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Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

More Than 1.2 Million Acres of BeautyThe Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is so magnificent, so humbling, you'll never forget the sensation you feel at first sight. And yes, if you visit in summer, the South Rim is so crowded you'll be griping about the crush of tourists for years to come. But this 277-mile-long canyon, sculpted by the mighty Colorado, is without question America's number one natural wonder.

Viewing aerial IMAX footage simply can't compare to finding a solitary spot somewhere, anywhere, in this mile-deep gorge, and silently watching a raven glide on the breeze above a vast panorama of pyramidal buttes, lonely mesas, rust-colored cliffs and shadowy side canyons.

Of course, not everyone who visits the canyon is compelled to wax poetic like a talking head in a Ken Burns documentary. In the early 19th century, James Ohio Pattie, the first American to lay eyes on the immense chasm, called it “horrid.” Following an 1857 Army expedition, Lt. Joseph Ives deemed it a “profitless locality.” If he could only witness the 6 million visitors a year who fill the hotels, ride the mules to Phantom Ranch, light up the gift shop cash registers and buzz over the canyon on helicopter tours.

As the raven flies, it's 10 miles from the South Rim Village to the North Rim lodge. To grasp the canyon's geologic scope, a bit of textbook-speak is necessary. Eons of time are on display in the layer-cake-like strata of the canyon walls. Though scientists estimate the canyon is relatively young (6 million years old), the rock layers at the bottom, near the Colorado River, date back some 2 billion years. Put in perspective, the 270-million-year-old Permian Period layer (formed just prior to the age of the dinosaurs) is what you're standing on at the rim. No wonder they call the canyon “grand.”

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Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

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Best Western Plus Inn of Williams

2600 W Route 66. Williams, AZ 86046

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Courtyard by Marriott-Flagstaff

2650 S Beulah Blvd. Flagstaff, AZ 86001

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Hilton Garden Inn

350 W Forest Meadows St. Flagstaff, AZ 86001

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Holiday Inn Express & Suites

1150 W Cataract Lake Rd. Williams, AZ 86046

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