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Grand Canyon
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From Grand Canyon Village, I took the West Rim shuttle bus. The West Rim Drive is only open to hikers and Park Service buses during the peak season, which runs roughly from May through September. The shuttle buses run a regular schedule from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit's Rest, a distance of about eight miles, stopping at most of the overlooks along the way. You can get off at any stop, spend as much time as you like looking at the scenery, then catch the next bus to come along. The buses run at about fifteen-minute intervals. Or, if you're in good shape and feel like walking, you can use the Rim Trail to walk from one overlook to the next. I took the bus, and stopped at several of the overlooks to look and to take pictures. Many of them didn't come out very well, but a few did.

Bright Angel Canyon

Bright Angel Canyon, as seen from Maricopa Point on the West Rim Drive.

Since I'm something of an amateur rockhound, one of the things I specifically wanted to get while at the Grand Canyon was a good vertical photo that showed the entire Grand Canyon geologic column. This shot, from Hopi Point, is about as close as I came:

Grand Canyon Geologic Column

The "Upper Canyon" geologic column. The top layer, which forms the North Rim, is the Kaibab Limestone. Below it, in order, you can see the Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Muav Limestone, and Bright Angel Shale. The Inner Gorge and the river are not visible in this photo.

That photo didn't show the Inner Gorge. However, this next shot, taken from Mohave Point, does:

River and Inner Gorge

If you look at the canyon walls to left and right, you can see many of the same rock formations that are visible in the last picture. You can also see the Vishnu Schist, which forms the walls of the Inner Gorge on both sides of the river itself. Just above it, the sharply broken 'shelf' of rock is the Tapeats Sandstone. This contact, between the Vishnu and the Tapeats, marks what geologists call the "Great Unconformity." An unconformity occurs when two rock layers that contact are actually of very different ages. This one is the Great Unconformity because it's so distinctive and because the gap in ages is enormous: the Vishnu Schist is 1,700 million years old, while the overlying Tapeats Sandstone is 530 million years old. The Great Unconformity is literally a textbook example of an unconformity. Several of my geology textbooks contain either photographs or diagrams of the Great Unconformity, and many books about the Grand Canyon also make special points of showing and describing this feature. It was slightly mind-boggling to realize that I was looking at the real thing, and it really was as clear as the books said it was.

At the far end of the West Rim Drive is Hermit's Rest, with a small giftshop and a snack bar. There was also a ground squirrel darting around looking cute, doing its best to get people to feed it. Looking back eastward from Hermit Rest, my eye was caught by this awesome red-rock point jutting out into the Canyon from the South Rim.

Red Rock Point

After a snack at Hermit's Rest, I went back to Grand Canyon Village. In the afternoon, I visited Mather Point, just east of Yavapai Point, and got a good picture of the gigantic butte called the Zoroaster Temple.

Zoroaster Temple

Besides being a stunning sight in its own right, the Zoroaster Temple and its foundation rock give another excellent look at the Grand Canyon geologic column. The temple itself is Coconino Sandstone, resting on a base of Hermit Shale. Below that are the distinctive red-tinted rocks of the Supai Group. The big 'horseshoe' shape on the near side is the Redwall Limestone. Below that, the gentler slope is the Muav Limestone.

Also visible from Mather Point is the extremely impressive Vishnu Temple, a massive butte that rises to 7,635 feet above sea level. Personally I think this temple was misnamed -- to me, it looks like a crouching sphinx, so I think it should have been the Sphinx Temple or something like that.

Vishnu Temple

From Mather Point, I went on to the East Rim Drive.