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Travel Buzz
Family Fun In Canyon Country
By Lindsday Blumenthal

There are few vacation destinations that can define a childhood, imbed a lifetime memory, and reveal almost two billion years of history all at the same time.

Actually, there may only be one...The Grand Canyon. The great chasm of the southwest is a great idea for any family looking for a classic, fun-filled getaway gorged with grandeur (and education).

Jaws will drop when you reach the incredible sight that is the Grand Canyon. It stretches nearly 280 miles long and 18 miles wide, and descends more than one mile deep.

Most of the millions of visitors who come to the Grand Canyon each year tour the South Rim. This area is packed with lodges, restaurants, shops, museums and people. The more remote North Rim offers tranquil trails and limited concessions. Don’t try to take on both areas because the trip would be 215 driving miles from rim to rim. There are plenty of overlooks and stopping points, accessible by car, along any stretch of road that all offer spectacular views. Or, catch the park’s shuttle bus during peak season (May to October), which passes through all of the South Rim, Grand Canyon Village and eight-mile West Rim Drive.

For those who opt to take their geological journey on foot, begin your walk at the South Rim Visitor Center where copies of the park’s activity and program guide are available.

At the Grand Canyon, kids can even become Junior Rangers. Upon completion of the requirements for their age group, they are sworn in, receive a certificate and even get to bear a badge just like a real Park Ranger.

If teens are on the tour, you may consider the classic canyon experience of a mule ride. A day outing lasts seven hours and an overnight trek will take you all the way to the Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor.

With the Colorado River cutting through the canyon, rafting expeditions prove to be an excellent vacation plunge.  Adrenaline-fanatic families can brave the river rapids on a white-water adventure lasting anywhere from three hours to three days to three weeks. Families of a calmer nature can drift down the Colorado River on a serene, smooth-water trip.  Motorized boat tours are also offered for those with children eight years and older.

One of the first-class approaches to seeing the sights is from the skies. Fully narrated helicopter tours hover above and feature exclusive landing spots at the base of the canyon.

A sure-fire route to a grand ole time is riding the rails of the Historic Grand Canyon Railway. The adventure begins at the Williams Depot where a buffet-style breakfast awaits and an authentic Wild West shootout draws near. Then, it’s all aboard an old-fashioned, steam engine locomotive for the 65-mile trip to the South Rim. Singing cowboys serenade the passengers and a knowledgeable host educates on the history of the railroad and the surrounding areas. After three hours of viewing the canyon at your leisure, it is back to the depot.  But not before masked gunmen ride feverishly along side the train until it comes to a dead halt. Upon entering, the bandits badger the riders and flirt with the “purrty” ladies. Until the sheriff moseys on in, arrests the bad guys and saves the day.

Hoodoo Heaven

Another awe-inspiring adventure among America’s national parks is Bryce Canyon. Located in southwestern Utah and open year-round, this smaller sensation is comprised of a maze of multi-colored, crumbling rock columns in all sorts of bizarre shapes. These towers, spires, cones, stubs and poles are properly known as hoodoos.  Hop on the Bryce Canyon Shuttle Bus to visit every view point in the park. On a clear day, you can see well over 100 miles. If you decide to head for the hoodoos on your own, the Mosey Cave Hike is a great, family-friendly trail.  Naturalist programs are also available to help you discover Bryce Canyon’s diversity.

Red Rock Radiance

For boundless beauty and endless exhilaration, continue the western voyage to Sedona, Arizona. Only two hours south of the Grand Canyon, families will find themselves buried in a treasure of nature, surrounded by magnificent red rock sculptures, scenic sandstone cliffs and pristine natural forests. Aside from absorbing the dramatic surroundings, there is plenty to do in a city stirring with major cultural events, four-star resorts and restaurants, championship golf courses, and thrilling tours.

Hold on tight on a family ride through Red Rock Country with Pink Jeep Tours. These world-famous, off road excursions are sure to provide unrivaled excitement and incredible panoramas. Explore the mystery and capture the history of native ancestors on the Ancient Ruin tour or climb 2,000 feet above Sedona on a 4-wheel drive volcanic rim trail on the Scenic Rim tour.

When the dinner bell rings, head on over to Blazin’ M Ranch for rip-roarin family fun and some good eatin’. Pony rides, a shooting gallery, train rides, horseshoe pits and a mechanical roping horse are among the authentic old west activities. After visiting the saloon, two-step into the barn for chuck-wagon grub served by cowpokes on a tin plate.

After supper, sit back and enjoy the harmonic sounds and comedic storytelling of the Blazin’ MCowboys.

To get the best value for your travel dollars when visiting the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, look into the vacation packages offered by companies like Globus and Trafalgar Tours. For a truly unique way to get to the southwest, consider traversing the countryside with Grand Canyon Railways.

The dramatic scenery of this area of the country is constantly depicted by artists, staged by directors and expressed by writers. But no matter how many times you see photographs, watch movies or read about the Grand Canyon and the wonders of the west, it is not the real thing. So, round up the kids and pack your bags.  It’s off to canyon country.

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