The Grand Canyon is one of the most remarkable natural wonders in the world. Located in the state of Arizona, USA, it is one of the deepest gorges on Earth with an average depth of 1.6km and an average width of 16km. The canyon was carved over the past 6 million years by the action of the Colorado River as it drops over 670 metre along the 446 km length of the gorge. In 1979 the park was designated a Unesco World Heritage site.
The first Europeans to reach the Grand Canyon did so in the 16th Century. Spanish explorers first ventured into the south rim in 1540, but they didn’t find anything of value so they turned back. Even as late as the mid-19th Century, the Grand Canyon was still known as ‘The Great Unknown’ because that’s exactly what it was.
In 1857, an army lieutenant called Joseph Christmas Ives took a 50-foot steamboat up the river to explore the area. His boat crashed and he continued on foot, becoming the first European American known to reach the river within the canyon itself, although he did not explore the full length.
It has long been believed that the Colorado River began carving the Grand Canyon about 6 million years ago, but a 2012 study contained a real shocker, suggesting that the process may have begun as far back as 70 million years.
Not the deepest canyon
The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet plummets to a depth of 17,567 feet, making it more than 2 miles deeper than the Grand Canyon’s 6,093 feet. The Tibetan canyon is also about 30 miles longer than the Grand Canyon.
While the dinosaurs might have missed out on seeing the Grand Canyon, lots of other fossils have been found that suggest other creatures frequented the location. They range from ancient marine fossils dating back 1.2 billion years to fairly recent land mammals that left their remains in canyon caves about 10,000 years ago.
No sight of fish
Prior to modern flood control measures, the Colorado River provided a uniquely difficult habitat for fish, with heavy silt, frequent floods, and temperatures ranging from extreme heat in summer to sub-freezing in winter. As a result, only eight fish species are native to the Grand Canyon, six of which are found nowhere outside of the Colorado River.
Surprisingly Grand Canyon has human population as well. Supai Village is located at the base of the Grand Canyon within the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Inaccessible by road and with a population of just 208 and is the only place where mail is still delivered by pack mule.
The Grand Canyon offers one of the most visible examples of a worldwide geological phenomenon known as the Great Unconformity, in which 250 million-year-old rock strata lie back-to-back with 1.2 billion-year-old rocks. What happened during the hundreds of millions of years between remains largely a mystery.