Grand Canyon After Dark

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The magic doesn’t stop after the sun goes down

Posted by: Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim on June 5, 2017

As the sun approaches the edge of the rim, the shadows within the canyon will shift slowly, changing the colors and textures within it.

A run-of-the-mill magician can earn a round of applause by making a car disappear; a standing ovation if he can do the same thing with a bus.

But every day around dark, nature makes Grand Canyon vanish. Now you see it — now you don’t.

So what do you do when the sight that attracts millions of visitors from around the world is, for all intents and purposes, out of sight? Although the canyon may be taking a siesta, that doesn’t mean Grand Canyon National Park goes to sleep. There’s always something happening in the park after dark.

Note: For any event after sunset, be sure to dress warmly since temperatures can drop quickly.
canyon

Watch the Sun Go Down

About a half-hour before sunset, find a quiet spot along the rim — preferably a section where there’s a railing — and then do something unusual. Nothing.

It’s always tempting when you have a few moments to check an email or make a phone call, but since you’re about to witness one of the world’s most incredible spectacles — sunset over Grand Canyon — this is a good time to let time pass naturally and without interruption. As the sun approaches the edge of the rim, the shadows within the canyon will shift slowly, changing the colors and textures within it.

Stay still and, for the next half-hour or so, watch the sky spin into a color wheel. Depending on the conditions (slightly cloudy is better), as the canyon grows dark the skies above it can become illuminated with reds, oranges, blues, and purples.

Should you return later when the colors have faded to black, stand by the rim, let your eyes adjust for the darkness, and you may be able to see the distant lights of Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor.

Canyon People Edge

Take a Stroll

Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean Grand Canyon is completely invisible. On an evening when there’s a full moon, or even a partial one, and the skies are clear, grab a flashlight or a headlamp secured with an elastic band, head to the Historic Village, and follow the same sidewalk you’ve taken earlier that day and marvel at the difference in views.

You can walk on your own through the village. Compared to what the canyon looks like in the daytime, seeing it in, quite literally, a new light is beautiful. Moonlight softens the view, making the canyon look more ethereal, dreamlike, and still.

Alternatively, check the daily schedule for outdoor ranger-guided Grand Canyon by Moonlight tours, which depart from the Visitor Center at 8:30 p.m.

building over looking grand canyon

Dinner at El Tovar

For a national park, Grand Canyon offers an impressive range of dining options, but only one is truly an experience: the El Tovar restaurant at the El Tovar hotel. While it is a pleasure to dine here any time, the evening is especially enjoyable.

Sitting beside the famed Mary Colter-designed Hopi House on the South Rim, the equally famous restaurant has a vintage appearance that makes it timeless. It features wonderful paintings of various Native American tribes and a menu that includes dishes like stuffed roasted quail, hand-cut grilled Arizona-grown filet mignon, and sustainable salmon tostada on organic greens.

There is only one Grand Canyon. There is only one El Tovar. Which makes this one of the world’s most memorable dining experiences.

Elk

Be on the Lookout

Around the same time you’re getting ready for dinner, so are many of the animals that live near Grand Canyon. If you’re out for a stroll (again, with a flashlight), keep an eye open for deer and elk that come out around dusk to graze for food. It’s not unusual to see them wandering around the lodges in search of a hearty meal of native grass, shrubs or berries.

Keep in mind that they’re nice to see, but remember, all animals in the park are wild, so be sure to keep a safe distance away from any animals you encounter.

Shop Around

If you leave Grand Canyon National Park without at least one treasured keepsake, you’d be the first. In the Historic Village the gift shops at El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge are open later than most, making the evening a convenient time for a mini-shopping spree.

While most shops along the rim carry souvenirs of Grand Canyon, every store carries something different. El Tovar, in particular, offers a number of higher-end items including exquisite handmade silver and turquoise jewelry — rings, earrings, brooches, pins and pendants among them — as well as books, photographs, paintings, ceramics and assorted souvenirs. The gallery upstairs in the Hopi House offers collectible-quality Native American rugs, pottery from many Pueblos, and occasionally works by descendants of the famous Hopi potter, Nampeyo.

Skies with lots of stairs

Gaze at the Stars

National Park Service rangers offer a wonderful array of specialized evening programs at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium located behind the Visitor Center. Starting at 8:00 p.m. and lasting about an hour, the presentations focus on such topics as Fire Planet; Exploring Grand Canyon With Your Five Senses; At The Edge Of Understanding: The Inspiring Complexity Of Grand Canyon Geology; Endangered Waters: The Colorado River and the Southwest; and The Cascade of Survival: Grand Canyon Birds.

One topic that’s perfectly suited for an evening out is Ancient Skies: Archaeology, Astronomy and the Native American Cosmos. It shows how Ancestral Puebloans and other native tribes viewed the heavens as a mysterious source of spiritual wonder, life, and nature. In addition, astronomy clubs will occasionally join rangers at Grand Canyon to offer star parties — free telescope viewings to show guests planets, double stars, star clusters, constellations, nebulae, and distant galaxies.

Adding to these and other evening astronomy programs is the fact that in 2016 the International Dark-Sky Association awarded Grand Canyon National Park with Provisional International Dark Sky Park status. The park is now working towards full International Dark Sky Park status by replacing outdated light fixtures with star-friendly alternatives.

So even after dark, things still look up at Grand Canyon.

How to Explore

Grand Canyon National Park Lodges provides the premier in-park lodging, managing six distinct historic lodges. From the El Tovar Hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. At any time of year, day and night, you’ll find more than enough to fill your hours including visits to the Historic Village District, and rafting, railway and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore/.


Written by: Gary McKechnie

The author of the best-selling Great American Motorcycle Tours, Gary McKechnie also wrote National Geographic’s USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks. He lectures on American travel and history aboard the ships of the Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea lines.

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SR Watchtower with Dead Tree and Canyon
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