Grand Canyon Experts | Conversation with P.J. O’Malley, Program Manager at the Grand Canyon
Q: How long have you been program manager at the Grand Canyon?
A: I’ve been program manager for 2 years, although I’ve been with the program for a total of 4.5 years.
Q: Do you lead any tours or excursions yourself?
A: I do just about all the tours. Everything from public day tours, private day/multi-day tours, half-day tours and multi-day hikes. I cover just about everything.
Q: What would you consider to be the most popular tour or attraction at the Grand Canyon?
A: I’d say the Sunset on the Grand tour, which is like a big bucket list for most people. We
usually run two per day. It is a three-hour tour along the south rim and we go to many scenic vistas where we discuss the canyon’s geology, human history and ecology. At the end, we set up at a great spot to view the sunset. This is one of the more reasonably-priced tours, so I think that’s one reason why it is so popular.
I feel the best way to experience the canyon is to hike and we host a five-hour hike where we mostly discuss geology and Native American uses for the plants. For those that are able to hike, you can get the most picturesque views.
Q: What attractions do you recommend for children?
A: The National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger program, where a child can pick up a workbook at different locations around the canyon and they can then fulfill different assignments from the workbook. After they complete the workbook they turn them into the rangers, take an oath of allegiance and receive a Junior Ranger Badge.
Hiking the canyon is good for kids, depending on the child of course. Kids around 6-7 usually fit this bill. Also museums, such as Yavapai Point Museum, and Tusayan Ruins museum are great for kids. Both museums have great visual displays and the children learn something as well.
Q: What excursions do you recommend for the avid hiker or camper?A: I recommend the Phantom Ranch trip, which is a great way to enjoy the back country without having to carry a lot of weight. Phantom Ranch has beds and meals are also provided – all that you have to carry is snacks and water. This is a very popular tour and reservations must be made at least 13 months in advance.
We are also offering overnight trips to Havasupai, where we hike down 10 miles into the canyon and camp out for 2-3 nights using tents and sleeping bags. Food is provided. Day hikes are offered and participants have the opportunity to take a swim.
Q: What is your personal favorite Grand Canyon tour?
A: That is a very difficult question for me to answer, so I would say any backpacking tour into the canyon – anything that gets people out of the cities and into the back country.
Q: What is the longest excursion offered at the Grand Canyon?
A: Our trips are pretty open ended – private tours can last up to 14 days, but trips range from a half day to 14 days.
Q: What tours do you recommend for senior citizens?
A: Half-day tours are the best for seniors. The Sunset on the Grand tour and The Best of the Canyon Tour would fit this bill. Both have limited walking, but they also get to see all the fantastic views. It’s great for older folks with less energy and time. They get all the fantastic views and get to learn about the canyon at the same time.
Q: Do you notice a larger amount of international visitors to the Grand Canyon?
A: Yes, especially during the past three years. The majority are Europeans from Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain and Italy.
Q: What types of wildlife are encountered on most excursions?
A: The most common are birds such as the condor and raven. Animals such as Mule Deer,
Rocky Mountain Elk and Desert Big Horn Sheep are encountered. We also encounter reptiles such as rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, and scorpions. Although they are out there, we rarely see Cougars, mostly because they are night hunters and stay pretty well-hidden during the day. There are two signs within the park that signify Mountain Lion crossings.
Q: What plans do you have for the future for excursions and tours?
A: We are looking to expand trips to Phantom Ranch and Havasupai. In the past we have contracted some trips out to other companies, but now we will do everything in-house. We are also looking to expand out to the Flagstaff market, trying to get Flagstaff travelers down to the Grand Canyon. We’d also like to expand more back country tours in the future as well, which would allow us to develop more camping trip-type tours.