|The Grand Canyon|
Up on the Rim, it might be snowing, but drop a mile inside the earth, and you'll find yourself warmed by the sunshine of eternal desert. The Grand Canyon is one of the world's most famous landscapes, and winter is the ideal time to hike it.
With moderate temperatures and no crowds to speak of (two things you definitely can't say about the Canyon in the sizzling summertime), the park boasts more than a million acres of Arizona backcountry, and a wide choice of trails for everyone from beginning backpackers to experienced canyon rats.
Rangers recommend the so-called corridor trails (the North and South Kaibab and the Bright Angel Trails) for first time canyoneers. In winter, however, only the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails, both on the South Rim, are accessible by road. North Rim facilities close in late October, and North Rim roads close when the snow piles up, usually by mid-November and sometimes sooner.
One of the classic canyon trips is a two- or three-day hike from rim to river to rim. This trip starts with a descent on the South Kaibab Trail all the way down to the river, where you spend the first night at Bright Angel Campground. The second day, you head up on the Bright Angel Trail, and either ascend all the way or break for the night at Indian Gardens.
The corridor trails offer eye-popping, breath-stopping views, but if your taste runs to real wilderness, these trails (used by mules as well as people) are so well-graded, carefully switchbacked, and neatly shored that you might find yourself hankering for a bit morewellwilderness.
If you've got some desert experience, are ready for a challenge, and if you don't mind packing lots of water, head for the less-traveled trails that crisscross the canyon.
One of the best is the Tonto Trail, which runs roughly parallel to the Colorado River on the Canyon's south side. It intersects all the north-south trails on the South Rim, enabling you to plan a trip of virtually any length.
Warning: Grand Canyon trails can be extremely rugged, steep, and deteriorated (sometimes all at the same time), with exposed rock-scrambling and tricky route-finding thrown in for fun. What they offer in return for the work is the canyon experience you came for: the wash of silence, the feeling of being utterly alone in infinite space. And no mules.
Snowbird stats: Keep some warm clothes in your car, because you'll need them once you climb out of the Canyon. Check with the rangers regarding instep crampons, because a cold snap can put ice on trails near the rim. Crampons are rentable at Babbitt's General Store across from the Visitor's Center.
Information: Grand Canyon National Park, PO Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, (520) 638-7888. Maps and guides: Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon Map, $8.95; The Official Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon, by Scott Phybony. $11.95, both available from Grand Canyon Association, PO Box 399, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, (520) 638-2481.
Getting there: In the winter, access is from the south. Flagstaff is the nearest city; from there it's a 90-mile drive to the South Rim. Take Highway 180 and follow the signs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication