Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon panorama

The Grand Canyon is the open history book of our planet. There is no other place on Earth that reveals more secret.

These are the words of the American writer and naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch (November 25, 1893 – May 22, 1970). And he is not exaggerating. The sequence of the biological processes that formed the Earth in a matter of 2 million years can be easily spotted on the walls of the Grand Canyon. The layers, overflowing in numerous colors, the sandstones and the volcanic granite, have given scientists accurate information  for earliest times of our planet. Fossils of ancient animals and plants can also be found in this unusual “album”.

A research estimates that the canyon is most probably more than 6 million years old. The mile-deep Colorado River creates a barrier that divides the canyon into separate areas called rims. The Grand Canyon has three rims: South rim, North rim and West rim. Find out more for each rim by clicking on its name from the menu.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long and wide from 5 miles (8km) to 18 miles (29 km). With it’s size, it amazes even the astronauts, looking at it from space. Although its ridges are as far as 10 miles (16km) from one another, it takes five hours by car from the information center in the South Rim to the one in the North Rim! Secondary roads are quite narrow and in most cases very steep. On places the depth of the canyon reaches 1500 m.

How was it formed?

The Grand Canyon was formed through erosion, a force that acts upon the rock and wears it away. In the case of the Grand Canyon, the water of the Colorado River wore down the walls. The erosion of the canyon was accelerated because several million years ago, the Colorado plateau was raised several thousand feet. This cause the Colorado River to be much steeper, and the water to run much faster, then creating a faster erosion process.

The Canyon’s earliest inhabitants

On the territory of the Grand Canyon one can see prompt traces from the earliest inhabitants of America. The first people to populate the area were native Americans called the Ancient Pueblo People. Throughout history, many more American tribes lived in the Arizona desert and became experts at navigating the Canyon, being able to traverse the bottom of the riverbed with ease. Some of them even carved out their own storage granaries in the canyon walls. These granaries and the human constructions can still be seen in present day. Animal-shaped split-twig figurines, considered to be the oldest human artifacts, date back from more than 4,000 years ago.

Exploring expeditions

It looks like the Gates of Hell. The region …is, of course, altogether valueless. Ours has been the first and will undoubtedly be the last, party of whites to visit the locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed

This is what Lt. Joseph Ives, the leader of a U.S. War Department expedition, launched in 1857, wrote in his diary. The purpose of the expedition was to find railroad routes to the West coast.

Spanish Explorers visited the Canyon during their exploration and conquest of North America in the 16th century, but their time was brief, and for nearly 200 years the Canyon remained a secret of the Native Americans, particularly the Hopi. In 1826, James Ohio Pattie and his band of trappers became the next Europeans to reach the canyon, starting a period of frequent activity in it.

A figure that undoubtedly engraved itself in the history of the canyon is that of Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed veteran of the Civil War, who in 1869 led the first expedition to explore the Colorado River. And he was the first to use the name Grand Canyon in 1870s.

John Wesley Powell (March 24, 1834 – September 23, 1902) was a U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions. He is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

By the end of the 19th century Mormon missionaries were settling in that part of Arizona. As well as missionaries, the canyon attracted many adventurers in their search for gold and gems – here, however, they found little. In 1882 the miner John Hance had the idea that providing tourist services could be more profitable than the digging in the rocks. Since then a few private wooden buildings, which accommodate tourists who descend by foot or on the back of a mule, have sprouted at the bottom of the canyon.


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