If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, or have wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, then you probably already know that it’s the very definition of grand. And that may be an understatement.
As you stand on the edge South Rim, every superlative comes to mind. None is adequate. While you’re marveling at America’s signature natural attraction, it is so easy to follow the pack.
My advice? Don’t.
It wasn’t until a recent visit that I learned to zig instead of zag with the crowds. Everyone else heads to the visitors center and then hangs a left, hiking a few hundred feet to the first two or three observation stations. But that’s the wrong place to start.
Instead, we learned that heading west to the Bright Angel trailhead and then doubling back to the main visitors center has its own rewards. It’s called the Trail of Time.
The Trail of Time is a 4.56 km (2.83 mile) long geologic timeline. Portal signs at Yavapai Point and the west end of Grand Canyon Village mark the entry points to the trail. The rock column holding up this is made up of the Grand Canyon’s rock actual layers, brought up from deep in the canyon.
By walking the timeline trail adults and children gain an appreciation for the magnitude of geologic time. And let’s face it, this trail’s a lot easier to walk than hiking to the river bed. Each meter walked on the timeline trail signifies one million years of Grand Canyon’s geologic history.
Bronze markers denote your location in time. A series of rocks and exhibits that explain how Grand Canyon and its rock formed along the way. You can look for stones along the canyon’s walls to get a perspective on how deeply the years are buried. Viewing tubes along the trail link times on the timeline to features and rocks down in the canyon.
Every tenth marker is labeled in millions of year. About 50 samples of Grand Canyon rocks brought to the rim from deep in the canyon are placed at their “birthdays” so you can follow the progression of geologic change. Many show spectacular features, like 1.7-billion-year-old folds, 1.2-billion year-old mud cracks, 800-million-year-old algal reefs, or 270-million-year-old fossils.
Though the walk isn’t challenging, finding parking near the trail can be tricky. We parked close to the Bright Angel Trailhead and followed the South Rim trail. We were able to consult with a park ranger and fill up our water bottles before venturing off. If you stick to the areas with gorgeous vistas and deep canyon views and you can’t miss the timeline trail.