Lure of the Grand Canyon

No one knows for sure how the Grand Canyon came to be.

The Grand Canyon has been touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World ever since John Wesley Powell braved the raging whitewater in its depths in 1869. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon has been touted as the Eighth Wonder of the World ever since John Wesley Powell braved the raging whitewater in its depths in 1869. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much of it was formed from rocks nearly two billion years old, and it was once a seabed. Seismic shifts and wind and water erosion continue to create a kind of living work of art. At the centre of it all is the Colorado River, which threads its way through 277 river miles of the canyon, from west to east.

Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States.

Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, a vast array of geologic features and rock types, and numerous caves containing extensive and significant geological, paleontological, archeological, and biological resources.

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest.

However, the significance of Grand Canyon is not limited to its geology.

When hiking along one of the canyon’s rims, look down and try to spot the tiny ribbon below. That’s the Colorado River.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When hiking along one of the canyon’s rims, look down and try to spot the tiny ribbon below. That’s the Colorado River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park contains several major ecosystems. 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. The five life zones represented are the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian. This is equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada.

The Park also serves as an ecological refuge, with relatively undisturbed remnants of dwindling ecosystems—such as boreal forest and desert riparian communities. It is home to numerous rare, endemic (found only at Grand Canyon), and specially protected (threatened/endangered) plant and animal species. Over 1,500 plant, 355 bird, 89 mammalian, 47 reptile, 9 amphibian, and 17 fish species are found in the park.

It’s believed that the first human visitors to the Grand Canyon were Native Americans who hunted here some 4,000 years ago. Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century; American fur trappers followed in the late-1820s.

During his exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, the first successful expedition to travel the length of the river, John Wesley Powell noted in his journal, “The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon—forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.”

This perhaps explains why the Grand Canyon was named a World Heritage Site in 1979.

After 1880, prospectors came to the canyon in search of copper, silver, and asbestos.

Tourism took off in 1901, once the railroad reached the canyon’s South Rim.

In 1919, the Grand Canyon was declared a national park. Today, it gets up to 5 million visitors annually.

Photo Tips

The Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world, lives up to its reputation in every way. There’s no shortage of photographic experiences in the Grand Canyon either. A photo-taker could spend days in one single spot and never get the same image twice. Wake up early to see the brilliant sunrises or stay late for sunset and watch as the canyon change colors. Stop at all the scenic overlooks as you drive or ride the tram from one end of the park to the other. Be sure to find a hike that is comfortable for you to really get into the depths of the canyon.

Water and wind erode the rock and sweep it away. It’s hard to imagine that the river was once on top. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water and wind erode the rock and sweep it away. It’s hard to imagine that the river was once on top. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a classic shot of a Grand Canyon sunrise or sunset, head to the Hopi or Mohave overlooks along West Rim Drive on the South Rim. Remember to go early to give yourself plenty of time to find the right spot and set up.

DUDE

Grand Canyon Summed up in one word:

DUDE

D: Desposition

U: Uplift

D: Down Cutting

E: Erosion

Did You Know?

President Theodore Roosevelt said of Grand Canyon, “Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see.”

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the Grand Canyon National Park

Part 1: The Magnificent Grand Canyon

Part 3: Arizona’s Big Hole

Worth Pondering…

We sat at this point and let our eyes wonder across the canyon. All worries seeped away into the stony stillness and there was silence.

—Gena McCaffert

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