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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Grand Canyon (Spanish: Gran Cañón) is a steep-sided gorge carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the first national parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.

Grandview Point.
A map of the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, circa 1908.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29 km) and attains a depth of over a mile (1.83 km) (6000 feet).[1] Nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.[2] While the specific geologic processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists,[3] recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago.[4] Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to the point we see it as today.[5]

Before European immigration, the area was inhabited by Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon ("Ongtupqa" in Hopi language) a holy site and made pilgrimages to it.[6] The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas from Spain, who arrived in 1540.[7]



Apollo Throne in sunset light from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at Moran Point.

The Grand Canyon is a massive rift in the Colorado Plateau that exposes uplifted Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata, and is also one of the six distinct physiographic sections of the Colorado Plateau province. It is not the deepest canyon in the world (Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is far deeper), nor the widest (Capertee Valley in Australia is about 1 km wider and longer than Grand Canyon) — but the Grand Canyon is known for its visually overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are beautifully preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent.

Temples, Castles, and Shrines.

Uplift associated with mountain building events later moved these sediments thousands of feet upward and created the Colorado Plateau. The higher elevation has also resulted in greater precipitation in the Colorado River drainage area, but not enough to change the Grand Canyon area from being semi-arid. The uplift of the Colorado Plateau is uneven, and the north-south trending Kaibab Plateau that Grand Canyon bisects is over a thousand feet higher at the North Rim (about 1,000 ft/300 m) than at the South Rim. Almost all runoff from the North Rim (which also gets more rain and snow) flows toward the Grand Canyon, while much of the runoff on the plateau behind the South Rim flows away from the canyon (following the general tilt). The result is deeper and longer tributary washes and canyons on the north side and shorter and steeper side canyons on the south side.

Temperatures on the North Rim are generally lower than the South Rim because of the greater elevation (averaging 8,000 ft/2,438 m above sea level).[8] Heavy rains are common on both rims during the summer months. Access to the North Rim via the primary route leading to the canyon (State Route 67) is limited during the winter season due to road closures. Views from the North Rim tend to give a better impression of the expanse of the canyon than those from the South Rim.


Diagram showing the placement, age and thickness of the rock units exposed in the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River basin (of which the Grand Canyon is a part) has developed in the past 40 million years. A recent study places the origins of the canyon beginning some 17 million years ago. Previous estimates had placed the age of the canyon at 5 to 6 million years. The study, which was published in 2008 in the journal Science utilized uranium-lead dating to analyze calcite deposits found on the walls of nine caves throughout the canyon.[9] There is a substantial amount of controversy because this research suggests such a substantial departure from prior widely supported scientific consensus.[10]

The result of all this erosion is one of the most complete geologic columns on the planet.

The major geologic exposures in the Grand Canyon range in age from the 2 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 230 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim. Interestingly, there is a gap of about one billion years between the stratum that is about 500 million years old and the lower level, which is about 1.5 billion years old. That indicates a period of erosion between two periods of deposition.

Many of the formations were deposited in warm shallow seas, near-shore environments (such as beaches), and swamps as the seashore repeatedly advanced and retreated over the edge of a proto-North America. Major exceptions include the Permian Coconino Sandstone, which most geologists interpret as an aeolian sand dune deposit and several parts of the Supai Group.

The great depth of the Grand Canyon and especially the height of its strata (most of which formed below sea level) can be attributed to 5,000 to 10,000 feet (1500 to 3000 m) of uplift of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 65 million years ago (during the Laramide Orogeny). This uplift has steepened the stream gradient of the Colorado River and its tributaries, which in turn has increased their speed and thus their ability to cut through rock (see the elevation summary of the Colorado River for present conditions).

Weather conditions during the ice ages also increased the amount of water in the Colorado River drainage system. The ancestral Colorado River responded by cutting its channel faster and deeper.

The base level and course of the Colorado River (or its ancestral equivalent) changed 5.3 million years ago when the Gulf of California opened and lowered the river's base level (its lowest point). This increased the rate of erosion and cut nearly all of the Grand Canyon's current depth by 1.2 million years ago. The terraced walls of the canyon were created by differential erosion.[11]

About one million years ago, volcanic activity (mostly near the western canyon area) deposited ash and lava over the area, which at times completely obstructed the river. These volcanic rocks are the youngest in the canyon.

Human history

A view of the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon.

The Ancestral Puebloan (The Ancient Ones, or Anasazi)

Ancestral Puebloean granaries at Nankoweap Creek
Eagle Rock (located at Eagle Point) on the west rim, aptly named for its shape, is considered sacred by the Hualapai Indians.

Other cultures

  • The Cohonina[12]
  • The Sinagua
  • The Pai (The People)
  • The Hualapai (The People of the Pine Trees)
  • The Havasupai (The People of the blue-green water)
  • The Paiutes (The Water People)
  • The Dineh (The People)

European arrival and settlement

The Spanish explorers

In September 1540, under orders from the conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to search for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, along with Hopi guides and a small group of Spanish soldiers, traveled to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon between Desert View and Moran Point. Pablo de Melgrossa, Juan Galeras, and a third soldier descended some one third of the way into the Canyon until they were forced to return because of lack of water. In their report, they noted that some of the rocks in the Canyon were "bigger than the great tower of Seville."[13] It is speculated that their Hopi guides must have been reluctant to lead them to the river, since they must have known routes to the canyon floor. Afterwards, no Europeans visited the Canyon for over two hundred years.

Fathers Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante were two Spanish Priests who, with a group of Spanish soldiers, explored southern Utah and traveled along the North Rim of the Canyon in Glen and Marble Canyons in search of a route from Santa Fe to California in 1776. They eventually found a crossing that today lies under Lake Powell.

Also in 1776, Fray Francisco Garces, a Franciscan missionary, spent a week near Havasupai, unsuccessfully attempting to convert a band of Native Americans. He described the Canyon as "profound".[13]

American exploration

Noon rest in Marble Canyon, second Powell Expedition, 1872

James Ohio Pattie, along with a group of American trappers and mountain men, was probably the next European to reach the Canyon in 1826, although there is little documentation to support this.[14] Jacob Hamblin (a Mormon missionary) was sent by Brigham Young in the 1850s to locate easy river crossing sites in the Canyon. Building good relations with local Native Americans and white settlers, he discovered Hope Dog in 1858 and Pierce Ferry (later operated by, and named for, Harrison Pierce) - the only two sites suitable for ferry operation.[citation needed] He also acted as an advisor to John Wesley Powell before his second expedition to the Grand Canyon, acting as a diplomat between Powell and the local native tribes to ensure the safety of his party.

In 1857 Edward Fitzgerald Beale superintendent of an expedition to survey a wagon road along the 35th parallel from Fort Defiance to the Colorado river led a small party of men in search of water on the Coconino plateau on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. On September 19 near present day National Canyon they came upon what May Humphreys Stacey described in his journal as "...a wonderful canyon four thousand feet deep. Everyone (in the party) admitted that he never before saw anything to match or equal this astonishing natural curiosity."

Also in 1857, the U.S. War Department asked Lieutenant Joseph Ives to lead an expedition to assess the feasibility of an up-river navigation from the Gulf of California. Also in a stern wheeler steamboat "Explorer", after two months and 350 miles (560 km) of difficult navigation, his party reached Black Canyon some two months after George Johnson.[citation needed] The "Explorer" struck a rock and was abandoned. Ives led his party east into the Canyon — they may have been the first Europeans to travel the Diamond Creek drainage and traveled eastwards along the South Rim. In his “Colorado River of the West” report to the Senate in 1861 he states that “One or two trappers profess to have seen the canon.”

According to the San Francisco Herald, in a series of articles ran in 1853, they give this honor to Captain Joseph R. Walker who in January 1851 with his nephew James T. Walker and six men traveled up the Colorado River to a point where it joined the Virgin River and continued east into Arizona traveling along the Grand Canyon making short exploratory side trips along the way.

Walker said that he wanted to visit the Moqui Indians, as the Hopi were then called by whites. He had met these people briefly in previous years, thought them exceptionally interesting and wanted to become better acquainted. The Herald reporter took it from there, writing: “We believe that Capt. Joe Walker is the only white man in this country that has ever visited this strange people.”

In 1858, John Strong Newberry became probably the first geologist to visit the Grand Canyon.

In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down the Grand Canyon.

  • The Brown-Stanton River Expedition
  • Other expeditions

Settlers in and near the canyon

Federal protection

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903. An avid outdoorsman and staunch conservationist, he established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve on November 28, 1906. Livestock grazing was reduced, but predators such as mountain lions, eagles, and wolves, were eradicated. Roosevelt added adjacent national forest lands and redesignated the preserve a U.S. National Monument on January 11, 1908. Opponents such as land and mining claim holders blocked efforts to reclassify the monument as a U.S. National Park for 11 years. Grand Canyon National Park was finally established as the 17th U.S. National Park by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.[15]

The federal government administrators who manage park resources face many challenges. These include issues related to the recent reintroduction into the wild of the highly endangered California Condor, air tour overflight noise levels, water rights disputes with various tribal reservations that border the park, and forest fire management. The Grand Canyon National Park superintendent is Steve Martin. Martin was named superintendent on February 5, 2007 to replace retiring superintendent Joe Alston. Martin was previously the National Park Service Deputy Director and superintendent of several other national parks including Denali and Grand Teton.[16] Federal officials started a flood in the Grand Canyon in hopes of restoring its ecosystem on March 5, 2008. The canyon's ecosystem was permanently changed after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963.[17]

South Rim buildings

There are several historical buildings located along the South Rim; most are in Grand Canyon Village.

Buckey O'Neill Cabin was built during the 1890s by William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill. He built the cabin because of a copper deposit that was nearby. He had several occupations such as miner, judge, politician, author and tour guide. This cabin is the longest continually standing structure in the South Rim. It is currently used as a guest house; booking is required well in advance.

Kolb Studio was built in 1904 by brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. They were photographers who made a living by photographing visitors walking down the Bright Angel Trail. In 1911, the Kolb brothers filmed their journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Emery Kolb showed this movie regularly in his studio until 1976, when he died at the age of 95. Today the building serves as an art gallery and exhibit.

The El Tovar Hotel was built in 1905 and is the most luxurious lodging on the South Rim. The hotel consists of 4 stories with a rustic chalet appearance. It was designed by Charles Whittlesley. A gift shop and restaurant are located inside the hotel.

Hopi House was built by Mary Jane Colter in 1905. It is based on structures that were built in an ancient Hopi settlement called Old Oraibi, located on the Third Mesa in eastern Arizona. It served as a residence for the Hopi Indians who sold arts and crafts to visitors in the South Rim.

Verkamp's Curios, which stands next to the Hopi House, was built by John Verkamp in 1905. He sold arts and crafts as well as souvenirs. Until September 2008, it was run by his descendants; in November 2008 the building reopened as a visitor center focusing on the history of the Grand Canyon Village community.

Grand Canyon Railway Depot was built in 1909 and contains 2 levels. While it is commonly said that this depot building is one of only three log-cabin-style train stations currently standing out of fourteen supposedly ever built in the U.S., this claim has never been verified. This claim originated in a 1985 document written by Gordon Chappell entitled "Statement on Architectural and Historic Significance" and is currently repeated, without verification, by newspapers, magazines and on-line articles, including ones appearing on the National Park Service website. The depot is the northern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway which begins in Williams, Arizona.

Lookout Studio was built in 1914 and is another structure that was designed by Mary Colter. Photography artwork, books, souvenirs, and rock and fossil specimens are sold here. A great view of Bright Angel Trail can be seen here.

Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 and is one of Mary Colter's best-known works. Situated at the far eastern end of the South Rim, 27 miles (43 km) from Grand Canyon Village, the tower sits on a 7,400 foot (2,256 m) promontory. It offers one of the few views of the bottom of the Canyon and the Colorado River. It is designed to mimic an Anasazi watchtower though it is larger than existing ones.[18]

Bright Angel Lodge was built of logs and stone in 1935. Mary Colter designed the lodge and it was built by Fred Harvey. Inside the lodge is a small museum honoring Fred Harvey, who played a major role in popularizing the Grand Canyon. In the history room is a fireplace that is made of stone from the South Rim that is layered in the same sequence as in the canyon.


Weather in the Grand Canyon varies according to elevation.

A storm over the Grand Canyon

The forested rims are high enough to receive winter snowfall, but along the Colorado River in the Inner Gorge, temperatures are similar to those found in Tucson and other low elevation desert locations in Arizona. Conditions in the Grand Canyon region are generally dry, but substantial precipitation occurs twice annually, during seasonal pattern shifts in winter (when Pacific storms usually deliver widespread, moderate rain and high-elevation snow to the region from the west) and in late summer (a phenomenon known as the monsoon, which delivers waves of moisture from the southeast, causing dramatic, localized thunderstorms fueled by the heat of the day).[19] Average annual precipitation on the South Rim is less than 16 inches (35 cm), with 60 inches (132 cm) of snow, the higher North Rim usually receives 27 inches (59 cm) of moisture, with a typical snowfall of 144 inches (317 cm), and Phantom Ranch, far below the Canyon's rims along the Colorado River at 2,500 feet (762 m) gets just 8 inches (17.6 cm) of rain, and snow is a rarity. The weather is different on the north rim and south rim.

Grand Canyon covered with snow

Temperatures vary wildly throughout the year, with summer highs within the Inner Gorge commonly exceeding 100 °F (37.8 °C) and winter minimum temperatures sometimes falling below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-17.8 °C) along the canyon's rims.[19] Visitors are often surprised by these potentially extreme conditions, and this, along with the high altitude of the canyon's rims, can lead to unpleasant side effects such as dehydration, sunburn, and hypothermia. Be prepared for a variety of potential weather conditions when visiting, and keep in mind the Grand Canyon is a rugged natural feature located in a remote area subject to a wide range of environmental hazards.

Weather conditions can greatly affect hiking and canyon exploration, and visitors should obtain accurate forecasts because of hazards posed by exposure to extreme temperatures, winter storms and late summer monsoons. While the park service posts weather information at gates and visitor centers, this is a rough approximation only, and should not be relied upon for trip planning. For accurate weather in the Canyon, hikers should consult the National Weather Service's NOAA weather radio or the official National Weather Service website.[20]

The National Weather Service has had a cooperative station on the South Rim since 1903. The record high temperature on the South Rim was 105F on June 26, 1974, and the record low temperature was -20F on January 1, 1919, February 1, 1985, and December 23, 1990.[21]

Air pollution

Brown cloud of air pollution visible from Yavapai Point, April 2007

The Grand Canyon has suffered some problems with air pollution, attributed to the nearby Navajo Generating Station, a coal-burning power plant. In 1991 an agreement was reached with the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, to add air pollution control devices to their smokestacks.[22]

Biology and ecology


There are approximately 1,737 known species of vascular plants, 167 species of fungi, 64 species of moss and 195 species of lichen found in Grand Canyon National Park.[23] This variety is largely due to the 8,000 foot elevation change from the Colorado River up to the highest point on the North Rim.[23] Grand Canyon boasts a dozen endemic plants (known only within the Park's boundaries) while only ten percent of the Park's flora is exotic.[23] Sixty-three plants found here have been given special status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[23]

The Mojave Desert influences the western sections of the canyon, Sonoran Desert vegetation covers the eastern sections, and ponderosa and pinyon pine forests grow on both rims.[24]

Natural seeps and springs percolating out of the canyon walls are home to 11% of all the plant species found in the Grand Canyon.[24] The Canyon itself can act as a connection between the east and the west by providing corridors of appropriate habitat along its length.[24] The canyon can also be a genetic barrier to some species, like the Tassel-eared squirrel.[24]

The aspect, or direction a slope faces, also plays a major role in adding diversity to the Grand Canyon. North-facing slopes receive about one-third the normal amount of sunlight, so plants growing there are similar to plants found at higher elevations, or in more northern latitudes.[24] The south-facing slopes receive the full amount of sunlight and are covered in vegetation typical of the Sonoran Desert.[24]


Of the 34 mammal species found along the Colorado River corridor, 15 are rodents and eight are bats.[25]

Life zones and communities

The Park contains several major ecosystems.[26] Its great biological diversity can be attributed to the presence of five of the seven life zones and three of the four desert types in North America.[26] The five life zones represented are the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian.[26] This is equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada. Differences in elevation and the resulting variations in climate are the major factors that form the various life zones and communities in and around the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park contains 129 vegetation communities, and the composition and distribution of plant species is influenced by climate, geomorphology and geology.[23]

Lower Sonoran

A bighorn ewe at Grand Canyon, 2008

The Lower Sonoran life zone spans from the Colorado River up to 3500 feet. Along the Colorado River and its perennial tributaries, a riparian community exists.[23] Coyote willow, arrowweed, seep willow, western honey mesquite, catclaw acacia, and exotic tamarisk (saltcedar) are the predominant species.[23] Hanging gardens, seeps and springs often contain rare plants such as the white-flowering redbud tree, stream orchid, and McDougall's flaveria.[23] Endangered fish in the river include the Humpback Chub and the Razorback Sucker.[27]

The three most common amphibians in these riparian communities are the canyon treefrog, red-spotted toad, and Woodhouse’s rocky mountain toad.[28] Leopard frogs are very rare in the Colorado River corridor, and are known to exist at only a few sites.[28] There are 33 crustacean species found in the Colorado River and its tributaries within Grand Canyon National Park. Of these 33, 16 are considered true zooplankton organisms.[29]

Only 48 bird species regularly nest along the river while others use the river as a migration corridor or as overwintering habitat. The Bald Eagle is one species that uses the river corridor as winter habitat.[30]

River otters may have disappeared from the park in late 20th century and muskrats are extremely rare.[25] Beavers cut willows, cottonwoods, and shrubs for food, and can significantly affect the riparian vegetation.[25] Other rodents, such as antelope squirrels and pocket mice, are mostly omnivorous, using many different vegetation types.[25] Grand Canyon bats typically roost in desert uplands, but forage on the abundance of insects along the river and its tributaries.[25] In addition to bats, coyotes, ringtails, and spotted skunks are the most numerous riparian predators and prey on invertebrates, rodents, and reptiles.[25]

Raccoon, weasel, bobcat, gray fox, and mountain lion are also present, but are much more rare.[25] Mule deer and desert bighorn sheep are the ungulates that frequent the river corridor. Since the removal of 500 ferral burros in the early 1980s, bighorn sheep numbers have rebounded.[25] Mule deer are generally not permanent residents along the river, but travel down from the rim when food and water resources there become scarce.[25]

The insect species commonly found in the river corridor and tributaries are midges, caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies, black flies, mites, beetles, butterflies, moths, and fire ants.[31] Numerous species of spiders and several species of scorpions including the bark scorpion and the giant desert hairy scorpion inhabit the riparian zone.[31]

Eleven aquatic and 26 terrestrial species of mollusks have been identified in and around Grand Canyon National Park.[32] Of the aquatic species, two are bivalves (clams) and nine are gastropods (snails).[32] Twenty-six species of terrestrial gastropods have been identified, primarily land snails and slugs.[32]

There are a approximately 47 reptile species in Grand Canyon National Park. Ten are considered common along the river corridor and include lizards and snakes.[33] Lizard density tends to be highest along the stretch of land between the water's edge and the beginning of the upland desert community.[33] The two largest lizards in the Canyon are gila monsters and chuckwallas.[33] Many snake species, which are not directly dependent on surface water, may be found both within the inner gorge and the Colorado River corridor. Six rattlesnake species have been recorded in the park.[33]

Above the river corridor a desert scrub community, composed of North American desert flora, thrives. Typical warm desert species such as creosote bush, white bursage, brittle brush, catclaw acacia, ocotillo, mariola, western honey mesquite, four-wing saltbush, big sagebrush, blackbrush and rubber rabbitbrush grow in this community.[23] The mammalian fauna in the woodland scrub community consists of 50 species, mostly rodents and bats.[25] Three of the five Park woodrat species live in the desert scrub community.[25]

Except for the desert banded gecko, which seems to be distributed only near water along the Colorado River, all of the reptiles found near the river also appear in the uplands, but in lower densities.[33] The desert gopher tortoise, a threatened species, inhabits the desert scrublands in the western end of the park.[33]

Some of the common insects found at elevations above 2,000 feet are orange paper wasps, honey bees, black flies, tarantula hawks, stink bugs, beetles, black ants, and monarch and swallowtail butterflies.[31] Solpugids, wood spiders, garden spiders, black widow spiders and tarantulas can are found in the desert scrub and higher elevations.[31]

Upper Sonoran and Transition

A California Condor in flight, photographed from Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, 2008. Wild condors are numbered to aid wildlife researchers. As of April 2009, there were 172 wild California condors known.

The Upper Sonoran Life Zone includes most of the inner canyon and South Rim at elevations from 3,500 to 7,000 feet.[24] This zone is generally dominated by blackbrush, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. Elevations of 3,500 to 4,000 feet are in the Mojave Desert Scrub community of the Upper Sonoran. This community is dominated by the four-winged saltbush and creosote bush; other important plants include Utah agave, narrowleaf mesquite, ratany, catclaw, and various cacti species.[24]

Approximately 30 bird species breed primarily in the desert uplands and cliffs of the inner canyon.[30] Virtually all bird species present breed in other suitable habitats throughout the Sonoran and Mohave deserts.[30] The abundance of bats, swifts, and riparian birds provides ample food for peregrines, and suitable eyrie sites are plentiful along the steep canyon walls. Also, several endangered California Condors that were re-introduced to the Colorado Plateau on the Arizona Strip, have made the eastern part of the Park their home.[30]

The conifer forests provide habitat for 52 mammal species.[25] Porcupines, shrews, red squirrels, tassel eared Kaibab and Abert's squirrels, black bear, mule deer, and elk are found at the park's higher elevations on the Kaibab Plateau.[25]

Above the desert scrub and up to 6,200 feet is a pinyon pine, Utah and one seed juniper woodland.[23] Within this woodland one can find big sagebrush, snakeweed, Mormon tea, Utah agave, banana and narrowleaf Yucca, winterfat, Indian ricegrass, dropseed, and needlegrass.[23] There are a variety of snakes and lizards here, but one species of reptile, the mountain short-horned Lizard, is a particularly abundant inhabitant of the piñon-juniper and ponderosa pine forests.[33]

Ponderosa pine forests grow at elevations between 6,500 feet and 8,200 feet, on both North and South rims in the Transition life zone.[23] The South Rim is includes species such as gray fox, mule deer, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, pinyon pine and Utah juniper.[24] Additional species such as Gambel oak, New Mexico locust, mountain mahogany, elderberry, creeping mahonia, and fescue have been identified in these forests.[23] The Utah tiger salamander and the Great Basin spadefoot toad are two amphibians that are common in the rim forests.[28] Of the approximately 90 bird species that breed in the coniferous forests, 51 are summer residents and at least 15 of these are known to be neotropical migrants.[30]

Canadian and Hudsonian

Elevations of 8,200 to 9,000 feet are in the Canadian Life Zone, which includes the North Rim and the Kaibab Plateau.[24] Spruce-fir forests characterized by Englemann spruce, blue spruce, Douglas fir, white fir, aspen, and mountain ash, along with several species of perennial grasses, groundsels, yarrow, cinquefoil, lupines, sedges, and asters, grow in this sub-alpine climate.[23] Mountain lions, Kaibab squirrels, and northern goshawks are found here.[24]

Montane meadows and subalpine grassland communities of the Hudsonian life zone are rare and located only on the North Rim.[23] Both are typified by many grass species. Some of these grasses include blue and black grama, big galleta, Indian ricegrass and three-awns.[23] The wettest areas support sedges and forbs.[23]

Grand Canyon tourism

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world’s premier natural attractions, attracting about five million visitors per year. Overall, 83% were from the United States: California (12.2%), Arizona (8.9%), Texas (4.8%), Florida (3.4%) and New York (3.2%) represented the top domestic visitors. Seventeen percent of visitors were from outside the United States; the most prominently represented nations were the United Kingdom (3.8%), Canada (3.5%), Japan (2.1%), Germany (1.9%) and The Netherlands (1.2%).[34]


A view of Grand Canyon Skywalk from Outside Ledge
Aerial view of the less-visited lower Grand Canyon, down river from (west of) Toroweap Overlook
Grand Canyon as seen from a commercial airplane

Aside from casual sightseeing from the South Rim (averaging 7000 feet (2100 m) above sea level), rafting, hiking, running and helicopter tours[35] are especially popular. In October 2010 the North Rim is the host to an ultramarathon. The Grand Canyon Ultra Marathon is a 126 km race over 24 hours. The floor of the valley is accessible by foot, muleback, or by boat or raft from upriver. Hiking down to the river and back up to the rim in one day is discouraged by park officials because of the distance, steep and rocky trails, change in elevation, and danger of heat exhaustion from the much higher temperatures at the bottom. Rescues are required annually of unsuccessful rim-to-river-to-rim travelers. Nevertheless, hundreds of fit and experienced hikers complete the trip every year.

Camping on the North and South Rims is generally restricted to established campgrounds and reservations are highly recommended, especially at the busier South Rim. There is at large camping available along many parts of the North Rim managed by Kaibab National Forest. Keep in mind North Rim campsites are only open seasonally due to road closures from weather and winter snowpack. All overnight camping below the rim requires a backcountry permit from the Backcountry Country Office (BCO). Each year Grand Canyon National Park receives approximately 30,000 requests for backcountry permits. The park issues 13,000 permits, and close to 40,000 people camp overnight.[36] The earliest a permit application is accepted is the first of the month, four months before the proposed start month. Applying as soon as allowed will improve your chances of obtaining an overnight backcountry use permit for the dates of your choice. If you are unable to secure a permit from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Office, or you are not comfortable hiking the Canyon on your own you can go with a professional guide.

The Coconino Canyon Train is another option for those seeking to take in a more leisurely view of the canyon. It is a 90-minute ride that originates in Grand Canyon National Park at the old Grand Canyon Depot and travels 24 miles through the canyon landscapes. The train is made up of 1923 Pullman cars and runs on tracks built in the 1800s.[37]

Tourists wishing for a more vertical perspective can board helicopters and small airplanes in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Grand Canyon National Park Airport (seven miles from the South Rim) for canyon flyovers. Scenic flights are no longer allowed to fly within 1500 ft of the rim within the national park because of a late 1990s crash. Maverick Helicopter offers a tour that descends and lands 3,500 feet into the Grand Canyon in Hualapai Indian Territory.[38] The last aerial video footage from below the rim was filmed in 1984. However, some helicopter flights land on the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Reservations within Grand Canyon (outside of the park boundaries). Recently, the Hualapai Tribe opened the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk on their property, Grand Canyon West. The Skywalk has seen mixed reviews since the site is only accessible by driving down a 14-mile (23 km) dirt road, costs a minimum of $85 in total for reservation fees, a tour package and admission to the Skywalk itself and the fact that cameras or other personal equipment are not permitted on the Skywalk at any time due to the hazard of damaging the glass if dropped. The Skywalk is some 240 miles west of Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. Some people mistake the area of Hermit's Rest as the location of the Skywalk.[citation needed]

Viewing the canyon

Grand canyon.ogg
A 6 minute video of a flight over the Grand Canyon (view in high quality)

Lipan Point is a promontory located on the South Rim. This point is located to the east of the Grand Canyon Village along the Desert View Drive. There is a parking lot for visitors who care to drive along with the Canyon's bus service that routinely stops at the point. The trailhead to the Tanner Trail is located just before the parking lot. The view from Lipan Point shows a wide array of rock strata and the Unkar Creek area in the inner canyon.

The canyon can be seen from the Toroweap (or Tuweep) Overlook situated 3000 vertical feet above the Colorado River, about 50 miles downriver from the South Rim and 70 upriver from the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This region — “one of the most remote in the United States” according to the National Park Service — is reached only by one of three lengthy dirt tracks beginning in from St. George, Utah, Colorado City or near Pipe Spring National Monument (both in Arizona). Each road traverses wild, uninhabited land for 97, 62 and 64 miles respectively. The Park Service manages the area for primitive value with minimal improvements and services.

Grand Canyon fatalities

Grand Canyon rescue Helicopter, 1978

About 600 deaths have occurred in the Grand Canyon since the 1870s. Some of these deaths occurred as the result of overly zealous photographic endeavors, some were the result of airplane collisions within the canyon, and some visitors drowned in the Colorado River. Many hikers overestimate their fitness level, become dehydrated and confused, and must be rescued. The Park Service now posts a picture of an attractive and fit young man at several trailheads with the caption "Every year we rescue hundreds of people from the Canyon. Most of them look like him", in an attempt to discourage hikers from feats which are beyond their abilities.

According to Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon, Myers, Thomas M. (2001), Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon, Puma Press, ISBN 0-9700973-1-X  53 fatalities have resulted from falls; 65 deaths were attributable to environmental causes, including heat stroke, cardiac arrest, dehydration, and hypothermia; 7 were caught in flash floods; 79 were drowned in the Colorado River; 242 perished in airplane and helicopter crashes (128 of them in the 1956 disaster mentioned below); 25 died in freak errors and accidents, including lightning strikes and rock falls; 48 committed suicide; and 23 were the victims of homicides.

1956 air disaster

In 1956 the Grand Canyon was the site of the deadliest commercial aviation disaster in history at the time.

On the morning of June 30, 1956, a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation and a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 departed Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of one another on eastbound transcontinental flights. Approximately 90 minutes later, the two propeller-driven airliners collided above the canyon while both were flying in unmonitored airspace.

The wreckage of both planes fell into the eastern portion of the canyon, on Temple and Chuar Buttes, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The disaster killed all 128 passengers and crew members aboard both planes.

This accident led to the institution of high-altitude flightways and positive control by en route ground controllers.


Canyon tourists and residents of Supai, a town located in the bottom of the canyon, were evacuated from the Supai area on August 17–18, 2008[39] due to a break in the earthen Redlands Dam, located upstream of Supai, after a night of heavy rainfall. Evacuees were taken to Peach Springs, Arizona.[40] More heavy rains were expected and a flash flood warning was put into effect, necessitating the evacuation, according to the Grand Canyon National Park Service.[41] The floods were significant enough to attract coverage from international media.[40]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.

  1. ^ Kiver, E.P. & Harris, D.V. 1999. Geology of US Parklands. Science, 902 pages.
  2. ^ Geologic Formations of the Grand Canyon National Park Service Retrieved 2009-11-17
  3. ^ Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery, by Wayne Ranney, Grand Canyon Association, 2005, ISBN 978-0938216827
  4. ^ New York Times article Grand Canyon Still Grand but Older published March 7, 2008 based on research by Victor Polyak, Carol Hill, and Yemane Asmerom, Science, Vol 319, 7 March 2008, pages 1377-1380.
  5. ^ Bill Butler
  6. ^ Mitchell, Douglas R.; Lippert, Dorothy. Ancient Burial Practices in the American Southwest. Brunson-Hadley, Judy L. (reprint, illustrated ed.). Albuquerque, NM: UNM Press. p. 11. ISBN 082633461X. 
  7. ^ History of the Colorado Plateau
  8. ^ "Nature & Science". National Park Service. January 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  9. ^ Wilford, John (2008-02-06). "Study Says Grand Canyon Older Than Thought". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  10. ^ Science Friday interview How Old is the Grand Canyon? (broadcast Friday, March 7th, 2008)
  11. ^ Definition and examples of differential erosion
  12. ^ "Kaibab National Forest". USDA Forest Service. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  13. ^ a b Page Stegner (1994). Grand Canyon, The Great Abyss. HarperCollins. pp. 25. ISBN 0-06-258564-9. 
  14. ^ New light on Pattie and the southwestern fur trade
  15. ^ Secrets in The Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks: Third Edition, Lorraine Salem Tufts (North Palm Beach, Florida; National Photographic Collections; 1998; pages 12–13) ISBN 0-9620255-3-4
  16. ^ "Steve Martin named Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  17. ^ "Manmade flood roars through Grand Canyon". CNN. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  18. ^ "Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower". 
  19. ^ a b "Grand Canyon National Park Weather". 
  20. ^ "Flagstaff Weather Forecast Office". National Weather Service. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  21. ^;;
  22. ^ Trade Environment Database Projects: Grand Canyon Air Pollution
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q NPS website, Plants
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k NPS website, Animals
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m NPS website, Mammals
  26. ^ a b c NPS website, Nature & Science
  27. ^ NPS website, Endangered Fish
  28. ^ a b c NPS website, Amphibians
  29. ^ NPS website, Crustaceans
  30. ^ a b c d e NPS website, Birds
  31. ^ a b c d NPS website, Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millipedes
  32. ^ a b c NPS website, Mollusk
  33. ^ a b c d e f g NPS website, Reptiles
  34. ^ "Executive Summary of Grand Canyon Tourism" (PDF). Northern Arizona University. Retrieved 2007-01-04.  ]]
  35. ^ Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
  36. ^ Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit Page
  37. ^ Forgione, Mary (2008-06-13). ""New train debuts at the Grand Canyon"". Chicago Tribune.,0,7615847.story. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  38. ^ How far into the Canyon does helicopter tours land?
  39. ^ "Grand Canyon Flooding Forces Evacuations, Searches (Update2)". 
  40. ^ a b "Dam evacuations in Grand Canyon". BBC. 2008-08-17. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  41. ^ "Dam break forces evacuations in Arizona". 


External links


Travel and Sites


Coordinates: 36°06′N 112°06′W / 36.1°N 112.1°W / 36.1; -112.1

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Grand Canyon landscape.
Grand Canyon landscape.

Grand Canyon National Park [1] is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located entirely in northern Arizona and is one of the great tourist attractions in the United States. There are two ways to approach the Canyon: the remote North Rim and the more accessible (and therefore more crowded) South Rim. Both areas have several options for camping, as well as hotels and restaurants. Expect all of these facilities to be overflowing with visitors during the busy summer season. Fall, spring, and winter are all great times to visit the Grand Canyon.


The Canyon is an overwhelming experience, and nothing can prepare a visitor for the sight. The Grand Canyon is a massive canyon carved over several million years by the Colorado River. Grand Canyon National Park boasts an elevation change of nearly 7,000 feet (2130 m) from Point Imperial (at nearly 9,000 feet or 2740 m) to the banks of Lake Mead (at just over 2,000 feet or 610 m). The canyon itself is, from rim to river over a mile (1610 m) deep. In spots the rock layers exposed in the canyon display over two billion years of geologic history.


The park was founded as Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and became a national park in 1919. Today the park contains over 1.2 million acres (490,000 ha), slightly less than the entire state of Delaware, and in 2004 received more than 4.3 million visitors.


Throughout the past century, hundreds of authors have attempted to depict the enormous landscape that is Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, words most often fail to invoke the sense of awe and wonder that many visitors experience. Edward Abbey, a noted Southwest author, once penned: “Those who love it call it the canyon. THE canyon. As if there were no other topographic feature on the face of the Earth”.

There are, of course, other canyons on the planet. Some are longer, others wider, and even some that are deeper. Canyon visitors are often surprised to learn that Grand Canyon sets no records for sheer size. It is, however, simply regarded by most as the “grandest” canyon of them all.

Geologically, the canyon extends from Lee’s Ferry near the Arizona/Utah border to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, a distance of 277 miles. It ranges in width from about a quarter mile to over 18 miles wide. In places the canyon is over a mile deep.

However, it is not the statistics that define this landscape as “grand”, but rather a combination of factors. The desert environment and a lack of herbaceous ground cover reveal a geologic story that is unparalleled. Surprisingly, the rock layers displayed at Grand Canyon show little sign of wear. The layers have been preserved almost perfectly, as though they were layers in a cake. Nowhere else on Earth displays so many volumes of the planet’s history in such pristine condition.

The resulting landscape provides visitors with some of the most magnificent and unsurpassed vistas on the planet.

A raven sitting near the canyon edge
A raven sitting near the canyon edge

Arguably, the most famous animal in the park is the rare California Condor. They can occasionally be seen flying near Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Common bird life includes Canyon Wrens, Stellar's Jays (with their peaked caps), swallows, hummingbirds, and the playful and entertaining Raven.

Mule Deer are common. Some of the largest Elk in North America can be found in the national park, and in the adjacent Kaibab National Forest. Desert Big Horn Sheep are also seen on occasion, mainly in the inner canyon.

You'll often spot Coyote no matter where you are in the park, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear them sing. Other predators are Mountain Lions and Bobcat. Black Bears are rare, and they generally stay away from the inhabited areas.

Some of the smaller creatures that can be found in the inhabited areas of the park are the Ringtail (called a cat, but not in the cat family), which like to live in the rafters of some of the historic buildings on the rim. They are quick and stealthy, but they often forget how visible that tail is, and you'll see it hanging out over a beam.

A favorite with visitors is the Abert's Squirrel with their tufted ears. Other varieties of squirrels and chipmunks are also popular. They seem tame and like to beg for food behind the Bright Angel Lodge, near the Ice Cream fountain. But heed the warnings and resist the urge. One of the most common injuries in the park are squirrel bites.

You might also see the common Striped Skunk, and if lucky, you might even see the rarer Western Spotted Skunk (usually at lower elevations). Skunks here are also habituated to humans and may seem tame, but they will react as all skunks do, so don't come up on them suddenly!


For the reptile family, there are variety of small lizards, and a few snakes. The most striking (in more ways than one) is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake; with its reddish (almost pink) coloring it neatly blends into the rocky terrain of the canyon. They are interesting to see as long as it is at a safe distance. Rattlesnakes are MORE afraid of you than you are of them. If given the chance, they will avoid any contact with humans. Most rattlesnake victims are young males that are chasing or trying to capture a snake.

Do not feed the animals. It is unhealthy for them, and may be unhealthy for you. A seemingly tame squirrel might bite you--they carry plague, rabies, etc. A deer or elk can charge at you without warning. If the animal is aware of your presence, you're too close.


Temperatures and weather within the park vary greatly by location. Temperatures on the North Rim are often 20 to 30 degrees F (11 to 16 degrees C) cooler than at the river. This is a land of extremes. It can be snowing at the rim, while others are comfortable sunbathing at the the river. Conversely, it can be cool and comfortable at the rim in the summer, while temperatures at the river exceed 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). It is not unusual for local canyon guides to encounter neophyte hikers in desperate shape. Some die. An unusual number of fatalities occur among young males who overestimate their abilities.

South Rim

(Average Elevation 7000 feet)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (°F) 40° 45° 51° 60° 70° 81° 84° 81° 76° 65° 52° 43°
Average Low (°F) 18° 21° 25° 32° 39° 47° 54° 53° 47° 36° 27° 20°
Average Precipitation (inches) 1.45 1.60 1.25 0.86 0.61 0.42 1.95 2.23 1.54 1.15 0.92 1.54

North Rim

(Average Elevation 8000 feet)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (°F) 37° 39° 44° 53° 62° 73° 77° 75° 69° 59° 46° 40°
Average Low (°F) 16° 18° 21° 29° 34° 40° 46° 45° 39° 31° 24° 20°
Average Precipitation (inches) 3.21 3.27 2.63 1.71 1.23 0.81 1.89 2.80 2.01 1.39 1.51 2.83

Inner Canyon - River Level

(Average Elevation 2100 feet)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (°F) 56° 63° 71° 83° 91° 102° 107° 103° 98° 86° 68° 57°
Average Low (°F) 36° 40° 46° 55° 62° 71° 77° 74° 68° 58° 45° 36°
Average Precipitation (inches) 0.61 0.73 0.80 0.43 0.34 0.33 0.80 1.55 0.83 0.65 0.37 0.69
Grand Canyon area map
Grand Canyon area map

The majority of visitors to the South Rim of the park arrive from the south on Arizona Route 64 (AZ 64) (conjoined with US highway 180). Alternately, one can enter the south rim from the east on AZ64.

For the south entrance: from Flagstaff, you can take US Route 180 (US 180) northwest to Valle where it joins with AZ 64, and continue north to the south rim; or take I-40 west toward Williams to the junction with AZ 64 and continue north to the south rim. Both routes are approximately 80 miles (129 km). The approx 60 miles (97 km) on US 180 is a narrow 2-lane mountain road through a heavily forested area. The I-40 west is a wide multi-lane interstate for approx 20 miles (32 km), to AZ 64 which is a slightly wider, less mountainous 2-lane highway, and the recommended route during winter weather. There are two lanes at this entrance reserved for pass and prepaid entrance fees (now lanes 1 and 4), which can be pre-purchased outside of the park at the National Geographic Theater/Visitor Center.

For the east entrance, take US 89 south from Page, AZ or north from Flagstaff to the junction with AZ 64 at Cameron. It is approx 25 miles (40 km) from the junction to the east entrance of the park, and approx 25 miles (40 km) from the east entrance to the south rim village area.

Visitors to the North Rim use ALT US 89 to AZ 67 (closed in winter).

By plane

Many Grand Canyon visitors fly into one of two metropolitan airports located within half a day's drive of the South Rim: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), which is 275 miles from the South Rim or Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), 230 miles from the South Rim.

Flagstaff's Pulliam Field (FLG) is the nearest commercial airport to the canyon. Two daily flights from Los Angeles (LAX) are offered by Horizon Air [2], and US Airways [3] operates five daily flights from Phoenix. Commuter flights are also available from Phoenix to Page-Lake Powell, Arizona (PGA) on Great Lakes Air [4], 145 miles Northeast of the park .

Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN) is located just outside of the South Rim entrance in the town of Tusayan. It is primarily utilized by companies who provide Grand Canyon air tours and private aircraft. Scheduled air service from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is offered by [5]Scenic Airlines, departing out of the Boulder City Municipal Airport (61B). Private charter service is available from other cities. Generally, though, visitors fly commercial airlines into the larger airports in Flagstaff, Phoenix, or Las Vegas.

By bus

Open Road Tours, 877-226-8060. [6] runs a daily shuttle service to the South Rim from Flagstaff.

There are currently no bus lines offering transportation to either rim. However, several commercial tour companies offer guided tours originating in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other locations, either directly to the South Rim or that include the South Rim as part of an itinerary, and a few offer tours which include a visit to the North Rim.

By guided tour

A number of companies provide guided tours of the Canyon that include transportation from the surrounding areas. Some companies will provide bus travel from nearby towns while others begin in the park. Some will provide just a brief tour with small stops, while others may take you on a hike, and arrange all your meals.

  • Angel's Gate Tours, 800-957-4557. [7] offers day tours, day hiking excursions, and overnight backpacking trips in the canyon. Transportation is available from Flagstaff, Williams, and the South Rim Area.
  •, 1-800-624-6323. [8]offers a variety of different tours, from the beginner to the expert, of the Colorado River including most parts of the Grand Canyon.*
  • Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, 800-253-7328[9]offers trips and tours to the best parts of the Grand Canyon. They specialize in rafting and hiking along the river corridor.
  • CenterFocus Experiences, +1-928-301-3211. [10] Offers fully guided day hikes and overnight backpacking trips in Grand Canyon National Park as well as Havasupai. Transportation is available from Sedona, Flagstaff, Williams, Tusayan and all South Rim hotel locations. CenterFocus prides itself on its ability to provide you with a once in a lifetime custom hiking adventure.
  • Discovery Treks, 1-888-256-8731 or 480-247-9266 [11]Rated one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure magazine, specializes in custom and semi-custom, guided treks at Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls and Sedona. Arranges treks for small groups as well as corporate or large groups with trips for all fitness levels
  •, 800-618-0744. [12] Offers fully guided daily walking tours from Las Vegas. All tours include small groups of 10 or less, a picnic lunch on the rim, a McDonald's breakfast, CD slideshow of your tour, free t-shirt, and 3.0 hours at the South Rim.
  • Grand Canyon Tours, 800-301-7152. [13] Offers scenic views of the Canyon by airplane, helicopter, bus, Jeep, and more. Also serving the surrounding area with tours to and from Boulder City, Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sedona, Tempe, and Williams.
  • Hydros Adventures Tours, 928-310-8141. [14] Offers one day and overnight hiking, rafting, backpacking, and adventure tours to the Grand Canyon, Northern Arizona, and Southern Utah. Pickups in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon area.
  • Just Roughin' It Adventure Co, 877-857-2477. [15] Just Roughin It offers Grand Canyon hiking tours for backpacking, day hiking & canyoneering in Arizona including hermit trail, south bass, south kaibab, rim to rim, grandview trail, horseshoe mesa, Havasu falls, tonto trail and many more.
  • Maverick Aviation Group, 888-261-4414. [16] This Las Vegas-based sightseeing and charter services company offers an array of tours to both the West and South Rims of the Grand Canyon through Maverick Helicopters, Maverick Airlines [17], and Mustang Helicopters.
  • O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), 800-346-6277. [18] Founded in 1969 as the first oar-powered, small raft outfitter in the Grand Canyon, O.A.R.S. helped pioneer whitewater rafting in the western U.S. The Grand Canyon is one of the company's most popular destinations in North America. O.A.R.S. offers a greater variety of trip itineraries than any other outfitter with a choice of a dory or raft expedition, ranging from our shortest trip of four days to our full canyon trip of 19 days.
  • Open Road Tours, 800-766-7117. [19] Offers a popular Grand Canyon and Navajo Reservation day tour that departs from Flagstaff. Other day tours are also available.
  • Pygmy Guides LLC, 877-279-4697. [20] Offers all inclusive day tours, day hikes, and overnight backpacking in Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. Transportation from Flagstaff, Williams, Tusayan, and Grand Canyon South Rim hotels.
  • Serenity Helicopters, 888-589-7701. [21] A variety of Las Vegas - Grand Canyon helicopter tours and private charters.
  • Silver Spur Tours, 800.600.4006 [22] Offers an all-day Grand Canyon South Rim Loop Tour from Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona. Customized Mercedes-built Sprinter Vans limited to seven tourists. VIP pickup at your hotel. Loop Tour includes scenic Desert View Drive with stops at popular overlook points. Gourmet picnic included.
  • Vaughan's Southwest Custom Tours, 800-513-1381. [23] offers both day and overnight tours, standard or customized, to the south rim from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.

By train

The Grand Canyon Railway operates a train ride from the town of Williams to the Grand Canyon Village (travel time is 2.5 hours in each direction). The terminus at Grand Canyon Village is within walking distance of some accommodations. The train features an historic steam locomotive during the summer season, restored Pullman cars, and a staged old west style shootout. However, the Grand Canyon is not visible from the train. It is simply another option for traveling to the canyon, and takes about twice as long as driving to the canyon.

Amtrak's Southwest Chief, with trains operating daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, stops at Williams Junction, with connections to the Grand Canyon Railway.


All private vehicles entering the Grand Canyon must pay a $25 entrance fee, which is good for seven days. Individuals on foot or on a bike must pay a $12 entrance fee, also good for seven days. Exceptions: those holding an Annual Pass ($80, good for one year), Senior Pass ($10, good for life, available to US citizens 62 and older) or an Access Pass (free, available only to citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are medically determined to be blind or permanently disabled). Note: An Access Pass can only be obtained in person by showing proof of medically determined permanent disability, or eligibility for receiving benefits under federal law.

Get around

Some of the view points are reachable by car, park service shuttle, motorcoach tour or on foot.

The National Park Service runs an extensive shuttle service on the South Rim [24] with three interlocking routes. The service is free, and runs from approximately 4:30am until one hour past sunset or 11 PM, depending on the route. The shuttles run from May 1 to September 28, with buses every 15 minutes. Recently added is service between the nearest town, Tusayan, and the Canyon View Information Center. Park visitors staying in Tusayan can leave their cars there and take the shuttle to the Canyon.

You can go into the canyon by horse, by mule (through guided tours on the south rim from Xanterra [25]), on foot or by boat.

Private stock users (equines only) are required to follow a number of rules and restrictions while in the park, and must get a permit from the park service for overnight use. See Private Stock Use [26] on the park service website for specifics.

From March through November the West Rim Drive is not accessible to most private vehicles (handicap vehicles may request a variance at the entry gate). The park service runs a shuttle during this time. The shuttles are frequent, but long lines form during the busy summer months.

Trans Canyon Shuttle an independent shuttle service runs between the North and the South Rim (No website, Tel 1.928.638.2820).

The Watchtower.
The Watchtower.
  • Grand Canyon Village. Good views, the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail, historic buildings, and massive crowds.
  • Desert View. The historic Watchtower is a popular stop for many travelers and provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the canyon and Colorado River.
  • Hermits Rest. Located at the West end of Hermit Road. This gift shop/snack bar was designed by Mary Colter (the same person responsible for the Watchtower at Desert View) so as to resemble a Hermit's abode, and fit in harmoniously with the landscape. Constructed of a mix of stone and wood.

There are several other viewpoints along the road between Hermit's Rest and Grand Canyon Village (West Rim) or Desert View and the village (East Rim).

North Rim

Located only ten miles from the South Rim by air, the North Rim is a 215 mile (346 km), five hour drive from Grand Canyon Village. At 8,000 feet (2,440 m) the elevation of the North Rim is approximately 1,000 feet (305 m) higher than the South Rim, and as a result features more coniferous trees and cooler temperatures. The roads to the North Rim are open only during the summer (from approx May 15 to the first fall snow fall), while the in-park facilities usually close by October 15, regardless of the weather. With far fewer visitors, this area can be a great place to enjoy the peace and majesty of the canyon. The main viewpoints are Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal (where the Colorado River can be seen), and Point Imperial (the highest viewpoint in the park).

Havasupai Indian Reservation

A popular destination in the canyon lies southwest of the park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation [27]. Havasupai can be loosely translated as "People of the Blue-Green Water". Entry into this remote portion of the canyon requires a $35 per person entry fee (plus an additional $17 per person/night to stay in the campground). Those venturing into Havasu Canyon are greeted by spectacular world class waterfalls. Although the Havasupai Reservation is somewhat impacted (trashy), the incredible canyon below the Supai Village is worth the visit. Access to Havasu Canyon is from Hualapai Hilltop north of Peach Springs, Arizona. It is an eight mile hike or horse back ride to Supai Village. Helicopter transportation to and from the village is available on a first come basis four days a week. An extremely rustic lodge is the only public accommodation available in Supai. A large mile long campground is located two miles down canyon between Havasu and Mooney Falls. This campground can be extremely crowded in the summer months; advance reservations are strongly recommended.

Looking down the canyon from Guano Point at the West Rim
Looking down the canyon from Guano Point at the West Rim
Grand Canyon skywalk
Grand Canyon skywalk

The Hualapai Reservation borders Lake Mead NRA to the West, and Grand Canyon National Park to the North and East. Tribal head quarters are located in the heavily impoverished town of Peach Springs, Arizona. The Grand Canyon Resort Corporation [28] is a collection of tourist enterprises wholly owned by the tribe. Activities include motorized rafting trips on last few miles of white water in the canyon, and pontoon boat rides on the smooth waters of Lake Mead. In addition, Grand Canyon West (located in the remote Northwest corner of the reservation) is a collection of viewpoints overlooking the last few miles of Grand Canyon and the stagnant waters of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Mead. The Hualapai have partnered with dozens of commercial tour operators from the Las Vegas area, and a tour package purchase (ranging from $29-$109 per person) is required for entry to the Grand Canyon West area. Literally hundreds of helicopter flights ferry passengers from the "West Rim" to a multitude of landing zones near the lake shore.

At Eagle Point, the Grand Canyon Skywalk (a glass bottomed walkway extending over the rim) is now completed. This construction has received much recent news coverage. Access to this part of the Canyon is rather difficult, it requires you to drive for approximately 14 miles on a dust road ("Diamond Bar Road") after the town of Dolan Springs, Arizona.

Hualapai Reservation (West Rim) Fees:

  • 25$ parking fee per vehicle at West Grand Canyon Airport (a bus tour is required to visit any of the points)
  • 25$ per person for a bus tour which will take you to Eagle Point and a pile of stones beyond
  • 25$ per person to enter the skywalk
  • No photographs may be taken by yourself on the skywalk for security reasons, you may instead have a photograph taken of you (25$ per photograph)
Sunrise is a popular time in the Canyon
Sunrise is a popular time in the Canyon
  • Nature walks. Many visitors take a stroll along portions of the rim trail to enjoy the magnificent views. Deer, elk, big horn sheep are just a few of the animals that can be seen at Grand Canyon. This is one of the few places on earth where you may spot the endangered California Condor soaring in the seemingly primordial sky.
  • Hiking. Trails range in difficulty from fifteen minute loops to multi-week treks. The most popular trail is the Bright Angel Trail leaving from Grand Canyon Village near the Bright Angel Lodge. During the summer months water is available at the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) resthouse, the 3 mile (4.8 km) resthouse and Indian Gardens (4.5 miles or 7.2 km). However, check to ensure that the water is functioning before departing; water main breaks are common. The South Kaibab Trail down to Cedar Ridge (1.5 mi one-way) is also quite popular. There are numerous unmaintained trails throughout the park for the more adventurous. A few outfitters offer guided hikes (see guided tours in the 'Get in' section).

Whitewater rafting

Whitewater rafting expeditions depart daily during the summer months from Lee's Ferry. Commercial trips range from 3 to 18 days and cover from 87 to 300 miles. Trips book up fast so be sure to book your trip about a year in advance or you will have to get lucky with cancellations. The most popular section of river for the "true" Grand Canyon river experience lies between Lee's Ferry and Diamond Creek. The Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association [29] provides a complete list of outfitters for this section of river.

  • Rivers & Oceans, [30] (800)473-4576 works closely with all 16 outfitters offering between 1-16 day trips. They are an experienced professionals with over 21 years in the whitewater rafting industry and can save one much time finding the perfect river trip in an exact time-frame.

The only one day whitewater trip is available from the Hualapai Tribe's Hualapai River Runners [31] in the far Western portion of the canyon (outside of the park boundary) near Las Vegas. The only other option for a one day river trip is a one day flat water float by Colorado River Discovery [32] in Glen Canyon (just outside Grand Canyon National Park).

  • Colorado River and Trail Expeditions, +1-800-253-7328, [33]. Offers all inclusive rafting vacations. Expeditions range from 4 to 12 days. Special Interest Trips include Natural History, Hiking, and Kayak Trips. There is truly no better way to see the Grand Canyon than from the River. Not only is the canyon incredible, but so are all of the side canyons. Waterfalls, Indian ruins, springs, slot canyons, and old miner hideouts abound in the side canyons of the Grand Canyon.

Private (non-commercial DIY) river permits are also available for river trips up to 30 days in length. The new Colorado River Management Plan [34] has changed a 12-20 year waitlist to a new weighted lottery. For more information on obtaining a non-commercial permit, visit the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association [35].

  • Ranger programs. Programs include interpretive talks, rim walks, movies, and museums. At the South Rim, special Junior Ranger programs are available for children in the summer. Check "The Guide", a free publication distributed throughout the park for dates and times.
  • Motorcoach tours are available year round at the South Rim. Tours are offered for the East Rim/Desert View, West Rim/Hermit's Rest, and for Sunrise and Sunset. Smaller naturalist and geologist lead van tours originate from outside the park in Flagstaff, Williams and Tusayan (see guided tours in the 'Get in' section).
  • Mule rides. South Rim trips operate year round, and should be booked well in advance due to demand. Individuals can book by calling Xanterra [36] at 888-297-2757 (1-303-297-2757 from outside of the US). Weight limits of 200 pounds (90.7 kg), and other restrictions are strictly enforced.
  • Star gazing. On your own (fantastic for meteor showers), or with the Grand Canyon Star Party every June at Yavapai Point.
  • Imax Movie. Visitors to the south rim can go to the National Geographic Imax theatre outside of the park in Tusayan to see half hour presentation of "Grand Canyon, the Hidden Secrets". Showtimes are every hour on the half hour.
  • Air Tours. Fixed-wing (airplane) and Helicopter tours are offered by providers outside of the south rim in Tusayan at the Grand Canyon Airport, and also from Las Vegas, NV. Scenic flights are no longer allowed to fly below the rim within the national park. However, some helicopter flights land on the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Reservations within Grand Canyon (outside of the park boundaries).
  • Bicycling is only allowed on park roads. It is not allowed on rim trails or in the inner canyon. The best mountain biking can be found on the North Rim and just outside the park in the Kaibab National Forest. Rim Tours [37] offers multi-day mountain bike tours on the North Rim, and bike rentals may soon be available on the South Rim.
  • Educational Courses The Grand Canyon Field Institute [38] offers short (1 to 5 day) courses at the canyon. Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff offers a Grand Canyon Semester [39] for college credit.


All types of tourist trinkets relating to the Grand Canyon, native American Indians, and the American Southwest are available in shops in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. The South Rim is overflowing with shopping options. The North Rim has only one shop located at the North Rim Lodge.

  • Hopi House. This gift shop designed by Mary E. J. Colter turned 100 years old in 2005. It specializes in Native American crafts: Navajo Rugs, Hopi Kachina's, Zuni Fetishes, pottery, jewelry as well as t-shirts and souvenirs. The upstairs gallery offers Native American artworks.
  • Lookout Studio. Also designed by Colter features spectacular views of the canyon from it's overhanging patio, and specializes in rocks and fossils along with the souvenirs.
  • Hermit's Rest. Another Colter building blends into the canyon and offers a variety of souvenirs.
  • Arizona Room. Located on the East side of the Bright Angel Lodge. Dinner 4:30PM–10:00PM (open seasonally), lunch seasonally. Also features partial canyon views.
  • Bright Angel Restaurant. Located in Bright Angel Lodge. Informal dining, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • El Tovar Hotel Dining Room. Fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations required for dinner (not accepted at other times). Dining room is a flashback to the 1910s and features partial canyon views. $20 for lunch, $30 for dinner.

Additional Cafeterias are located in the Maswik and Yavapai Lodges. There is a grocery deli at Market Plaza inside the grocery store, as well. Just outside the park, in the gateway community of Tusayan, are a number of dining selections.

  • Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room. Open daily, Mid-May through Mid-October (exact dates vary year to year), 6:30AM-9:30PM. Wonderful food and an unrivaled view of the canyon. Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner reservations required. $7-$25.
  • Cafe On The Rim. Serves cafeteria-style snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Veggie burgers, salads, sandwiches. $1-$10.
  • Coffee Saloon. Located in the Rough Rider Saloon. Coffee, bagels, and pastries. 5:30AM-10:30AM.
  • Jacob Lake Inn and Gift Shop. Has exceptionally good cookies and malts. Located about 40 miles north of the rim itself, but still within the park.
  • El Tovar Lounge. South Rim in the El Tovar Hotel. Inside seating year round, patio seating overlooking the rim seasonally.
  • Bright Angel Bar. South Rim in the Bright Angel Lodge. Live entertainment seasonally.
  • Maswik Sports Bar. South Rim in Maswik Lodge. Pool table, darts, big-screen TV and more.
  • Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room. Serves cocktails.
  • Rough Rider Saloon.


There are a variety of hotels, lodges, and campgrounds both inside and outside of the park on both the North and South Rims. As lodging at the Canyon is fairly expensive, many visitors opt to base themselves in Williams or Flagstaff instead.


South Rim

The following lodges are located inside Grand Canyon National Park, reservations can be made by contacting Xanterra [40]. If you want to try your luck with same-day reservations, call (928) 638-2631.

  • El Tovar Hotel. Historic full service hotel on the rim, refurbished in 2005, open year round. The finest accommodations available on the South Rim, and reservations must be made well in advance. Some suites boast a canyon view. $150-300.
  • Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge. Rim lodges built in the 60s, but renovated in 2004, open year round. Half the rooms face the canyon.
  • Bright Angel Lodge. Historic Lodge at the rim, made up of cabins and lodge rooms generally rustic in nature. Some rooms without bathroom. Some are located rim side. Open year round.
  • Maswik Lodge. North section renovated winter 2006. Larger rooms are great for families. Located about a quarter mile off rim in a wooded area. Both North and South sections are open year round, and cabin rooms open in the summer.
  • Yavapai Lodge. East section renovated 2003. Located about a mile away from the rim in a wooded area, both East and West sections are good for families.

Just outside the South Rim - Tusayan

Hotels in Tusayan are often a better choice for families with children, or for those who are looking for a greater selection of amenities such as swimming pools and hot tubs.

  • Best Western Squire Inn, 800-622-6966. [41]. It's the canyons only resort-style property.
  • The Grand Hotel, 888-634-7263. [42]. The newest hotel in the area, with the lobby done up in a kitschy Wild West theme. Rooms are nondescript but adequate. Indoor pool, free wifi in lobby. Popular, so book ahead.
  • Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon, 888-473-2269. [43]. 164 guest rooms plus 30 one- & two-bedroom mini-suites as well as a new indoor pool & spa.
  • Red Feather Lodge, 106 Highway 64, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 +1 800-538-2345, [44]. Get your Grand Canyon vacation off on the right foot by reserving a room at the Red Feather Lodge, an affordable, pet-friendly Arizona hotel convenient to Grand Canyon National Park Airport.

North Rim

  • Grand Canyon Lodge, 888-297-2757. [45]. Offers a variety of cabins and motel style accommodations.

Inner Canyon

  • Phantom Ranch is made up of cabins and dormitories (segregated by gender) with a dining hall. All Phantom Ranch accommodations and meals require advance reservations. There is no cooking allowed in the cabins or dorms, and guests without a meal reservation are not allowed in the dining hall at mealtimes. It is recommended that you reserve meals at the same time you reserve your bunk or cabin. Guests should check in at the Bright Angel Lodge Transportation desk before hiking down to Phantom Ranch, and can do so a day in advance of their hike. Individual reservations can be made by calling Xanterra at 888-297-2757 (outside of the US call 303-297-2757).


Campgrounds are located at both the North and South Rims. Reservations are highly recommended, especially at the busier South Rim. Outside of the park, Kaibab National Forest has numerous undeveloped campsites and "at large" camping is allowed for up to 14 days. Due to extreme drought conditions, check for closures and camp fire restrictions.

South Rim

  • Mather Campground (Year round). Located in Grand Canyon Village, this campground offers sites suitable for camping and RVs (no hookups). Facilities include water and flush toilets. Costs are $18/night from April through November, $12/night from December through March. Reservations can be made at [46] or by calling (800) 365-2267, outside the U.S. call (301) 722-1257.
  • Trailer Village (Year round). Located adjacent to Mather Campground, this campground offers RV sites with hookups. Costs are $25/night for two people, and $2 for each additional person. Reservations can be made by calling (888) 297-2757 (outside of the U.S. call 303-297-2757).
  • Desert View Campground (May - October). Located 26 miles east of Grand Canyon Village, this campground offers tent and RV sites (no hookups). Costs are $10/night. All sites are first-come, first-served.
  • Ten-X Campground (April - September). Located outside of the South Rim of the park, two miles south of Tusayan, this campground is operated by the forest service. Facilities include water and pit toilets. Costs are $10/night. All sites are first-come, first-served.

North Rim

  • North Rim Campground (May - October). Located along the North Rim, this campground offers sites suitable for camping and RVs (no hookups). Facilities include water and flush toilets. Costs are $15-$20/night. Reservations can be made at [47] or by calling (800) 365-2267, outside the U.S. call (301) 722-1257.
  • Jacob Lake Campground (Summer only). Located outside of the park, 45 miles (72.4 km) north of the North Rim, this campground is operated by the forest service. Costs are $12/night. All sites are first-come, first-served.


Any camping below the rim in Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit [48]. Permits must be obtained through the Backcountry Country Office (BCO) at Grand Canyon National Park. Permits are currently not available online or via telephone. They are only available in person, by fax or by mail.

Permits are limited to protect the canyon, and become available on the 1st day of the month, four months prior to the start month. Thus, a backcountry permit for any start date in May becomes available on January 1. Space for the most popular areas, such as the Bright Angel Campground adjacent to Phantom Ranch, generally fill up by the requests received on first date they are opened to reservations. There are a limited number permits reserved for walk-in requests available on a first come, first served basis.

There are a number of outfitters that provide fully guided backpacking trips (including permits and gear) at Grand Canyon.

There is limited water available within the canyon, so backpackers should plan on carrying sufficient water with them.

All backcountry users are asked to follow "Leave no Trace" principles.

Stay safe

Hiking at the Grand Canyon often surprises people who attempt Inner Canyon trips. It can be hotter than you'd expect, colder than you'd expect, drier or wetter. A prepared hiker is better able to survive the extremes of the canyon. Even for short walks into the canyon keep in mind that it is a seducer: it seems easy hiking down into it but when you come back up you find that you have over-extended yourself. It's the opposite of climbing up a tall mountain, where you can stop and turn back when you get tired, knowing that the descent will be much easier.

In particular, do not attempt to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day. Hundreds of hikers each year have to be rescued from the Inner Canyon due to exhaustion and dehydration. While the temperature on the canyon rim is cool due to its elevation, below the rim it can be very hot. The vertical distance from the bottom back up to the rim is nearly a mile straight up (1.5km), in addition to the distance you travel horizontally. If you plan to go to the bottom of the canyon, spend the night (permit required), and take enough food, water, shelter, and other backcountry camping equipment to keep yourself safe and sound. If you don't have the equipment, don't go.

For an eye-opening look at the dangers of hiking in and around the canyon unprepared, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Thomas M. Myers (long time resident doctor at the south rim), and Michael P. Ghiglieri (biologist and river guide), describes the various ways in which visitors have lost their lives at the canyon. (ISBN 097009731X).

Get out

While literally getting out of the chasm may be the most difficult part of your visit, getting out of the national park is relatively easy.

Popular attractions near the North Rim include Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The nearest major airport is in Las Vegas.

Travelers to the South Rim often head toward Flagstaff or Sedona. Phoenix and Las Vegas are the nearest major airports; however, there is a small commercial airport in Flagstaff as well.

This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information about the park including attractions, activities, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and arrival/departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GRAND CANYON, a profound gorge in the north-west corner of Arizona, in the south-western part of the United States of America, carved in the plateau region by the Colorado river. Of it Captain Dutton says: "Those who have long and carefully studied the Grand Canyon of the Colorado do not hesitate for a moment to pronounce it by far the most sublime of all earthly spectacles"; and this is also the verdict of many who have only viewed it in one or two of its parts.

The Colorado river is made by the junction of two large streams, the Green and Grand, fed by the rains and snows of the Rocky Mountains. It has a length of about 2000 m. and a drainage area of 255,000 sq. m., emptying into the head of the Gulf of California. In its course the Colorado passes through a mountain section; then a plateau section; and finally a desert lowland section which extends to its mouth. It is in the plateau section that the Grand Canyon is situated. Here the surface of the country lies from 5000 to 9000 ft. above sea-level, being a tableland region of buttes and mesas diversified by lava intrusions, flows and cinder cones. The region consists in the main of stratified rocks bodily uplifted in a nearly horizontal position, though profoundly faulted here and there, and with some moderate folding. For a thousand miles the river has cut a series of canyons, bearing different names, which reach their culmination in the Marble Canyon, 66 m. long, and the contiguous Grand Canyon which extends for a distance of 217 m. farther down stream, making a total length of continuous canyon from 2000 to 6000 ft. in depth, for a distance of 283 m., the longest and deepest canyon in the world. This huge gash in the earth is the work of the Colorado river, with accompanying weathering, through long ages; and the river is still engaged in deepening it as it rushes along the canyon bottom.

The higher parts of the enclosing plateau have sufficient rainfall for forests, whose growth is also made possible in part by the cool climate and consequently retarded evaporation; but the less elevated portions have an arid climate, while the climate in the canyon bottom is that of the true desert. Thus the canyon is really in a desert region, as is shown by the fact that only two living streams enter the river for a distance of 500 m. from the Green river to the lower end of the Grand Canyon; and only one, the Kanab Creek, enters the Grand Canyon itself. This, moreover, is dry during most of the year. In spite of this lack of tributaries, a large volume of water flows through the canyon at all seasons of the year, some coming from the scattered tributaries, some from springs, but most from the rains and snows of the distant mountains about the headwaters. Owing to enclosure between steeply rising canyon walls, evaporation is retarded, thus increasing the possibility of the long journey of the water from the mountains to the sea across a vast stretch of arid land.

The river in the canyon varies from a few feet to an unknown depth, and at times of flood has a greatly increased volume. The river varies in width from 50 ft. in some of the narrow Granite Gorges, where it bathes both rock walls, to 500 or 600 ft. in more open places. In the 283 m. of the Marble and Grand Canyons, the river falls 2330 ft., and at one point has a fall of 210 ft. in 10 m. The current velocity varies from 3 to 20 or more miles per hour, being increased in places by low falls and rapids; but there are no high falls below the junction of the Green and Grand.

Besides the canyons of the main river, there are a multitude of lateral canyons occupied by streams at intervals of heavy rain. As Powell says, the region "is a composite of thousands, and tens of thousands of gorges." There are "thousands of gorges like that below Niagara Falls, and there are a thousand Yosemites." The largest of all, the Grand Canyon, has an average depth of 4000 ft. and a width of 42 to 12 m. For a long distance, where crossing the Kaibab plateau, the depth is 6000 ft. For much of the distance there is an inner narrower gorge sunk in the bottom of a broad outer canyon. The narrow gorge is in some places no more than 3500 ft. wide at the top. To illustrate the depth of the Grand Canyon, Powell writes: "Pluck up Mount Washington (6293 ft. high) by the roots to the level of the sea, and drop it head first into the Grand Canyon, and the dam will not force its waters over the wall." While there are notable differences in the Grand Canyon from point to point, the main elements are much alike throughout its length, and are due to the succession of rock strata revealed in the canyon walls. At the base, for some 800 ft., there is a complex of crystalline rocks of early geological age, consisting of gneiss, schist, slate and other rocks, greatly plicated and traversed by dikes and granite intrusions. This is an ancient mountain mass, which has been greatly denuded. On it rest a series of durable quartzite beds inclined to the horizontal, forming about 800 ft. more of the lower canyon wall. On this come first 500 ft. of greenish sandstones and then 700 ft. of bedded sandstone and limestone strata, some massive and some thin, which on weathering form a series of alcoves. These beds, like those above, are in nearly horizontal position. Above this comes 1600 ft. of limestone - often a beautiful marble, as in the Marble Canyon, but in the Grand Canyon stained a brilliant red by iron oxide washed from overlying beds. Above this "red wall" are Soo ft. of grey and bright red sandstone beds looking "like vast ribbons of landscape." At the top of the canyon is 1000 ft. of limestone with gypsum and chert, noted for the pinnacles and towers which denudation has developed. It is these different rock beds, with their various colours, and the differences in the effect of weathering upon them, that give the great variety and grandeur to the canyon scenery. There are towers and turrets, pinnacles and alcoves, cliffs, ledges, crags and moderate talus slopes, each with its characteristic colour and form according to the set of strata in which it lies. The main river has cleft the plateau in a huge gash; innumerable side gorges have cut it to right and left; and weathering has etched out the cliffs and crags and helped to paint it in the gaudy colour bands that stretch before the eye. There is grandeur here and weirdness in abundance, but beauty is lacking. Powell puts the case graphically when he writes: "A wall of homogeneous granite like that in the Yosemite is but a naked wall, whether it be 1000 or 5000 ft. high. Hundreds and thousands of feet mean nothing to the eye when they stand in a meaningless front. A mountain covered by pure snow io,000 ft. high has but little more effect on the imagination than a mountain of snow loon ft. high - it is but more of the same thing; but a facade of seven systems of rock has its sublimity multiplied sevenfold." To the ordinary person most of the Grand Canyon is at present inaccessible, for, as Powell states, "a year scarcely suffices to see it all"; and "it is a region more difficult to traverse than the Alps or the Himalayas." But a part of the canyon is now easily accessible to tourists. A trail leads from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railway at Flagstaff, Arizona; and a branch line of the railway extends from Williams, Arizona, to a hotel on the very brink of the canyon. The plateau, which in places bears an open forest, mainly of pine, varies in elevation, but is for the most part a series of fairly level terrace tops with steep faces, with mesas and buttes here and there, and, especially near the huge extinct volcano of San Francisco mountain, with much evidence of former volcanic activity, including numerous cinder cones. The traveller comes abruptly to the edge of the canyon, at whose bottom, over a mile below, is seen the silvery thread of water where the muddy torrent rushes along on its never-ceasing task of sawing its way into the depths of the earth. Opposite rise the highly coloured and terraced slopes of the other canyon wall, whose crest is fully 1 2 m. distant.

Down by the river are the folded rocks of an ancient mountain system, formed before vertebrate life appeared on the earth, then worn to an almost level condition through untold ages of slow denudation. Slowly, then, the mountains sank beneath the level of the sea, and in the Carboniferous Period - about the time of the formation of the coal-beds - sediments began to bury the ancient mountains. This lasted through other untold ages until the Tertiary Period - through much of the Palaeozoic and all of the Mesozoic time - and a total of from r 2,000 to 16,000 ft. of sediments were deposited. Since then erosion has been dominant, and the river has eaten its way down to, and into, the deeply buried mountains, opening the strata for us to read, like the pages of a book. In some parts of the plateau region as much as 30,000 ft. of rock have been stripped away, and over an area of 200,000 sq. m. an average of over 6000 ft. has been removed.

The Grand Canyon was probably discovered by G.L. de Cardenas in 1540, but for 329 years the inaccessibility of the region prevented its exploration. Various people visited parts of it or made reports regarding it; and the Ives Expedition of 1858 contains a report upon the canyon written by Prof. J. S. Newberry. But it was not until 1869 that the first real exploration of the Grand Canyon was made. In that year Major J. W. Powell, with five associates (three left the party in the Grand Canyon), made the complete journey by boat from the junction of the Green and Grand rivers to the lower end of the Grand Canyon. This hazardous journey ranks as one of the most daring and remarkable explorations ever undertaken in North America; and Powell's descriptions of the expedition are among the most fascinating accounts of travel relating to the continent. Powell made another expedition in 1871, but did not go the whole length of the canyon. The government survey conducted by Lieut. George M. Wheeler also explored parts of the canyon, and C. E. Dutton carried on extensive studies of the canyon and the contiguous plateau region. In 1890 Robert B. Stanton, with six associates, went through the canyon in boats, making a survey to determine the feasibility of building a railway along its base. Two other parties, one in 1896 (Nat. Galloway and William Richmond) the other in 1897 (George F. Flavell and companion), have made the journey through the canyon. So far as there is record these are the only four parties that have ever made the complete journey through the Grand Canyon. It has sometimes been said that James White made the passage of the canyon before Powell did; but this story rests upon no real basis.

For accounts of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado see J. W. Powell, Explorations of the Colorado River of the West and its Tributaries (Washington, 1875); J. W. Powell, Canyons of the Colorado (Meadville, Pa., 1895); F. S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of the Colorado River (New York, 1902); Capt. C. E. Dutton, Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, with Atlas (Washington, 1882), being Monograph No. 2, U.S. Geological Survey. See also the excellent topographic map of the Grand Canyon prepared by F. E. Matthes and published by the U.S. Geological Survey. (R. S. T.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

Grand Canyon

  1. A large national park and gorge, carved by the Colorado River, located in Arizona.


Simple English

File:Gran cañon del
The Grand Canyon

[[File:|250px|thumb|alt|Grand Canyon|Another view]] The Grand Canyon is a famous canyon in Arizona, formed by the Colorado River. It is a national park of the United States, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and is over a mile (1.83 km) (6000 feet) deep in places.[1] Nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.[2]

Evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago.[3][4][5] Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to the point we see it at today.[6]

Many people come from around the world to visit the Grand Canyon. People can also take trips floating on the Colorado River in boats and rafts. Some people like to hike in the Grand Canyon. The land on the north side of the Grand Canyon is called the North Rim. The land on the south side of the Grand Canyon is called the South Rim. There are trails leading from the North Rim and the South Rim to the bottom of the canyon. These trails lead to a place at the bottom of the canyon called Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch has a campground and cabins where hikers can spend the night. Some people also ride mules into the Grand Canyon. Most people who visit the Grand Canyon drive in cars to the South Rim and just look at the canyon from the rim and take pictures.

Related pages

  • List of World Heritage Sites in the U.S.A.

Other websites


  1. Kiver, E.P.; Harris, D.V. (1999). Geology of US Parklands. Wiley. p. 902. 
  2. Geologic Formations of the Grand Canyon National Park Service Retrieved 2009-11-17
  3. Ranney, Wayne (2005). Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery. Grand Canyon Association. ISBN 978-0-938216-82-7. 
  4. "Grand Canyon Still Grand but Older". New York Times. 2008-03-07. 
  5. Polyak, Victor; Hill, Carol; Asmerom, Yemane (2008-03-07). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water Table-Type Speleothems"]. Science 319 (5868): 1377–1380. doi:10.1126/science.1151248. PMID 18323451. 
  6. Butler, Bill. "Evolution of the Colorado River and its Tributaries including the Origin and Formation of the Grand Canyon Geologic History of the Grand Canyon". Retrieved 2010-10-22. 


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