In the Grand Canyon special of Horizon, we learn from the Grand Canyon Association the best times to visit the park and what renovations have been made.
The non-profit association is similar to the park partners found within larger parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. Their purpose is raise money not covered by the federal government for the park through memberships.
The canyon welcomed 6.25 million visitors last year, with the peak season being during the summer. Director of Marketing and Communications of the Grand Canyon Association Mindy Riesenberg says they encourage those who can come during a time other than summer to do so. That way, visitors are spread out more evenly. She says it’s also important that people trying using other entrances beside the south one.
“People think maybe the weather (in the winter and fall) won’t be great,” Riesenberg says. “I tell them even if there is weather, it is some of the most stunning views you will see, and it will be a different experience than you would have in the summer.”
You might be able to avoid the traffic if you visit during a weekday, especially Monday and Tuesday. However, expect the summer days to be a little more crowded no matter what. Riesenberg says it’s best to wake up early and visit the park then when it’s at its emptiest. She suggests staying a night in Flagstaff, and from there it’s only an hour and 15 minute drive to the canyon.
“You have some return visitors who are the one percent-ers,” Riesenberg says. “Those are the people who actually go below the rim. Those are people who usually will come back. I would say most visitors don’t hike. They walk along the rim trail which is very easy and you can take your dog.”
The park is always working on restoring the hiking trails. Riesenberg says most recently they’ve made navigating Hermit Trail easier. Now most people can make it at least half way down the trail, and find a spectacular view.
Work was also done to Desert View’s watch tower. A lot of Hopi Native American art is located in the tower, and people have been coming in to touch it up and make it look more brilliant.
One other project is Dark Skies – the effort to reduce light pollution so the stars can shine more brightly. Many of the light bulbs and fixtures have been replaced to alternatives that cause less pollution. Riesenberg says the project will be done in the next year or two.
“In the summer there’s a star party every year,” Riesenberg says. “You can see the stars clearly from the canyon at night, but you are going to see them even more brilliantly once we get this finalized.”
The Grand Canyon will celebrate its 100 years of being a national park on February 26, and there are many festivities leading up to the big event. There will be activities during the next year including a Summer Fest along with the annual Star Party. It’s all leading up to the Founders’ Day on February 26 and the celebrations that will occur at the park.
TED: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO THIS SPECIAL GRAND CANYON EDITION OF "ARIZONA HORIZON." I'M TED SIMONS. THE GRAND CANYON IS A 277-MILE NATURAL WONDER THAT HELP DEFINE ARIZONA. THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE REPORTS THAT MORE THAN 6 MILLION PEOPLE VISITED THE CANYON IN 2017 WITH THOSE TOURISTS SPENDING $667 MILLION IN COMMUNITIES. ANYTHING THAT ATTRACTS THOSE KINDS OF CROWDS IS SURE TO HAVE CHALLENGES, AND TONIGHT WE'LL TAKE A LOOK AT SOME OF THOSE CHALLENGES AS WE CONSIDER THE WONDERS OF THE GRAND CANYON. WE START WITH A CONVERSATION WITH MINDY RISENBERG. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON "ARIZONA HORIZON."
MINDY: OH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
TED: GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. WHAT IS THE GRAND CANYON ASSOCIATION?
MINDY: GRAND CANYON ASSOCIATION -- WE'RE ANY NON-PROFIT PARTNER OF THE PARK. SO MANY OF THE LARGER PARKS LIKE YOSEMITE AND YELLOWSTONE, WE ALL HAVE PARK PARTNERS THAT HELP TO PROVIDE FUNDING THROUGH MEMBERSHIPS THAT IS NOT COVERED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
TED: SO WITH THAT IN MIND, YOU HAVE A BIG OLD CELEBRATION COMING UP NEXT YEAR. 100 YEARS AS A NATIONAL PARK.
MINDY: YES. THE ACTUAL BIRTH DATE IS FEBRUARY 26TH, 2019.
TED: AND WHAT HAVE YOU GOT PLANNED? THERE IS A LOT GOING ON, I GOT TO THINK.
MINDY: RIGHT. AND WE'LL BE DOING ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. AROUND FOUNDERS DAY THERE WILL BE CELEBRATIONS AT THE PARK. SOMETIMES THERE'S SNOW, SOMETIMES THERE'S NOT. AND IN THE SUMMER IN CONJUNCTION WITH OUR STAR PARTY WE'LL HAVE A SUMMERFEST.
TED: ALL RIGHT. LET'S JUST TALK ABOUT THE CANYON IN PARTICULAR -- OR IN GENERAL, IF YOU WILL. 6 MILLION VISITORS LAST YEAR?
MINDY: 6.25 MILLION VISITORS.
TED: CAN THE CANYON HANDLE THAT?
MINDY: SO, YES, THE CANYON CAN HANDLE THAT. WE WANT PEOPLE TO COME. WE DON'T WANT TO STOP PEOPLE FROM COMING. BASICALLY, WHAT WE WOULD LIKE TO DO IS SPREAD IT OUT A LITTLE BIT MORE EVENLY, SO THE PEOPLE WHO MAYBE COULD DECIDE TO COME AT A DIFFERENT TIME OF THE YEAR, AND HAVE AN EASIER TIME OF MAKING THAT CHANGE, WE’D ENCOURAGE THEM TO DO SO, AND WE ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO COME THROUGH DIFFERENT ENTRANCES AT THE PARK, WHERE THE SOUTH RIM ENTRANCE AT THE VILLAGE IS USUALLY THE BUSIEST ENTRANCE. YOU CAN COME IN THROUGH CAMERON AND DESERT VIEW.
TED: WITH THAT IN MIND, THOUGH, THE BIG TIMES OF THE YEAR -- WE'RE IN IT RIGHT NOW.
MINDY: WE HAVE JUST STARTED.
TED: YEAH. ALL RIGHT. SO ARE THERE BETTER TIMES OF THE YEAR TO GO?
MINDY: ABSOLUTELY. WINTER, FALL, PEOPLE THINK THAT -- YOU KNOW, MAYBE THE WEATHER WON'T BE GREAT, BUT EVEN IF THERE IS WEATHER, THERE ARE SOME STUNNING VIEWS. AND IT WILL BE SO DIFFERENT THAN THE EXPERIENCE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE IN THE SUMMER.
TED: WITH ALL THE POSTCARD SHOTS AND EVERYTHING. AS FAR AS DAYS OF THE WEEK, AGAIN, HERE IN PHOENIX -- OR ARIZONA IN GENERAL, A DAY TRIP UP THERE? BETTER DAYS THAN OTHERS?
MINDY: WEEKDAYS. I WOULD SAY PROBABLY MONDAY TUESDAY.
TED: SO YOU ARE NOT LOCKED IN A BATTLE TRYING TO GET IN THE GATES.
MINDY: YOU COULD, BUT COME EARLY. THAT’S MY ADVICE. GET UP, GET IN THE CAR AND GET THERE EARLY. OR SPEND THE NIGHT IN FLAGSTAFF. AND THEN GET THERE.
TED: HOW LONG A TRIP FROM FLAGSTAFF?
MINDY: AN HOUR FIFTEEN.
TED: THAT’S ALL. ON A GOOD DAY.
MINDY: ON A GOOD DAY.
TED: TALK ABOUT THE VISITORS. HOW MANY, JUST IN GENERAL, ARE DOMESTIC AS OPPOSED TO INTERNATIONAL.
MINDY: WOW. SO WE HAVE SO MANY INTERNATIONAL VISITORS. I'M NOT SURE WHAT THE SPLIT IS, BUT VISITORS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD EVERY YEAR MAKE UP A BULK OF THE ATTENDENCE.
TED: AND AGAIN WITHOUT GETTING INTO FIGURES HERE - HOW MANY ARE FIRST TIME VISITORS? HOW MANY ARE RETURN FOLKS? DO YOU SEE A LOT OF FOLKS THAT KNOW THEIR WAY AROUND?
MINDY: I WOULD SAY MOST OF THOSE ARE MORE LOCAL, AND THEN YOU HAVE THE RETURN VISITORS WHO ARE THE 1%-ERS, AND THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO HIKE BELOW THE RIM. A LOT OF THOSE FOLKS WILL RETURN AS WELL.
TED: FOR THE FIRST TIMERS WHAT DO THEY USUALLY DO? TAKE A SMALL HIKE, MAYBE STROLL, JUST SIT THERE? MAKE TAKE A PICTURE OR TWO?
MINDY: MOST OF THEM DON'T HIKE. THEY WALK ALONG THE RIM TRIAL. WHICH IS VERY EASY. ANYONE CAN DO IT. YOU CAN EVEN TAKE YOUR DOG. DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED BELOW THE RIM, SO THAT’S THE ONE PLACE YOU CAN TAKE YOUR DOGS AND WALK AROUND AND SEE THE SIGHTS MOSTLY AT THE VILLAGE.
TED: OKAY. THERE ARE HIKING TRAILS --
TED: BUT THERE A NUMBER OF HIKING TRAILS AND THERE ARE DEGREES OF DIFFICULTY INVOLVED AS WELL.
TED: GOOD IDEA TO CHECK BEFOREHAND TO SEE WHAT YOU ARE HEADING INTO.
MINDY: ABSOLUTELY. YOU GO DOWN, BUT YOU HAVE TO COME BACK UP. AND THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE FORGET. [ LAUGHTER ]
TED: YEAH THAT’S A THING THEY ALWAYS FORGET. WHEN DRIVING UP THERE AGAIN, YOU TALKED ABOUT COMING FROM MAYBE THE EAST AND OTHER DIRECTIONS. SHUTTLE BUSES --
TED: -- ARE THOSE GOOD IDEAS?
MINDY: GREAT IDEAS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU WANT TO STAY IN TUSAYAN WICH IS THE SMALL CITY RIGHT OUTSIDE OF GRAND CANYON VILLAGE, YOU CAN JUST TAKE THE SHUTTLE FROM TUSAYAN IN AND OUT.
TED: AND THAT WOULD MAYBE SAVE YOU SOME TIME? A LOT OF TIME?
MINDY: IT WOULD SAVE YOU A LOT OF TIME, BECAUSE YOU WON'T BE LOOKING FOR PARKING. AND PARKING IS AT A PREMIUM.
TED: YEAH. LET’S TALK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE GRAND CAYON AND THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES. TALK TO US ABOUT THAT – WHAT DGOES ON THERE?
MINDY: WHAT GOES ON BETWEEN THE GRAND CANYON AND THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES -
TED: AND THE SURROUNDING TRIBES AS WELL.
MINDY: OKAY SO THAT’S A BIG ONE. ONE OF THE BIG PRIORITIES THAT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE 11 ASSOCIATED TRIBES OF GRAND CANYON. I MEAN, HOW DO YOU WORK WITH OUR PARTNERS WHOSE LANDS WE'RE STEWARDING. ANCESTORAL LANDS THAT WE'RE STEWARDING – THAT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO US. SO WE WORK WITH THE ADVISORY COUNCIL, I BELIEVE THEY HAVE A MEETING COMING UP SHORTLY. AND WE'RE WORKING ON POSSIBLY PUTTING TOGETHER A CULTURAL SITE AT DESERT VIEW.
TED: OH INTERESTING. AND DESERT VIEW IS THAT BIG MONOLITH KIND OF A THING- THE OUTLOOK KIND OF THING.
MINDY: YES, ON THE EAST SIDE, DESIGNED BY MARY COULTER A FAMOUS ARCHITECT.
TED: AND THAT IS BEING RESTORED. A COUPLE OF PROJECTS YOU GOT GOING THERE. LET'S TALK ABOUT THE RESTORE RATION OF THE DESERT VIEW WATCHTOWER. HOW MUCH DOES IT NEED? I UNDERSTAND THAT THERE’S ALL SORTS OF ART AND IT'S REALLY KINDA COOL.
MINDY: RIGHT. THERE'S A LOT OF NATIVE AMERICAN ART IN THERE, PARTICULARLY HOPI ART. AND, YOU KNOW, OVER THE YEARS, IT STARTS TO FADE. YOU CAN'T SEE IT AS WELL. JUST LIKE ANY ART. SO WE HAD PEOPLE GO IN AND RESTORE THAT ART. THEY ARE STILL WORKING. THEY’VE DONE A COUPLE OF LEVELS SO FAR - I BELIEVE THERE'S FIVE LEVELS, AND THEY HAVE MADE THEM BRIGHT AND MORE BRILLIANT JUST LIKE YOU SEE OVERSEAS IN ITALY WHERE THEY ARE RESTORING ART LIKE THAT. IT'S THE EXACT SAME THING, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US HERE IN ARIZONA.
TED: TRAIL RESTORATION, THAT'S GOING ON AS WELL. IT PROBABLY ALWAYS GOES ON DOESN’T IT?
MINDY: THAT'S RIGHT. THERE IS ALWAYS TRAIL MAINTENANCE THAT HAS TO GO ON, BUT WE'RE ALWAYS WORKING ON DIFFERENT TRAILS. THE HERMIT WAS REDONE MOST RECENTLY, AND THAT WAS A TRAIL BEFORE -- A LOT OF PEOPLE HAD TROUBLE, YOU HAD TO BE VERY, VERY GOOD TO GO DOWN THIS TRAIL. IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT, AND THEY’VE FIXED THAT TO THE POINT WHERE NOW ANYBODY CAN PROBABLY GO DOWN AT LEAST THE TOP HALF OF IT, AND ENJOY THOSE VIEWS THAT THEY WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SEE FROM OTHER TRAILS. WE ARE IN A CAMPAIGN RIGHT NOW, GRAND CANYON ASSOCIATION, AND ONE OF THE BIG CAMPAIGNS IS A TRAILS ENDOWMENT, AND THAT IS TO KEEP OUR TRAILS, YOU KNOW, MAINTAINED IN PERPETUITY.
TED: I WOULD IMAGINE IT'S DIFFICULT AND EXPENSIVE.
TED: TO KEEP THOSE THINGS UP TO PAR.
MINDY: EXACTLY. YOU HAVE TO GET ALL OF YOUR EQUIPMENT DOWN THERE, THEY ARE BREAKING ROCKS. IT'S VERY DIFFICULT.
TED: YES. ONE LAST PROJECT HERE AND I THOUGHT THIS WAS VERY FACINATING; THE DARK SKIES PROJECT. YOU GUYS ARE CHANGING LIGHT BULBS AND EVERYTHING BECAUSE YOU DON'T WANT A GLARE. DOES THIS MEAN THERE MIGHT BE ADDITIONAL EVENING ACTIVITYITIES AT THE CANYON?
MINDY: WELL WE DO HAVE EVENING ACTIVITIES AND IN THE SUMMER THERE IS A STAR PARTY EVERY YEAR. YOU CAN SEE THE STARS CLEARLY AT NIGHT, BUT YOU WILL SEE THEM EVEN MORE BRILLIANTLY ONCE WE GET THIS FINALIZED. RIGHT NOW WE ARE IN PROVISIONAL STATUS. THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF LIGHT BULBS AND FIXTURES REPLACED, AND WE SHOULD HAVE THIS ALL DONE IN THE NEXT YEAR OR TWO.
TED: THAT IS FANTASTIC. EVENING PROGRAMS WOULD BE FANTASTIC UP THERE. ALRIGHT, LAST QUESTION BEFORE YOU GO, WHAT MOVES YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE GRAND CANYON?
MINDY: OH, WOW. SO MANY THINGS. I ACTUALLY JUST CAME OUT OF THE CANYON A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO WHERE I DID A HIKE DOWN TO PHANTOM RANCH, AND JUST THE SHEER IMMENSITY OF THE PLACE, THE AWE THAT YOU FEEL WHEN YOU ARE THE CANYON. IT IS INDESCRIBABLE. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL AND THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT.
TED: IT OVERWHELMS YOU, DOESN'T IT?
TED: ALL RIGHT, MINDY RISENBERG GRAND CANYON ASSOCIATION. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US.
MINDY: THANK YOU SO MUCH . APPRECIATE IT.
Mindy Riesenberg: Director of Marketing and Communications, Grand Canyon Assoc.