En español | I've always been a nature girl, so I guess it's no surprise I've worked in national parks for so much of my life. For the past 23 years I've been at Grand Canyon National Park in northwest Arizona, one of the most popular of our 401 National Park Service sites, with nearly 5 million visitors a year. As an interpretive ranger, I interact with those visitors while I lead tours and answer questions about how to experience the place. I know from meeting them that people over age 50 enjoy it here as much, and in just as many ways, as visitors of all other ages
Take hiking, for example. The canyon seems a little vast and unreal from the rim, so I always suggest that people hike a little ways below it to get a slightly different perspective. We do see overambitious hikers in the summer, when the rescue helicopter is busiest, so know your limitations — and in hot weather, hike early or late in the day. To make the walk easier on your knees, you might consider using hiking poles. You can rent them at the park for about $5; they'll also help prevent you from slipping on gravel.
They say it takes two lifetimes to fully explore the Grand Canyon, and I believe it — I'm still discovering new things. I don't get tired of it. Even in the crazy busy spots on the South Rim, where thousands of tourists may be exploring, if I focus on the canyon and block out the crowds, it's peaceful and beautiful. It still knocks my socks off.
Here are four tips from Marshall:
1. Know when to go
My favorite time for Grand Canyon hiking is April, when the ice is off the trail, the birds are singing and the wildflowers are blooming. Also good: late September into early October. But each park has its special times. September is great for visiting Montana's Glacier National Park; it's not crowded, and it's still warm enough to camp.
2. Check the weather
In winter so many visitors arrive at the South Rim dressed for Las Vegas, in shorts and sandals, and they're freezing. It's 7,000 feet above sea level, so we can get 4 feet of snow in one season. In summer it can be 110 degrees in the shade at the canyon bottom at midday — and jacket weather at the top when you start out in the morning.
3. Don't take risks for a Facebook photo op
I've seen people stand dangerously far out on a gravelly canyon slope, thinking that the view will be better. Going too far can be fatal—read the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.
4. Watch out for wildlife
The bull elk can get aggressive in the fall, so keep your distance. And if you're below the rim at night in warm weather, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and scorpions. Use a flashlight, watch where you put your hands and feet, and shake out your sleeping bag to avoid scorpions. People do sometimes get stung, and it really hurts. Things are different at Yellowstone, where you need to worry about bison and bears.
— As told to Christina Ianzito