Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park sees more than 6.3 million visitors annually

Grand Canyon National Park, carved by the mighty Colorado River, is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 1 mile (1.6 km) deep, and up to 15 miles (24 km) wide. Millions of years of erosion have exposed the multicolored layers of the Colorado Plateau in mesas and canyon walls, visible from both the north and south rims, or from a number of trails that descend into the canyon itself.

Things To Do In Grand Canyon National Park

A history of the 2 million year event in the making

The Grand Canyon National Park is divided into two different areas- the North and South Rims. Within both of these areas, there are plenty of activities offered and beautiful sights to see! From low stress strolls to exciting adventures, there is something for every visitor. The Grand Canyon has been a tourist attraction for many years, drawing people from far and wide to see the natural splendor of the park. Here are some of the ways that you can make the most of your visit.

Walk the Trail of Time.

Take a journey through the geological history of the Grand Canyon in this comfortable, paved walk. The trail begins at the Yavapai Geology Museum, and continues out to Hermit’s Rest. You can go forwards or backwards in time, depending on your starting point. You can begin with the Million Year Trail, which takes you through human timestamps to geological time stamps, and then continue on to the main Trail of Time. Every meter walked on the trial represents one million years of the geological history of the Grand Canyon. This physical representation of time allows visitors to truly understand the magnitude of the geological processes that took place to create the Grand Canyon as we know it today. The Trail of Time is designed to be an accessible way for any park visitor to become enamored with the history of the Grand Canyon and the incredible process of formation.

Hike the Rim Trail.

For visitors looking for a beautiful, but not too strenuous, hike, the Rim Trail is the perfect place to begin. The trail is well defined and paved in some sections, allowing you to take in the gorgeous views of the canyon without excess strain. The trail spans approximately thirteen miles, beginning at South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. This hike has minimal elevation change and is accessible from many different shuttle bus stops. Due to its accessibility and ease of walking, this trail can be crowded, particularly at the beginning of the hike, but as you walk it evens out for a more peaceful experience. The trail stops at nine different canyon overlooks, each providing a unique and beautiful view of the canyon. Besides beautiful views, you can often spot wildlife around this area.

One of the incredible viewpoints that you can see along this trail is Pima Point. Pima Point is one of the best places in the park to see and hear the Colorado River. Ths viewpoint rests above Granite Rapids, which can be heard splashing on a quiet day. The serenity and calm of the beautiful vista and the sound of the powerful river below is an incredible experience.

A second incredible viewpoint is Trailview Overlook. The trail to this viewpoint is one of the steeper sections of the Rim Trail, but the view is worth a little extra effort. This vantage point looks out over the Bright Angel Trail and the historic district, giving you direct access to see down into the canyon itself.

Hike the Hermit Road.

Another beautiful hike available to visitors is the Hermit Road. The Hermit Road has some overlap with the Rim Trail, and follows along the rim of the canyon for seven miles. The trail is accessible by foot or by bike, giving you different ways to experience it! It is open nine months out of the year, and is closed in the winter due to weather conditions. This trail offers nine different overlooks. Two of the most notable are Powell Point and Hermit’s Rest.

Powell Point, along with offering beautiful views of the canyon, is also home to a memorial. This memorial is dedicated to the exploratory trips down the Colorado River by Major John Wesley Powell. Hermit’s Rest was built by Mary Colter, one of the Grand Canyon’s most famous architects, and is made to look like an old miner’s cabin. This cabin now boasts a gift shop, and provides access to Hermit’s Trail.

Take a Mule Ride to Phantom Ranch.

The South Rim offers mule trips year round. You can take a three hour round trip ride along the South Rim, or book an overnight ride to Phantom Ranch. Rather than staying along the rim of the canyon, the Phantom Ranch trips allow visitors to descend into the canyon itself. Phantom Ranch offers dormitories and cabins, and is a popular destination for overnight hikers and riders. The ranch fills up quickly, so be sure to book in advance! This is a unique, one of a kind experience that cannot be missed.

Raft the Colorado River.

For those interested in an outdoor adventure, rafting is an experience that cannot be missed. The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon. There are different levels and lengths of trips offered for every level of rafter. You can book half day or full day smooth water rafting for a relaxing and beautiful trip. If you would like a more challenging experience, and like to chase a rush of adrenaline, whitewater rafting trips are also available. These trips are a unique way to experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and a fun way to bond with others.

See the view from the Desert View Watchtower.

This incredible structure offers a view unlike any other. From its vantage point on the cliff, you can see the Colorado River bend, the North Rim, and can often see up to 100 miles away. The watchtower was designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. She took inspiration from the Native American structures that had been seen in the area. She designed the building to become a part of its surroundings. With the coloration and the design, the tower blends into the cliffs around it.

Desert View Watchtower is just one of the draws of the area. It’s Native American inspired architecture is a tribute to the tribes which would use Desert View as a gathering place. In 2015, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association received a grant to use towards mural preservation and inter tribal tourism opportunities in the Desert View Area. The Grand Canyon National Park has been working with the AIANTA to reinvigorate the area and allow the tribes to share their stories and culture.

Visit Tusayan Pueblo.

Located in the Desert View area, the Tusayan Pueblo is the remnants of a small Ancestral Puebloan village. This village is thought to be 800 years old. It features a u-shaped pueblo with a living area, storage rooms, and a kiva.  This village is one of the  major anthropological sites in Arizona. The site was excavated in 1930, and preservation efforts began in 1948, with another effort in 1965.

You can experience this piece of history in a number of ways. You can walk the self guided trail around the village, or attend one of the guide-led tours for a more in depth knowledge of the village. The Tusayan Museum is also located in this area, and helps to bring the village to life. Within this museum, you can learn about the people who once lived in the village, and see artifacts dating back four thousand years.

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Wildlife In Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is home to a wide variety of stunning and unique animals

The Grand Canyon National Park boasts a diverse array of beautiful plants. Spanning a large area, the park’s borders contain many different habitats and climates, allowing for an incredible selection of plants for every nature lover. Here are a few of the beautiful and unique species you may encounter on a visit to the park.

Ponderosa pine

The Grand Canyon National Park has a wide variety of different habitats, one of which is the ponderosa pine forests. These forests are located on the rims of the canyon, between 6500 and 8200 feet of elevation. Ponderosas are large coniferous trees, identified by their unique bark structure. The bark grows in “plates” that are often referred to as puzzle pieces, giving the tree a unique appearance. The scent of the ponderosa is a debate topic, and could vay depending on different factors. Some say that the bark smells like turpentine, while others catch hints of vanilla, or no distinguishable scent at all. The tallest ponderosa on record is over 80 meters tall. The ponderosa pine is the official tree of the state of Montana.

Cliffrose

Grand Canyon National Park boasts many beautiful flowering plants, one of which is the cliffrose. The cliffrose is an evergreen shrub, which can reach up to five meters tall. These shrubs are covered with small flowers, which can range in color from pink to white. These flowers generally occur in the Rocky Mountain Region, as well as some areas in Arizona and New Mexico. They thrive particularly well on cliff edges, making them well suited for the Grand Canyon area.

The cliffrose is an important food source for a variety of animals, including elk and bighorn sheep. These plants were used by the Ute people for medicinal purposes. They treated a variety of health concerns, including rashes, and were used for their antiseptic property. Cliffrose has been used to wash wounds, and the bark of the shrub has been used both in clothing and in bedding by the Navajo people.

Fernbrush

The Grand Canyon National Park houses a variety of other plants, including the fernbrush. The fernbrush is an aromatic shrub, and is a part of the rose family. The fronds of the plant resemble ferns, and the rest of the plant is covered in hairlike fibers. Towards the top of the plant are small, rose-like flowers. The foliage is described to have a lacey appearance. When mature, the stems showcase a beautiful red or cinnamon color, wich, when paired with the white and green of the flowers and leaves, creates a very picturesque look. They are typically found in woodlands and forests. This species is highly adaptable. The leaves from this plant can be used in a tea that settles upset stomachs.

Ocotillo

The ocotillo is one of the more unique plants that makes it home in Grand Canyon National Park. This plant is indiginous to the Sonoran Desert, and is well suited to a dry desert climate. For most of the year, the ocotillo resembles a bunch of spiny sticks emerging from the ground. In April through June, the flowers of the plant bloom, which give it the appearance of a lit torch. The flowers are bright crimson, and are pollinated by carpenter bees and hummingbirds. They may also sprout green leaves if they receive adequate rainfall.

The ocotillo is used in a variety of ways. Individual stalks have been used as walking sticks or fencing poles. The flowers can be eaten in salads, and are described to have a tangy flavor. Crushing flowers or roots in water and soaking in it can help relieve fatigue.  They have also been used to relieve coughing and varicose veins.

Pinyon Pine

Another incredible tree in the Grand Canyon National Park is the pinyon pine. This tree is native to southwestern North America. It produces edible nuts, which were a staple in the diets of Native American tribes in the area. They are the only pine trees to produce nuts large enough to be a significant part of a diet. However, the abundance of harvest with these trees is infrequent. There are only large harvests of the nuts every two to seven years. The Native American tribes developed harvesting techniques for the tree that are still used today. They would knock the cones off of the trees with poles and burn them, which loosened the seeds, then dried them in the sun until they could be extracted.

The pinyon pine also has a significant relationship with the wildlife where it grows. The nuts are a main food source for the pinyon jay, which in turn plays a large part in the growth of new pinyon trees, which often grow from seeds the jay buries in the ground.

Plantlife Of Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park boasts a diverse array of beautiful plants

Spanning a large area, the park’s borders contain many different habitats and climates, allowing for an incredible selection of plants for every nature lover. Here are a few of the beautiful and unique species you may encounter on a visit to the park.

Ponderosa pine

The Grand Canyon National Park has a wide variety of different habitats, one of which is the ponderosa pine forests. These forests are located on the rims of the canyon, between 6500 and 8200 feet of elevation. Ponderosas are large coniferous trees, identified by their unique bark structure. The bark grows in “plates” that are often referred to as puzzle pieces, giving the tree a unique appearance. The scent of the ponderosa is a debate topic, and could vay depending on different factors. Some say that the bark smells like turpentine, while others catch hints of vanilla, or no distinguishable scent at all. The tallest ponderosa on record is over 80 meters tall. The ponderosa pine is the official tree of the state of Montana.

Cliffrose

Grand Canyon National Park boasts many beautiful flowering plants, one of which is the cliffrose. The cliffrose is an evergreen shrub, which can reach up to five meters tall. These shrubs are covered with small flowers, which can range in color from pink to white. These flowers generally occur in the Rocky Mountain Region, as well as some areas in Arizona and New Mexico. They thrive particularly well on cliff edges, making them well suited for the Grand Canyon area.

The cliffrose is an important food source for a variety of animals, including elk and bighorn sheep. These plants were used by the Ute people for medicinal purposes. They treated a variety of health concerns, including rashes, and were used for their antiseptic property. Cliffrose has been used to wash wounds, and the bark of the shrub has been used both in clothing and in bedding by the Navajo people.

Fernbrush

The Grand Canyon National Park houses a variety of other plants, including the fernbrush. The fernbrush is an aromatic shrub, and is a part of the rose family. The fronds of the plant resemble ferns, and the rest of the plant is covered in hairlike fibers. Towards the top of the plant are small, rose-like flowers. The foliage is described to have a lacey appearance. When mature, the stems showcase a beautiful red or cinnamon color, wich, when paired with the white and green of the flowers and leaves, creates a very picturesque look. They are typically found in woodlands and forests. This species is highly adaptable. The leaves from this plant can be used in a tea that settles upset stomachs.

Ocotillo

The ocotillo is one of the more unique plants that makes it home in Grand Canyon National Park. This plant is indiginous to the Sonoran Desert, and is well suited to a dry desert climate. For most of the year, the ocotillo resembles a bunch of spiny sticks emerging from the ground. In April through June, the flowers of the plant bloom, which give it the appearance of a lit torch. The flowers are bright crimson, and are pollinated by carpenter bees and hummingbirds. They may also sprout green leaves if they receive adequate rainfall.

The ocotillo is used in a variety of ways. Individual stalks have been used as walking sticks or fencing poles. The flowers can be eaten in salads, and are described to have a tangy flavor. Crushing flowers or roots in water and soaking in it can help relieve fatigue.  They have also been used to relieve coughing and varicose veins.

Pinyon Pine

Another incredible tree in the Grand Canyon National Park is the pinyon pine. This tree is native to southwestern North America. It produces edible nuts, which were a staple in the diets of Native American tribes in the area. They are the only pine trees to produce nuts large enough to be a significant part of a diet. However, the abundance of harvest with these trees is infrequent. There are only large harvests of the nuts every two to seven years. The Native American tribes developed harvesting techniques for the tree that are still used today. They would knock the cones off of the trees with poles and burn them, which loosened the seeds, then dried them in the sun until they could be extracted.

The pinyon pine also has a significant relationship with the wildlife where it grows. The nuts are a main food source for the pinyon jay, which in turn plays a large part in the growth of new pinyon trees, which often grow from seeds the jay buries in the ground.

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Park History Of Grand Canyon National Park 

The Grand Canyon National Park has a rich history

For much of the early settlement years, the Grand Canyon was so difficult to reach that it remained a blank space on the map. This mystery intrigued adventurers, and the tales of the Grand Canyon are inspiring. Here are a few of the most important people and moments in the history of this national park.

Early inhabitants

The Grand Canyon has been inhabited for approximately 10,000 years. The first people to call this beautiful location home were Native Americans. There are eleven contemporary tribes which have ancestral links to the Grand Canyon. The history of the tribes is rich and varied, with references to the river and playing a part in guiding other settlers through the area. The Desert View area of the Grand Canyon today is an important cultural landmark for the Native American tribes of the area, and is being reinvigorated to better tell their stories and share their cultures.

García López de Cárdenas

García López de Cárdenas was the first European to lead an exploration into the Grand Canyon. He was led by people of the Hopi tribe to the “great river”, which is what we know today as the Colorado River. After deeming the area unexplorable when he and his men were unable to cross the river, he pulled his men back and took them to Texas. The Grand Canyon remained unexplored for 235 years after this first venture.

Joseph Christmas Ives

Joseph Christmas Ives was the first European American to reach the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon was known as the “Great Unknown”, and was a blank spot on the map. A first lieutenant, Ives took on the challenge in 1857. He navigated upriver in a steamboat named The Explorer, but crashed. While he was struck by the beauty of the canyon, he called it valueless, as they would not be able to gain any resources from it due to its inaccessibility.

Major John Wesley Powell

Major John Wesley Powell was the next man to brave the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. A memorial to his expeditions is found at Powell Point. Powell was a geologist, whose studies sparked his interest in the area to begin with. In 1869, he embarked on his first expedition. He designed his own boats to brave the river. While the journey started smoothly, the river soon became difficult to ford. They spent three months on the river, tired but surviving, until they entered the final canyon. The rapids in the area led to a difficult expedition, and the men had to fight for their lives. This experience, though harrowing, did not stop Powell from launching another expedition, this one more successful, in 1871.

Dan Hogan

The great draw of the Grand Canyon was, at first, its potential to provide resources. The canyon attracted a great deal of miners. One of these miners was Dan Hogan, who claimed land known as the “Orphan Lode”. Besides the mining, Hogan also ran tourist services, unregulated by the National Parks Service. World War II brought an end to his businesses. Madeleine Jacobs bought the land, and discovered that it was sitting on a deposit of rich uranium. The ore she mined was valued at $40 million. The Orphan Lode is famous for the controversy regarding offering tourism services on the same land as mining, when they proposed to build an extravagant hotel on the land. This idea was shot down, and eventually the mining business died down when uranium became less valuable.

Louis Boucher, AKA The Hermit

Another early miner to settle in the Grand Canyon was Louis Boucher, also known as the hermit. Boucher was the creator of the Hermit’s Trail. He lived alone in an isolated alcove, and built trails to search for copper deposits. Boucher began leading tourists along the trails he created, and found that tourism was more profitable than mining. He left the canyon in 1909. Remnants of his mines and sites can still be seen today.

John Hance

The Grand Canyon became a popular location for entrepreneurs to make their fortunes. With the canyon becoming more easily accessible, people began to flock to the tourism business. One of the most successful of these entrepreneurs was John Hance. Hance arrived in the canyon in 1883, and was possibly its first European-American settler. He tried his hand at mining, but soon found that it was not particularly profitable. He began to guide tourists and provide them lodging, and found his calling in this business. He became a fixture around the park, and he would tell tourists ludicrous stories about the history of the park. Eventually, he became almost as much of an attraction as the park itself. When he passed, he was mourned by many.

John Verkamp

A second influential entrepreneur was John Verkamp. After one failed business in the park due to reduced tourist activity, Verkamp made his return in 1906, when he opened Verkamp’s Curios. They sold a variety of items, including jewelry, pottery, and souvenirs. His family became an integral part of the community. They helped to create the Grand Canyon school for children of the National Parks Service, and were the oldest family owned business in the park until 2008.

The Founding of the Park

The Grand Canyon officially became a national park on February 26, 1919.Theodore Roosevelt had advocated for the park’s status earlier in his career, as he had visited the park and been struck by its natural beauty, but the park did not achieve this status until later. Roosevelt was in favor of preserving the land, and allowing children of the next generation to see its splendor. The bill was shot down three times, in 1182, 1883, and 1886. The bill was introduced by Benjamin Harrison, both before and after he attained the presidency. The Grand Canyon National Park act was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. This prevented the Colorado River from being dammed, and was a huge success for the early conservation movement.

The Formation of Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is a true marvel of geological processes

The canyon has been formed and eroded away at for billions of years, creating a deep and formidable gorge that baffled early explorers. The Grand Canyon is an ncredible example of the process of downcutting. The uplift process is still under investigation, which shows that we still have much to learn from this marvel. Here is a snapshot into the different geological processes that created the Grand Canyon as we know it today.

The Beginning

The formation of the Grand Canyon began almost two billion years ago. The inner gorge was formed by igneous and metamorphic rock, which were then layered over by sedimentary rock.

Uplift

70 to 30 million years ago, the Grand Canyon Region experienced an uplift event. The uppermost layer of rock in the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab Limestone, was formed at the bottom of the ocean. The uplift event shifted the rock upwards, and now the limestone is found at elevations of 9,000 feet. This uplift was caused by the shifting of plate tectonics, which created a plateau for the Colorado River to eventually cut through, creating the gorge we know today. The uplift process of the Grand Canyon is still under investigation. In uplift events, scientists expect to see deformation of the rocks, but in this case, there was no deformation. The two hypotheses scientists favor are shallow angle subduction and continued uplift through isostasy.

Erosion

While the rocks of the Grand Canyon are billions of years old, the canyon itself is only five to six million years old. This is how long the Colorado River has been eroding away at the rock. Scientists call this process downcutting, which is when a river carves out a canyon or valley. The Colorado River is an incredible example of effective downcutting, for three main reasons. The Colorado River has a steep slope, a high volume, and is running through an arid climate, which allows the downcutting process to be highly effective.

The Colorado River is still eroding away at the Grand Canyon. This means that in another million years, the Grand Canyon may look very different than it does today. Scientists predict that the canyon will be much wider, and slightly deeper.

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