Geological and Geographical facts about the Grand Canyon
- NO ONE IS COMPLETELY SURE ABOUT THE AGE OF THE GRAND CANYON
It was long believed that the Colorado River started carving out the canyon six million years ago. Recent mineral studies within the canyon have shown this process may have begun 70 million years ago.
What makes answering a seemingly simple question so difficult? The Grand Canyon may not have been carved in one fell swoop by the Colorado River. One hypothesis posits that the canyon may have formed in pieces over time, with parts of it dating back as many as 70 million years, but with the connected canyon we know today only emerging in the last 6 million years.
- IT’S HOME TO A HUGE MYSTERY!
The Grand Canyon displays a geological phenomenon known as the Great Unconformity. This refers to the fact that 250-million-year-old rock layers lie directly against 1.2 billion-year-old rocks. No one knows what happened to the hundreds of millions of years of missing layers.
- IT’S STILL CHANGING SHAPE!
The Colorado River flows through the canyon, which, combined with wind and rain, shapes it over time. It’s happening too slowly to see, but it is changing nonetheless.
- THE GRAND CANYON IS A MILE DEEP, 277 MILES LONG AND 18 MILES WIDE
The Park’s size is a massive 1,904 square miles, which is one quarter the size of Israel for the sake of proportion.
- THE GRAND CANYON IS NOT THE WORLD’S DEEPEST CANYON
The Arizona landmark may well be the world’s grandest canyon, but it’s not the deepest. Agreeing on how to measure the depth of gorges is a surprisingly tricky task. Still, depending on who you ask, that distinction goes to Peru’s Cotahuasi Canyon, over 11,000 feet deep, or Nepal’s Kali Gandaki Gorge. The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is just one mile deep (5280 feet).
- IT ISN’T THE DEEPEST CANYON IN THE U.S., EITHER
The Grand Canyon can’t claim the domestic championship: Hells Canyon has been carved by the Snake River along the border of Oregon and Idaho and drops a half a mile deeper than the Grand Canyon.
- THE NORTH RIM IS HIGHER THAN THE SOUTH RIM
At an average height of 8,000 ft. (2,438 m), the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is higher than the South Rim by 1000 ft. (305 m)
- THE DRIVE FROM THE NORTH RIM VISITOR CENTER TO THE SOUTH RIM VISITOR CENTER IS ABOUT 215 MILES
Visiting the North Rim and South Rim on the same day may be more challenging than you think. As the crow flies, Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and the North Rim’s Lodge are only about 10 miles apart. However, to drive between them through the Park, over the Colorado River, and loop around the canyon, you have to travel 215 miles (346 km) or about 5 hours.
- TEMPERATURES VARY GREATLY BETWEEN THE TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON
A trek from the peak of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which stands about 8000 feet above sea level, to its bottom a mile down, may see a traveler experience temperature swings of more than 25ºF. Summer highs in the gorge’s depths can exceed 100ºF, and winter lows at the crest can dip to 0ºF.
- THE AIR AT THE GRAND CANYON IS AMONG THE CLEANEST AIR IN THE UNITED STATES
- THE COLORADO RIVER FLOWS WEST THROUGH THE CANYON
The Colorado River averages about 300 feet in width, 100 feet in depth, and flows at an average speed of four miles per hour.
- THE CANYON IS FULL OF FOSSILS
It is home to fossils of ancient marine animals that date back 1.2 billion years. However, none of them are from dinosaurs, as the canyon layers were formed long before dinosaurs walked the Earth.
- THE CANYON IS FULL OF HIDDEN CAVES
The Redwall Limestone in the Grand Canyon is a water-soluble rock, meaning that it can be slowly dissolved by water, eventually resulting in caves of various sizes.
Tucked within the Grand Canyon are an estimated 1,000 caves, and of those, 335 have been recorded. Even fewer have been mapped or inventoried. Today, only one cave is open to the public – the Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa.