to Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China,’ and I ask, ‘But have you been to the Grand Canyon?’” she said. Often, people haven’t.
“I don’t think people realize what an impact something that beautiful can have on your mental health,” she said.
Kelly Williams, the trip leader for Amanda’s river rafting trip (through Canyon Exploration Expeditions) echoed Amanda’s sentiments; she said being out of phone service forces people to see what’s in front of them.
Canyon exploration, she said, “just slows things down to the simplicity of what your basic needs are. Day three is when people just kind of melt into the Grand Canyon … the connection is so different for every single person. You reconnect to yourself.”
Kristi Sullivan, who went on a recent Grand Canyon backpacking trip with Amanda (see TITLE, page XX), swore after her first trip—in high school—that she’d never go back. She was sore and tired and wept with relief when she saw her mom waiting to pick her up. But in the 80s, she said, “the canyon lured me back in.”
She’s now hiked more than 1,500 miles in the canyon and spent more than 300 nights there.
“As we are hiking out,” she said, “no matter how hard the hike is, we are always planning our next trip.”
Once travelers give a Grand Canyon visit the level of importance it deserves, and make their first trip, Amanda said, they’ll immediately want to plan a second. There are so many ways to visit, and each one offers a unique and equally transformative experience.
Visitors have options: hiking what Amanda calls “the main corridor” or less populated trails, river rafting, paddle boarding, the SkyWalk (a glass walkway over the canyon), and helicopter and train rides.
During the past year, Amanda went on both a backpacking trip and a river rafting trip, and said those experiences felt like they happened “in two different universes.”
The Mental Health Benefits
An article on the American Psychology Association website quotes psychologist Lisa Nisbet as saying, “There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing. You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature.”
Amanda has found that to be true in her own life. “I feel like I learned how to breathe deeper in the wilderness,” she said.
As an entrepreneur, she said, “The business runs me in circles.”
The only way she can “hit pause” (and stop going over her to-do list) is to get out in nature, whether it’s for a hike, a bike or motorcycle ride, a paddle, or a run.
Several weeks before she left town for her most recent 18-day river rafting trip, she said, “My brain was scrambled eggs.”
As soon as she hit the water, “The buzz was gone. Just to be able to take a deep breath and think about nothing but the space I was in … that was a great experience.”
Similarly, Kelly said she loves seeing people figure out the difference between what they expected to happen during a trip and what they enjoyed the most: “Seeing people letting go of their expectations and letting the Grand Canyon show them what it has to offer: maybe it’s the beauty, the quiet, the birds in the morning. These are the simple things we don’t always take in, day-to-day.
The Different Ways to Explore
Note: Some visits require permits or guides. Research before you go.
Hiking is perhaps the simplest and easiest way to immerse in the canyon’s natural beauty. While the Bright Angel trail (which Amanda calls the “main corridor”) is the most popular hiking trail, the canyon features “webs and webs of backcountry trails.”
Backpacking (overnight or longer trips) requires a bit more planning in terms of where to camp and what to bring (there are paid campgrounds inside the park, and people can camp for free in the forest just outside the park without permits).
Trips on the water often require guides or permits (some of which are awarded through a lottery system). During water trips, people can moor their watercraft and take hikes in the canyon to get what Amanda called “extra perspective” (think waterfalls, petroglyphs, and more). This, Kelly said, is her favorite part of river rafting trips. “It’s the best way to see the Grand Canyon. Rafting is a mode of transportation to the hiking spots you can’t get to from the rim.”
Experiencing all the different scenery, she said, “shows people what the Grand Canyon is – what it is for them.”
People can take longer river rafting trips or shorter paddle boarding or kayaking trips. Many trips, especially guided rafting trips, depart from Lees Ferry, and it’s a popular launch for people renting equipment such as kayaks and paddle boards.
At Grand Canyon West, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, visitors can walk the Skywalk, take helicopter rides, and ride the zipline. They can also take a self-guided tour of a Hualapai village and visit museums.
No matter which way people choose to visit, Kristi said, there is so much to see: “The ever-changing magnificent views with the shadows of the sun and moon, the complete solitude of the backcountry, sometimes never running into a single person, the challenge of the strenuous terrain, using every muscle, the adventure, the unknown, the history, the natural springs where we pump our water, sometimes showing up out of nowhere, the geology.”
And then there’s the wildlife, she said: bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, ringtail cats, mountain lions, multiple species of birds. Kristi said she’s seen a rare pink rattlesnake and a spotted skunk.
There are campgrounds and a lodge in the Grand Canyon National Park; they require reservations. People can also camp (or get hotel rooms) in towns close to the park to get an early start the next day.
During her most recent river rafting trip, for which she was an assistant guide, Amanda said she learned a lot about geology, wildlife, and conservation efforts. Not only is the Grand Canyon spiritually and culturally significant to numerous Native American tribes, but it’s also an important source of water and has ecological and historical significance.
“The rim is incredible,” Amanda said, “but actually getting into the canyon is like jumping into a lake rather than just looking at it. It’s a wilderness experience, one you can’t possibly feel until you’re really in it.”
Amanda said that during her “absolutely epic” 18-day river rafting trip, she was out of phone range and off the grid. “Just to be in the silence and see the slow-moving water and hear the canyon wrens and watch all these people [fellow rafters] … to use my eyes and ears to take it all in … by the end of the trip, I was a different human.”
- You’ll need a pass to enter the Grand Canyon, National Park. You can pay when you enter, or buy a digital entrance pass online.
- Most visitors – 90 percent – visit the South Rim, which means the North Rim is less crowded.
- The park service offers a shuttle bus on the South Rim. Visitors can catch a ride to scenic overlooks and trailheads.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks with sugars and electrolytes.
- Backcountry exploration (on trails less traveled) requires adaptation. Amanda said, “Be willing to adapt your adventure to what the backcountry hands you.”
The National Park Service’s Grand Canyon website is a great resource to begin planning a trip: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm.