Grand Canyon Experts | A conversation with Stewart Aitchison: Part 2

A conversation with Stewart Aitchison: Part 2
Stewart Aitchison has lived in Flagstaff for more than 40 years, originally coming to northern Arizona to attend Northern Arizona University.  He worked for about 10 years as a field biologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona before serendipitously becoming a naturalist for Lindblad Expeditions, which has recently partnered with National Geographic. Stewart Aitchison’s research and travels have resulted in numerous books and articles, and his photography has been published widely. His most recent books is The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Univ. of Arizona (Tucson) Press, 2010.

Q Where are some places you like to send people or take people who maybe don’t have the time or inclination to do a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon?

A  There’s the Powell Memorial and viewpoint. This memorial commemorates the 1869

Powell Memorial:

Powell Memorial: Picture by Steele Wotkyns

and 1871-72 exploratory trips down the Colorado River by Major John Wesley Powell and other companions in the expeditions. This viewpoint also features outstanding vistas.

And then last week I took a hike with my niece I haven’t done before it’s called the Trail of Time. It goes between the old Verkamps store and Yavapai Point.  There are little markers in the sidewalk about a good stride apart.  Each step represents one million years. There is a chunk of rock placed at the appropriate time interval, representing each formation found in the Canyon – the rocks they have on display are beautiful. They are cut and then polished. Some of the Precambrian metamorphic rocks are just brilliant, wonderful. Inside Verkamps side of the hike, to the west, the Grand Canyon Association has a nice history exhibit. Also, what we like to do is park at the old Grand Canyon Visitor Center to access this particular Trail of Time. This access brings you out somewhere around what is called the Supergroup formation of Grand Canyon. If you take a left towards Verkamps you travel back farther in time. If you go right towards Yavapai Point it takes you through the Paleozoic time. It’s a pretty new attraction. I think the walk through time was dedicated this last fall (2010).

There is also a really nice hike from Bright Angel Lodge to Mather Point. A couple of other hikes and sights I recommend for people who don’t have a lot of time but want to venture below the rim: One is to the tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail. Once you get through the tunnel, look up under the overhang to see ancient pictographs. Also, if you keep going down Bright Angel Trail to the very first big switchback there is a little trail that continues off west for about 50 to 100 yards. There you can find these cool blocks of Kaibab Limestone (the rock layer that forms the rim of the Canyon) that are encrusted with marine fossils. Another place to see similar fossils is if you continue up the Rim Trail from the head of the Bright Angel Trail to the west several hundred yards and poke around up there.

Q What is another place you like to send visitors?

A To the east of Desert View there is a place called Palisades of the Desert.  It is a bit of a long walk along an old road, but views are world class.

If folks have a particular interest in prehistory, there is a designated archaeological site called Tusayan Ruin, which is about halfway between Grand Canyon Village and Desert View. It has a little museum and is quite nice and informative.

Q Where do you like to go for sunsets?

Sunset from Lipan Point, South Rim, Picture by Stewart Aitchison

A  I like Lipan Point and Yaki Point. For Yaki Point, which is closed off to private vehicles,you can take the shuttle bus out there. I’ve noticed that people want to be at a place where they can watch the sun set directly. But as a photographer, I like places where I can look away from the sun to see what the light is doing on the sunlit walls.

Resources and for further reading:

Grand Canyon: Window of Time, by Stewart Aitchison, Sierra Press. 1999.
Grand Canyon’s North Rim and Beyond, by Stewart Aitchison, Grand Canyon Association. 2008