Essential Friends + Gateways: Let The Grand Canyon Association Introduce You To Grand Canyon National Park

Such a big place like the Grand Canyon needs a lot of interpretation, and that's where the Grand Canyon Association comes in. Rebecca Latson photo.

A colorful rift in the earth millions of years—and immeasurable gallons of water—in the making, the jagged maw of the Grand Canyon draws crowds content enough to simply stare across this impressive cross-section of geology.

And that can be enough for some first-time visitors to Grand Canyon National Park. The rims have numerous vantage points from which to ponder the best morning and evening light, points of interest to gain some understanding of the human history that evolved with the canyon, and resting points to celebrate day’s end over meals and stories of wonderment.

First-timers to this incredible setting can quickly be overwhelmed, and not just by the depth and breadth of this world famous canyon. Where do you begin to explore this wondrous landscape? While the National Park Service provides a good foundation of interpretive materials, it lacks the staff and resources to develop the robust array of materials that the Grand Canyon Association does. Stand in any of the park’s visitor centers and you’ll find GCA materials in just about any direction you turn: trail guides, field guides, kids books, CDs, posters. Putting these materials to use can lead to a more rewarding vacation in this park by helping you understand its history, its geology and wildlife, and what to look for.

“Although the breathtaking vistas are what we love, those who take the time to walk along a trail away from the crowds may see a lizard scurrying across the trail or glimpse a condor flying overhead,” says Susan Schroeder, GCA’s executive director. "This is part of the Grand Canyon experience too. When you take the time to enjoy more of what the canyon has to offer, you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the park.”

Working On Behalf Of The Grand Canyon--And You

GCA’s mission is similar to that of the dozens of other cooperating associations that work in the National Park System: Along with raising charitable dollars to be put to work inside the park in programs as diverse as wildlife research and trail maintenance, the association works with scientists, writers, artists, photographers and many others to produce interpretive items and offer educational opportunities, such as its field seminars, for parkgoers.

Alternate Text
The Grand Canyon Association helped make the rehabilitation of the Bright Angel Trailhead possible. NPS photo.

These non-profit organizations are a vital extension of the Park Service’s interpretive and educational outreach. Cooperating associations help connect individuals to the national parks by selling educational and interpretive materials, providing information services, conducting educational programs and field institutes, and raising contributions to support a specific park’s mission. The Grand Canyon Association is one of the oldest cooperating associations in existence.

“For 80 years, the Grand Canyon Association has been supporting Grand Canyon National Park and its visitors,” says Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga. "With financial support from GCA members and donors, we have been able to offer high-quality programs and services to millions of visitors throughout the years. Working together, we are making enduring connections to one of America’s most spectacular places—Grand Canyon.”

No doubt the financial support is valuable, particularly in these challenging fiscal times for the parks. But GCA also exists to make your visit to the Grand Canyon the best it can be. While that is accomplished to a certain degree by its publications, such as the non-profit organization’s Grand Canyon Trail Guide series, its insightful geologic guides, and its trip-planning materials bundled into one package, it’s the field programs that really help you enjoy and marvel at this landscape.

Alternate Text

GCA field seminars can take you down to the river. Photo by Mike Bucheit.

Field Trips That Bring The Canyon Up Close

Through the association’s Grand Canyon Field Institute you can take a day hike, a women’s only backpacking trek, attend a plein air painting workshop, or have the Institute arrange a program specific for just about whatever in the park your family is interested in. Leading these programs are experts in their fields, such as Stewart Aitchison, a zoologist and geologist by training and a naturalist of the American Southwest by passion, and Wayne Ranney, a former park ranger, globe-trotting geologist, and multi-book author for GCA and other regional publishers.

Along with helping others come to admire Grand Canyon National Park, GCA plays an integral role in striving to preserve this landscape, and your membership dues help realize that goal.

For instance, each year tens of thousands of visitors come to explore the beauty of the canyon by hiking wilderness trails below the rim. All those feet pounding the landscape in this arid setting leads to problems that need to be fixed. Trail restoration work is essential because of the high use these trails get and because it helps keep visitors safe. Funding provided by the GCA covers both the labor and materials to install crucial features.

Currently the GCA has been supporting restoration of the Bright Angel Trailhead on the park’s South Rim. While millions of park visitors head down this trail each year, when it was designed a century ago that level of traffic wasn’t envisioned. As a result, much work needs to be done to enable the trailhead to stand up to the visitation. Among the improvements is a plaza area at the top of the trail to provide both shade, benches, and restrooms.

Of course, Grand Canyon National Park is not within easy reach of everyone, particularly the youngsters who will be counted on to be tomorrow’s park stewards and advocates. To that point, the GCA has raised funds to support Virtual Field Trips to introduce school kids the country over to this spectacular chasm. Through these ranger-led presentations, produced in a studio just feet from the South Rim, youngsters not only get to experience the Grand Canyon in real time, but gain pride in learning about the national park movement and could even decide on a career with the National Park Service.