Hello, fellow Travel Freak’s, I wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoy our journeys together and, I hope you’re enjoying a memorable summer with your family and friends.

Slip on your hiking boots, in this week’s Wild Wednesday Column we’re exploring the majestic Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon became America’s 17th National Park in 1919; offering extraordinary beauty, and home to unique wildlife, the Canyon is also a popular for hiking and rafting adventures along the Colorado River.

Explore the grand canyon

(photo via Charlene Tomasik)

It’s a stunning experience to stand within the Canyon and imagine the force of nature that carved the vast landscape. Here, nature finds extraordinary ways to survive in harsh conditions as is the case with the Ponderosa Pines that live up to 600 years. These trees have adapted to the threat of fires by growing fire-resistant bark as they mature, which is 5 to 7 inches thick. And, they shed the lower branches to prevent brush fires from climbing to the top of tree. Nature provides for its self and the Ponderosa Pines do their part by helping sustain the Grand Canyon’s wildlife.

The Grand Canyon’s Amazing Wildlife

As you trek along the North Rim of Grand Canyon where the Ponderosa Pines thrive keep an eye out for the Kaibab Tree Squirrel. According to our friend, Kamron Wixom, a Western River Expeditions Rafting Guide, this is a unique species of Squirrel only lives on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon along the Kaibab Plateau. Its cousin, the Abert Squirrel prefers to South Rim and like many of the birds and animals native to the Grand Canyon, these squirrel’s are fond of the Ponderosa Pines. In fact, they will eat everything from the seedlings and bark to the fungus that grows at the base of the tree.

animals of the grand canyon

While you’re admiring the entertaining antics of the squirrels you may find another resident of the North Rim fluttering by; a gorgeous blue butterfly called the Kaibab Swallowtail. The biggest threat to the population of the Kaibab Swallowtail is us; many folks want to add these beautiful insects to their collections. While not as adorable as the Kaibab Swallowtail or Tree Squirrel; the California Condor is a rare beauty found within the Grand Canyon that has a wingspan of 9.5 feet, and is the largest free-flying land bird in North America.

As you enter the desert area of the inner Canyon be aware of where you step; the Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnakes live here. While you may not see this cleverly camouflaged reptile, it will see you. One of the unusual traits of this snake is they do not lay eggs. Instead, the mother snake keeps the eggs within her body until they hatch and the young snakes emerge alive.

Rafting Through Time In The Grand Canyon

The first recorded exploration of the Grand Canyon was by John Wesley Powell, who set out through the Canyon on his expedition by boat in 1869. John was so impressed by nature’s majestic creation that he called it a “Grand Canyon,” and the name stuck. Over the next hundred years very few people followed his path through the remote gorge. It wasn’t until Senator Bobby Kennedy took his rafting trip in 1972 that the sport became popular in the Grand Canyon.

Amazing to think that it took the Senator’s highly publicized rafting trip to encourage Americans to explore one of the Seven Natural Wonders Of The World. Today, around five million travelers view the Grand Canyon from the North and South rims annually. The thrill of rafting the Colorado River draws 20,000 adventurers to the Canyon. There are opportunities for commercial river trips from companies like Western River Expeditions or you can request a private permit up to a year in advance. Remember, permits are given on a first come basis, so plan ahead because the spring, summer and fall months are very busy. Check out the Grand Canyon website and you’ll find options for 1 day trips, 2 to 5 excursions and longer river trips.

Kamron Wixom, and other Western River Expeditions guides have led more travelers through Grand Canyon over the last 53 years than any other outfitter. When asked about what it’s like to raft in the Canyon Kamron replies, “There’s a synergy between a human being and a canyon. We get possessive of it; it’s our canyon. It’s so huge on one scale but so intimate on the other scale that it becomes our own. When people talk about their experiences in the Canyon you have an instant bond with each other but at the same time you’re possessive of it. This contrast is indicative of nearly every experience you have in the Grand Canyon.”

exploration of the grand canyon

There are peaceful moments when you’re rafting through the Canyon that give you time to imagine the people who once lived in the region. The Grand Canyon was formed about five million years ago and there are many untold stories waiting to be told. The Grand Canyon National Park works closely with American Indian tribes that have cultural ties to the Canyon to help tell these stories by preserving archeological sites. It’s a challenging task because there are over 4,800 archeological sites that have been documented, so far. Although, only 5 percent of the park’s 1.2 million acres have been surveyed, so it’s hard to say what other archeological treasures await to be unearthed.

Efforts have been made by the Grand Canyon National Park, who is working with the Museum of Northern Arizona, to preserve the history of the region. When possible, they leave the archeological sites intact according to the National Park Service’s “preservation-in-place” mandate. Although, some archeological sites are threatened by nature’s advance along the Colorado River corridor. When this happens they must record, and remove what pieces of history they can before they’re lost forever.

Whether rafting, hiking, or exploring the wildlife in the Grand Canyon, it’s sharing the timeless beauty of this nature wonder with our friends and family that makes our visit most memorable.

Plan Your Visit To The Grand Canyon

Entrance fees for Grand Canyon National Park are $25 per private vehicle, and $12 for pedestrian or cyclist. The admission is for 7 days and includes both rims. To explore activities, rafting options and more about the Grand Canyon National Park visit their site.

Learn More About Western River Expeditions Rafting Trips

Named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by the editors of National Geographic Adventure magazine, Western River Expeditions offers professionally guided rafting trips from March through October in the Grand Canyon as well as Utah, Idaho and Arizona. To explore current prices and rafting trips available call 1-866-904-1160 or visit their site.

grand canyon sunset

Wild Wednesday Facts:

  • If you want to understand just how old the Grand Canyon is take time to explore to the Trail of Time. On this 2.83 mile interpretive walking trail you’ll find a geologic time-line. The rocks showcased along the trail reveal the Grand Canyon’s geologic history via bronze markers that state the age of the rocks that date back over 1,190 million years or more.
  • Did You Know? With the exception of forest fires and occasional dust storms, the Grand Canyon has some of the cleanest air in the United States.
  • In late June in 1956, two planes flying from Los Angeles to Chicago collided over the Canyon and all on board perished. As a result of this tragic accident the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was created in 1958.

Click through for more Wild Wednesday posts

Will you visit the Grand Canyon?

photos via NPS unless otherwise noted


With a passion for travel and creativity, Journalist and Photographer, Melody Schubert let’s her imagination guide her as she explores the world. For her, everyday is an opportunity to embrace something new, and explore intriguing and overlooked destinations that express the heart of a region, and share these discoveries with readers of Travel Freak. She is also Editorial Executive for USA Travel Magazine - http://www.usatravelmagazine.com/ where she shares more of travel interests.


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