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Grand Canyon

Marvel at the beauty of this natural slice through southwest USA.
  Surprisingly, the Grand Canyon doesn't set many records. It isn't the longest, nor the widest, not even the deepest. However, it is by far the most famous, so much so that many people simply call it The Canyon as though there were no others in the world.
  Multicoloured layers of rock sink into the earth, forming a chasm that gives the impression it must have been created by tectonic plates tearing apart. However, this slice through the United States was created over several million years - geologists still argue exactly how long ago - when the Colorado River meandered across what is now north Arizona. Erosion from the flowing water combined with the uplift of the Colorado Plateau to carve a mile deep canyon. The rocks that are left behind were once covered by the waters of a warm, shallow sea or swampland, but now shimmer under the sun in a hot, dry desert.
  For those interested in the statistics, the Grand Canyon stretches for 446 kilometres (277 miles), reaches 29 kilometres (18 miles) at its widest and measures 1,857 metres (6,093 feet) at its deepest. Nobody will ever see the whole thing in one visit, but it is possible to take in the majesty and grandeur in a day or two.
  The popular sites of the South Rim may be busy, but they draw the crowds for a reason. Grand Canyon Village, with a number of wooden buildings dating to the turn of the 20th century, gives a glimpse of canyon country in the final days of the American Frontier. From here. Hermit Road runs west for 11 kilometres (eight miles) to the stone-built Hermit's Rest. Those who are keen to hike a portion of the Canyon will find this the easiest way to get their boots dusty: jump on board the free shuttle bus to Hermit's Rest and walk back to Grand Canyon Village along the Rim Trail. For those who prefer to see their natural wonders from the comfort of a seat, hop on and off the buses to your heart's content at the designated stops and viewpoints along the road.
  The quieter Desert View Drive, heading east from Grand Canyon Village, is the best way to escape the tourist hordes. This 40 kilometre (25-mile) road does not have a shuttle bus service so relies on visitors having their own wheels, but it includes six viewpoints and five unmarked pullover points.    Don't miss Navajo Point and Lipan Point, two places where the dusky red layers of rock can be seen at their best. The road ends at the Desert View Watchtower, just beyond the stunning Tusayan Ruins. These are the eerie remains of a Puebloan village, first constructed nearly 1.000 years ago by around 20 Native Americans who called this land home.
  Coachloads of tourists go no further than the viewpoints of the South Rim, but it's difficult to look down the steep walls of the Grand Canyon and not wonder what is down there. Bright Angel Trail, beginning in Grand Canyon Village, drops 1.340 metres (4.380 feet) over 13 kilometres (eight miles) to the banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the cliffs. Given the nature of the descent, expect seemingly endless switchbacks and aching knees, although at least it's only another three kilometres (two miles) to the comfortable beds at Phantom Ranch, the only lodge beyond the rim.
  Only 16 kilometres (ten miles) from Grand Canyon Village as the crow flies, but a five-hour drive around the gorge, North Rim is the quieter (and less accessble) side of Grand Canyon with only ten per cent of the park's visitors venturing across. It makes it the ideal place to seek sanctuary from the crowds. The north is also the colder side since it is around 300 metres (1.000 feet) higher than the South Rim. While those on the North Rim can be stood in falling snow. others far below might be sunbathing along the river bank.
  It is now 150 years since John Wesley Powell led the first expedition through Grand Canyon in 1869 to explore an unknown section on American maps. Those who want to follow the trailblazing path of the pioneers should join one of the waterborne excursions leaving Lee's Ferry in the summer months. Itineraries range from a few days to a few weeks, and you can experience the Colorado River by whitewater rafting through rapids, peaceful paddling up little-known side canyons, and exploring Native American ruins only accessible by river.
  But perhaps the best way to really appreciate the scale of the Grand Canyon is from the air. Scenic flights by helicopter and aeroplane leave from Grand Canyon Airport on South Rim. while others depart from Las Vegas, enabling visitors to Sin City to glimpse the Grand Canyon between trips to the gaming tables. Passengers who are lucky enough to find themselves on board are able to marvel at the sheer immensity of the gorge, carved by the seemingly peaceful ribbon of river within it.
  To limit noise and ensure passenger safety, the National Park Service limits the number of flights and no longer allows them to dip below the rim. However, some helicopter excursions do land within the Canyon on the Havasupai and Hualapai Reservations, located outside National Park jurisdiction.
  The Havasupai portion of the Canyon is home to the spectacular waterfalls of Havasu Creek, a tributary of the Colorado. For sheer beauty, this is one of the finest places in the region. The star attraction of the Hualapai Reservation is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed. horseshoe-shaped walkway that extends 21 metres (70 feet) over the rim. It may not be a comfortable experience for those who are afraid of heights, but the makers claim it will hold the weight of 70 Boeing 747 aeroplanes. Although if the glass did smash, expect a long fall - all those jets could all sit on top of each other and still not reach the rim, such is the depth of the most famous canyon in the world.