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VISIT THE STAR PARTY
No, it's not a rave, dance party or desert festival: every year during the summer, volunteer astronomers gather to share their love of the stars with visitors in the Grand Canyon. Organised by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, the annual Star Party takes place over a week in June during the new moon, when the sky is dark and the heavens sparkle. Volunteers must be registered with Parks Services. on the North Rim, telescopes are set up on the Kaibab Lodge balcony; on the South Rim, they are located behind the visitor centre.
RUN THE RIVER
While the crowds swelter up on the rim, veteran river-runners argue that the best way to experience the Grand Canyon is from the rapids of the Colorado River. Carving through the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River can be tackled by commercial or National Parks Service river tours that start from half-day smooth water rides to 18-day river runs that journey the length of the canyon. The season starts in April and finishes in September, and like most premium canyon experiences, they book out quickly. Permits for non-commercial, do-it-yourself trips of 12-25 days are offered as part of a weighted lottery.
Riding a mule has been a traditional way of accessing the Grand Canyon since tourism began in the area; trips to the river book out 13 months in advance. The South Rim route is steep and not for the faint-hearted, with trips departing year-round, costing from $165 for a two-hour, six-kilometre ride along the rim; overnight return trips are available from $725, staying at a lodge at the base of the canyon by the Colorado River. At the less-congested North Rim, trips start from $55 and run from an hour to half-day during the summer season.
Arguably the most convenient and spectacular way to see the Grand Canyon is from above. One of the most popular excursions offered from Las Vegas are helicopter tours, which make their way over the Hoover Dam and descend into a section of Grand Canyon West. Maverick Helicopters run daily trips that land on specially designated sites in the Hualapai Indian Territory in the gorge, with visitors able to walk around the desert landscape, sip champagne and peer down towards the Colorado River, from $735; scenic flights from terminals on the South Rim and West Rim cost from $225.
TAKE A HIKE
The Grand Canyon has hikes suitable for everyone, from casual strolls on the rim to serious hikes descending into the canyon. Ranger-led education hikes are popular with visitors keen to understand the geology of the canyon, while the three-day Bright Angel trail, which follows a natural faultline to the river, is popular for its natural springs. There are walks for all abilities, but hiking in the Grand Canyon is serious business due to the extreme temperatures. Always carry water, and remember while it might be easy to hike down, the return journey back up will take longer.
DARE TO SKYWALK
One of the most unique Grand Canyon experiences involves a bit of courage. The Skywalk, a horse-shoe shaped, glass-bottomed walkway, juts out over the rim of the Grand Canyon, with four layers of glass separating visitors from the canyon floor 1200 metres below. Located in Grand Canyon West, outside of the National Park and on the Hualapai Reservation, the attraction opened in 2007 to much media fanfare. While it offers a unique perspective, it's a pricey experience, with tickets sold as part of a package deal involving other activities and visitors restricted from using their own cameras on the platform.
The writer travelled with the assistance of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority and Maverick Helicopters.