Grand Canyon trips; days out beyond the gorge

It’s easy to see why so many Grand Canyon trips begin and end in the chasm itself; with limitless opportunities for hiking, river rafting, mule rides and even helicopter tours there’s certainly no need to stray beyond the Canyon. But broaden your horizons and you won’t regret it. The surrounding area is packed with natural wonders and important historical sites:

Less than 100 miles away…

Pipe Spring, 85 miles from the canyon, is packed with Native American, Mormon and early explorer history. The spring provided the dry desert region with enough water to encourage rich human life; ancestral Puebloans, Kaibab and Paiute Indians lived near the spring for over 1,000 years. The mid 1900s heralded the arrival of the Mormons, who built a fort known as Winsor Castle. Today a museum and visitor centre memorialise these early human settlers; round out your Grand Canyon trip with a tour.

Remnants of the ancient Sinagua civilization still stand in Walnut Canyon, 91 miles from the Grand Canyon. These ancestors of the modern Puebloan people built their cliff dwellings between 1100 and 1250 AD. Today you can visit and marvel at the millions of years of geologic history imprinted on the rocks or to appreciate the desert cacti, elk, javelina and turkey vultures that populate the area.

Built over 800 years ago, the Wupatki Pueblo was once known as the largest, tallest and most powerful pueblo. Located 85 miles away on the Colorado Plateau, the Wupatki Pueblo was home to between 85 and 100 people, with thousands more living in the region. Situated in one of the hottest, driest regions in the area, the pueblo stands today as a memorial to what human civilization can accomplish.

Less than 170 miles away…

No trip to the Grand Canyon should end without visiting the famous limestone sculptures of Bryce Canyon (160 miles away). Called ‘hoodoos,’ these natural wonders were shaped by thousands of years of erosion into the pinnacles, spires, fins and mazes of today. Large and colourful (the wind and water having exposed the multihued colours of the stone beneath), the hoodoos are located along the eastern edge of the Paunsaugent Plateau in Southern Utah.

Three preserved Navajo cliff dwellings stand 140 miles from the Grand Canyon. The dwellings were built by an ancient Puebloan people known as the Hisatsinom, ancestors of the modern Navajos (who refer to them as ‘Anasazi’). The cliff dwellings are located on the Shonto Plateau and loom over the Tsegi Canyon in Northern Arizona’s Navajo Nation. Guided tours of two of the dwellings, Keet Seel and Betatakin, are available in summer. Call (928) 672 2700 for a tour schedule.

Sunset Crater exploded 900 years ago to blanket the landscape with hot ash, flowing lava and black cinders; the explosion changed the Earth from forest and meadow to mountain. Today the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau is well worth a visit. The 1,000 foot cinder cone stands 101 miles from the Grand Canyon.

Less than 200 miles away but well worth the trip…

The 218,533 acre Petrified Forest National Park is unbeatable and should be essential to all Grand Canyon trips.

Located in north eastern Arizona (214 miles from Phoenix and 204 miles from Albuquerque) the forest is home to some of the most amazing natural wonders in the Western United States. Not only is the park full of the world’s largest concentration of petrified wood, but it is also where you will find the Painted Desert, the term given to the colourful badlands of the Chinle Formation. There’s plenty of archaeological interest to be had, as the park also houses 225 million year old fossils and a number of ancient man made structures.