How the Canyon Came to be…

Grand Canyon OverlookThe Grand Canyon is probably the world’s most spectacular example of the power of erosion. Scientists estimate the Grand Canyon began forming 6 million years ago with the downward cutting (erosion) of the Colorado River, which flows through the Canyon. The work is by no means finished. The powerful forces of the river, rain, snow, heat, frost and wind are still sculpting the fantastic shapes of precipitous bluffs and towering buttes.

Wildlife and Vegetation

Canyon Wildlife & VegetationHome to 88 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 17 species of fish (the Humpback Chub and the Razorback Sucker are on the US endangered species list). There are more than 300 species of birds within the Park including the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, the California Condor (10 ft. wingspan) and the raven (largest of crows). Boasts approximately 2,000 species of plants, mosses and other vegetation.

The rare Brady Pin-cushion Cactus was discovered in 1958. Since the entire Canyon has very little soil, not much vegetation is seen except on parts of the rims. In the depths of the Canyon very little grows except desert plants. The northern rim is partly forested with evergreens.

Architectural and Historical Structures

Desert View TowerAlong the Southern Rim are several structures built by Mary Jane Colter and are on the National Register of Historical Places. These structures include the Hopi House (1905), Hermit’s Rest (1914), the observatory Look-out Studio (1914), the 70-foot Watchtower at Desert View (1932) with its hidden steel structure, and the Bright Angel Lodge (1935). The Bright Angel Lodge fireplace is built from different layers of rock. Each layer is taken from different geological layers of the Canyon.

Mary Jane Colter’s creative free-form buildings, Hermit’s Rest and Lookout Studio, took direct inspiration from the landscape and served as part of the basis of the developing architectural aesthetic for appropriate development in areas that became national parks. Desert View has additional regional significance in its tower paintings of Indian design-they were copied from prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs at a New Mexico archeological site that is now destroyed. These may be the only surviving records of that rock art.

The oldest human artifacts and split-twig figurines found, left by Desert Archaic Cultures, are between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. The park has recorded more than 2,700 archeological resources with an intensive survey of about 5 percent of the park area. Scattered rocks located at the bottom of the Canyon date back as far as two billion years.

The Numbers

Grand Canyon

  • Length: 277 river miles
  • Average width: 10 mi. (max. 15 mi.)
  • Average depth: 4000 ft. (max. one mi.)
  • Acres: 1,218,375
  • South Rim elevation: 7,000 ft.
  • North Rim elevation: 8,100 ft.
  • Phantom Ranch elevation: 2400 ft.
  • Average high temperatures:
    Jan. – 41o F (rim), 56o F (gorge)
    July – 85o F (rim), 107o F (gorge)
  • Average rainfall: 16” (rim), 8.44” (gorge)
  • Average snowfall: 62” (rim), 2” (gorge)

Colorado River (within the park)

  • Length: 277 mi
  • Average width: 300 ft.
  • Average depth: 40 ft.
  • Average speed: 4 miles per hour

Note: The Colorado River is 1,450 miles long from its source in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and empties into the Gulf of California in Mexico.

Grand Canyon Timeline

900 Years Ago Ancient Pueblo Peoples lived in the Canyon
1540 Hopi guides lead members of the Coronado Expedition (the first Europeans) to the Canyon.
1869 Major John Wesley Powell leads the first successful expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
1882 Senator Benjamin Harrison introduced the first of several unsuccessful bills to establish the Grand Canyon National Park.
1883 John Hance, the first non-native settler, starts to promote mining and other ventures.
1892 Famous paintings by Thomas Moran for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway promote tourism.
1893 Grand Canyon was first set aside as a forest  reserve by President Benjamin Harrison.
1901 Train service began between Williams and the South Rim.
1902 The first automobile, a Toledo Eight Horse, made it to the Canyon.
1905 The Santa Fe Railway opened the El Tovar Hotel
1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Grand Canyon Game Preserve.
1908 President Theodore Roosevelt established Grand Canyon National Monument.
1912 Arizona becomes a state.
1919 Administration was under the United States Forest Service until the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park on February 26. The actual administrative transfer took place on August 15.
1920 The number of people coming by automobile overtakes the number coming by train.
1956 The Colorado River Storage Project Act authorizes the Glen Canyon Dam upstream of the park.
1963 The gates of the dam were closed, flooding the area upstream of the dam; forming Lake Powell.
1969 President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed Marble Canyon as a National Monument. This prevents efforts to create further dams that would have flooded the Canyon.
1975 The park doubled in size by the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act, passed by President Gerald Ford. Marble Canyon on the west and Grand Canyon National Monument on the east were added bringing protection to the entire area between Glen Canyon and Lake Mead.
1979 Named World Heritage Site.