ALEX COHEN, Host:
Maybe the wildfires have quashed your plans for a summer vacation in California. You might want to consider the Grand Canyon in Arizona instead. Teddy Roosevelt once called it the one great sight which every American should see. Every year, four and a half million people travel to the Grand Canyon, and many of them aren't from the U.S. As part of our weeklong visit to national parks, NPR's Ted Robbins brings us this story.
TED ROBBINS: This year, park officials are not sure whether fewer Americans will come to the Grand Canyon because of high gas prices. Sarah Maily(ph), Barb Dolstrom(ph) and her husband drove from Wisconsin to do the southwest circuit - Bryce, Zion, Southern California - and paid a bundle.
M: Twelve hundred dollars.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBBINS: On gas?
M: Roundtrip it will be 1200 dollars, we estimate.
ROBBINS: But then a drop in U.S. visitors could be offset by foreign visitors who get a lot more for their money against the weak dollar.
M: My name is Margaret Mathews(ph), and I'm from Hamilton, in Scotland, U.K. I'm here with my husband, Jim. And I'm really glad he's brought me here because it's just completely awesome.
M: Just the colors, I mean it's mostly red obviously, but it's still it's just the variety of colors in the whole place.
ROBBINS: The Mathews are at the south rim, where most visitors come to view the vast landscape, sometimes far bigger than they imagined.
M: You see I had no idea. I thought it may be like seven or eight miles, or something like that.
ROBBINS: It's actually more than 200 miles long. Ted Roberts(ph), his wife and two daughters came from Ohio. He wants to go down to the Colorado River at the bottom.
M: How long does it take to get down there?
U: About four hours down and maybe five, six hours back.
M: That's - maybe that will be the next trip then. That can be the next trip.
ROBBINS: A lot of people underestimate the time and effort it takes to hike the Grand Canyon. In summertime, rangers advise not trying to go down and up in one day. Even just going one way they advise starting near dawn to avoid the heat. Still, in midday, on the steepest part of the trail below the rim, Peter Worrell(ph), from Manchester, England, is hauling buckets of rocks.
M: I've been here 10 weeks just volunteering in national parks. Helping to dig the trails and maintain fences and things.
ROBBINS: Worrell is part of a program called the American Conservation Experience, which places young people in summer volunteer jobs.
M: Thought I'd come over and give a bit back.
ROBBINS: Are you glad you came or you're sorry?
M: No, I'm glad. It's a great view, nice friendly people, nice weather. You get to keep fit, so.
ROBBINS: Ninety percent of Grand Canyon visitors stay up top. A complex of gift shops and hotels like El Tavor and the Bright Angel Lodge provide lodging and refreshment, including an ice-cream parlor with a line out the door. In most places along the Grand Canyon rim there is no railing, but here in the developed part there are a few low stone walls and benches. Couples sit and watch the sun go down. Barb Dalstrom's husband went back to their room so she and Sarah Maily are enjoying what they've got.
M: We're sitting here and there's this couple next door, and my god, this is so romantic, and here we are, together, but, anyway.
ROBBINS: Little does she know. That couple near them? Ina and Dida Rodenz (ph) from Chicago. Not impressed. Doesn't even compare, he says, with sunset from Heron Island, Australia, or over Lake Pontchartrain, in Louisiana.
M: It's nice, I mean it's not ugly, but the book says you've got to do this so we're going to do this.
ROBBINS: Then there are folks like Carl Darchansky(ph). He's resting on the Bright Angel trail about a mile below the rim before the final ascent. How many times have you been on this trail?
M: Thirty times.
ROBBINS: In the last how many years?
M: Over the last 50 years. Yeah. Seventy-two years young. Hope to be able to do it for a few more years.
ROBBINS: What - what keeps you coming back?
M: Oh, the beauty of it.
ROBBINS: For everyone who's disappointed, there seems to be 10 who are thrilled. And for everyone ignorant when they arrive at the Grand Canyon, nearly all go away educated, if not inspired. Ted Robbins, NPR News.
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