Grand Canyon Essay

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The Grand Canyon , carved out by the Colorado River, is in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and is probably the most famous gorge in the world. The Grand Canyon is a total of 277 miles (446 kilometers) long, ranging in width from 0.25 miles (0.4 kilometers) to 15 miles (24 kilometers) wide. From a geological perspective, it is believed that the Colorado River basin, including the Grand Canyon, dates back some 40 million years, with the Grand Canyon being anywhere between 2-6 million years old. This makes the erosion caused one of the most complete geological features in the world. At the place known as the Vishnu Schist at the bottom of Inner Gorge, the erosion has exposed the last two billion years of the history of the Earth.

In spite of the exposure of such a long period of time in the rocks, not many plant or animal fossils have been found, because until relatively recently (in geological time) the only flora and fauna in the area were algae, mollusks, corals and only a very few invertebrates. There are currently many animals throughout the Grand Canyon, including badgers, bobcats, chipmunks, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, rats, and squirrels. Some of the plants include willows and cottonwoods. However, as the climate is dry and there can be periods of water shortages, many drought-resistant plants grow there, including agave, tamarisk, yucca, and many different types of cacti. On the North Rim and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, there are many fir trees, pine trees, and also scrub oak, mountain mahogany, and sage bushes.

First Sightings

The first recorded sighting of the Grand Canyon by a European was when Garcia Lopez de Cardenas went through it in 1540, although Native Americans lived there for many centuries beforehand, with settlements still visible within the walls of the canyon. It is probably for this reason that the Hopi guides leading the Spaniards did not show them how to enter the canyon itself. Remains from the prehistoric period and early artifacts have been located there. The next European visitors were two Spanish priests and some Spanish soldiers who were exploring the area around southern Utah.

The next reported sighting of the Grand Canyon was when James Ohio Pattie and some trappers reached the area in 1826. The next verified visitor was Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary who was sent by Brigham Young in the 1850s to establish the location for a river crossing in the Canyon; he mapped Lee’s Ferry and Pierce Ferry in 1858. Other parties of U.S. government surveyors, explorers, and mineral prospectors followed. These included the John Wesley Powell River Expeditions and the Brown-Stanton River Expedition. The former involved extensive mapping of the Grand Canyon, with information being published on its botany, ethnology, geography, and geology. Theodore Roosevelt visited it on many occasions and urged for its inclusion in a national park. The Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919, covering 1,904 square miles (4,931 square kilometers). The park was enlarged in 1975 to include the Grand Canyon National Monument, the Marble Canyon National Monument, and other nearby protected areas. Four years later the park was designated as a World Heritage site, and is now connected by a 215mile (346 kilometer) paved road and a transcanyon trail stretching 21 miles (34 kilometers). There are still five Native American tribes living nearby.

By the 20th century, with road access, the Grand Canyon had become an important tourist site, and from then was regularly visited by tourists from all over the world. This gradually became regulated, but on June 30, 1956, the Grand Canyon became the site of what was then the worst commercial aviation disaster in North America when a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation and a United Airlines Douglas DC-7, both having left Los Angeles International Airport, collided above the canyon, killing all 128 crew and passengers from both planes. Wreckage from the crash fell into the eastern part of the canyon.

There are now about five million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year, with 83 percent from the United States. Some 3.8 percent of visitors come from the United Kingdom, 3.5 percent from Canada, 2.1 percent from Japan, 1.9 percent from Germany and 1.2 percent from the Netherlands, with 4.5 percent from the rest of the world.

From the 1870s until 2001, approximately 600 deaths have taken place at the Grand Canyon, of which 242 were from plane or helicopter crashes (including the 1956 collision); 79 from drownings in the Colorado River; 65 from heat stroke, heart attacks, dehydration, hypothermia, and other environmental causes; 50 from falls, including by photographers who were trying to get views of the Canyon from new angles; 47 from suicides; 25 from freak accidents such as lightning strikes or rock falls; 23 from murders; and seven caught in flash floods.

It was not long before athletes started to run across the canyon with a one-way trip known as “rim-to-rim,” taking between five and seven hours, and the round trip, known as the “doublecross” or the “rim-to-rim-to-rim,” taking anywhere between 11 and 14 hours. The man with the record for the north to south crossing is Allyn Cureton of Williams, Arizona, who also holds the doublecross record with a remarkable time of under eight hours.


  1. Jennifer Denniston, Amy Marr, and David Lukas, Grand Canyon National Park (Lonely Planet, 2004);
  2. Thomas M. Myers and Michael P. Ghoglieri, Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon (Puma Press, 2001);
  3. Stephen Pyne, How the Canyon Became Grand (Penguin Books, 1998);
  4. Paul Schullery, The Grand Canyon, early impressions (Colorado Associated University Press, 1981);
  5. George Wuerthner, Grand Canyon: A Visitor’s Companion (Stackpole Books, 1998).

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