A visit to any national park, including the Grand Canyon in the section controlled by the national parks authority is free of charge for the week of the national park. In 2011, it coincided with Easter weekend. Probably, this is a fixed date unlike the Easter celebration with its mobile dates. The saving might not be much but considering that other parks are in close proximity the total could end up being significant!
The US National Parks have interesting ranger programmes, many of which during the summer months are aimed at the kids. Children can only spend so much time looking at views that Mum and Dad think are great, but the Junior Ranger programmes introduce the kids (and their parents) to other facets of the park, as well as giving important educational messages, so both the kids and the parents enjoy the visit, (and no one gets bored!)
I always use the Park Rangers for information. It can be directions, wildlife, petroglyphs, or trail information.
Before I leave home for the Grand Canyon, I spend a lot of time on the computer doing research. The best site is NPS.GOV - the National Park Service. Lots of good information! If they don't know the Park inside and out, who does?
The five Native American tribes near Grand Canyon are steeped in traditions and love for the land. Their local artwork reflects this love.
The Havasupai are known for their work in forestry, tourism, cattle ranching and beadwork. Of these, you might get lucky and be able to purchase some beadwork, since cattle are harder to pack in your suitcase :)
The Hualapai are also known for their skills in forestry and cattle rearing, but also for their basket weaving and doll making.
The Hopi are decedents of the ancient Anazasi, as such they are the most adept dryland farmers in the region. They are also known for their silverwork and kachinas. Their style of jewelry is known as overlay in which intricate designs are in a relief pattern. Kachinas are dolls that represent the gods and sprits sacred to the Hopi. No photography is allowed on Hopi lands.
The Kaibab-Paiutes are known for their ranching skills, and also for their basketry.
The largest Native group in the region are known as Navajo, or Dine. The Navajo Nation is about 16 million acres of land stretching in an irregular pattern from the eastern edge of the Canyon into New Mexico. They are know for many artforms, including rug weaving, silverwork, and sand paintings. Some of the most amazing cultural and natural sites in the southwest are on Navajo lands including Canyon de Chelly, Little Colorado River Gorge, Rainbow Bridge, dinosaur tracks and Window Rock.
Keep all this in mind as you browse the park's gift shops .... for is you have time I'd recommend heading over to the trading posts and roadside stands on native lands instead. You'll have an opportunity to meet the artists up close and personal, and pay less overhead for your chosen trinket.
Native American settlements have been found throughout the Grand Canyon region, with estimates that they lived in the Grand Canyon region as far back as 4,000 years ago. In the 1500's, the Spanish entered the region searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. They were the first Europeans to SEE the canyon, but didn't appreciate it at all! No gold, no appreciation. Seems they were court-martialed for NOT finding the gold.
As the Southwest became part of the US territories in the early 1800's, trappers/traders/fortune hunters passed through on their way to California. An 1858 Army surveyor report mentioned this region, "... of course altogether valueless. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality"
Major Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran who advocated water rationing and Indian rights, proved the writer of that report wrong. By being the first Anglo to navigate the Colorado River through the canyon, he provided much valuable information about one of the last unexplored regions of the US. An unfortunate result was the discovery of of zinc, copper, lead and asbestos in the 1870's - and the miners followed. Luckily for the canyon, these resources proved difficult to extract and transport, so many initial mines were abandoned. Another lucky break for the canyon? The idea of tourism.
As transportation improved, Americans were falling in love with the asthetics of their young country. By 1900, there was an interest in providing visitor services at the canyon, and the first hotel in the area was opened in 1905. By 1919 this area was designated Grand Canyon National Park, with current boundaries set in 1975. Unesco granted the Grand Canyon NPS World Heritage status in 1979.
The Canyon is 277 miles long when measured by river, and up to 18 miles wide, with an average depth of about a mile. This creation of erosion is still changing; the work of the past 6 million years continues.
Did you know that the Grand Canyon is so deep and wide that nature on both sides have a slightly different evolution? Plantlife differs, but most it can be recognised in the squirrels. The Northrim-squirrel is better adapted to winter as here changes of snow are larger then on the Southrim.
Furthermore the stonelayers along the canyonwalls tell there own story. Each layer looks back in time and the deeper you go, the older the earth-crost. The bottom-layers date back to the times in which the earth was shaping itself! Millions and millions of years ago.