World Travel GuidesGrand Canyon, USA

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The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided gorge in Arizona, and is the first and one of the most popular national parks in USA. Created by the Colorado River over a period of 6 million years, the Grand Canyon is 446km (277 miles) long, and ranges in width from 6.4km (4 miles) to 24km (18 miles).

The Grand Canyon is located within the Grand Canyon National Park. In some places it attains a dept of over a mile (1.6km). Though not the deepest canyon in the world (the Barranca del Cobre in Northern Mexico and Hell's Canyon in Idaho are deeper), none matches its size. The layers of rock cut by the Colorado River and its tributaries created a colourful landscape, and is of much significance to geologists. In addition to being spectacularly beautiful, the Grand Canyon reveals much of the earth's history in the North American continent. Over two billion years of the earth's history can be read from the different exposed layers.

Grand Canyon, USA
Grand Canyon, USA
Tobias Alt

The first European to have visited the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas from Spain, who got there in 1540, but it remained largely unknown to the general population until after the American Civil War, when Major John Wesley Powell, the one-armed civil war veteran, journeyed through the canyon and documented it in 1869. Power described the sedimentary rocks he came across as "leaves in a great story book".

National recognition of the Grand Canyon began in the late 19th century. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt founded the Grand Canyon National Monument. It became the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. In 1979 UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site, calling it the most spectacular gorge in the world. The park is over 1.2 million acres (490,000 ha) in size, making it only slightly smaller than Delaware. It received 4.3 million visitors in 2004. Although the Grand Canyon sets no record for being the longest or widest or deepest canyon, its admirers simply regard it as the "grandest" of them all.

The Grand Canyon can be approached through the more accessible South Rim (which is also the more crowded) and the more remote North Rim, which may be closed in harsh winters. Both North and South Rims have camping facilities, but these tend to be overcrowded especially during the summer months, from May - Sept, where there may be long lines queueing to enter the park. The wait can be from 30 min to 2 hours.

The Grand Canyon forms a rift on the Colorado Plateau, which was uplifted over millions of years. The uplift creates increased rainfall for the Colorado River drainage area, but not sufficient to change the semi-arid climate. The uplift is uneven - the North Rim of the Kaibab Plateau which the Grand Canyon bisects is lifted a thousand feet higher than the South Rim. One can get a better idea of the size of the canyon by viewing it from the North Rim than from the South Rim.

There are climatic variation across the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is often 10-15 deg C / 20-30 deg F coller than the river. In this place of temperature extremes, it may be snowing at the rim while it is warm enough to sunbathe at the river.

As one of the world's biggest natural attraction, the Grand Canyon National Park gets about five million visitors every year, with domestic tourists forming 83% of the visitors. Apart from sightseeing, visitors can engage in whitewater rafting, hiking and mule riding. Hiking down to the river and back up to the rim within a day is discouraged because of the distance, change in elevation, and danger of heat exhaustion. A high number of fatalities occur among young, fool-hardy males who overestimated their abilities, resulting in death related to over-exhaustion.

Camping on the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon is restricted to established campground. Reservations are recommended. To camp overnight below the rim, you need a backcountry permit from the Backcountry Country Office. Each year the National Park Service receives 30,000 request for backcountry permits, and only issues out 13,000 permits. The application is accepted from the first of the month for reservations four months prior to the proposed camping. Applying as soon as allowed to apply will improve your chances of obtaining the overnight backcountry permit for your date of choice.

How to go to Grand Canyon National Park?

The majority of visitors to South Rim take US Highway 180 (US180) northwest from Flagstaff to Valle, where it joins Arizona Highway 64 North (AZ64N) and continues north to the South Rim. Alternatively take I-40 west towards Williams to the junction with AZ64N, and continue north to the South Rim. Both alternatives are roughly 129km (80 miles) long.

Lipan Point on the South Rim is a famous view point of the Grand Canyon. From here, you can see a wide array of rock strata and the Unkar Creek. Lipan Point is located east of the Grand Canyon Village along the Desert View Drive.

Photo Album

  1. Grand Canyon Photo Album

Map: Grand Canyon

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