9 fascinating facts about the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon celebrated a rather important milestone in 2019 - 100 years since it received national park designation. Unsurprisingly for a geological marvel of this size, there's a lot we don't know about it, and if the following weird and wonderful facts are anything to go by, we can't wait to see what discoveries are yet to be revealed.

Taking in the view from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon - photo courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS
Taking in the view from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon - photo courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS

Getting to the Grand Canyon: get the most from any trip to Arizona's leading attraction with an escorted tour from well-known providers such as Newmarket Holidays*, Exodus Travels* and Titan Travel*.

It's the size of an entire American state

Well, almost - Rhode Island is 1,212 square miles while the Grand Canyon covers 1,904 square miles. In some places, it's over a mile deep. The elevation of other areas - the South Rim is around 7,000 feet above sea level - is the reason some of America's cleanest air can be found here.

But it's a common misconception that it's the world's deepest canyon - both the Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru and the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal are deeper.

When it comes to fish, it's about quality, not quantity

The Grand Canyon is a tough place for creatures, especially fish. There's heavy silt and frequent flooding, and temperatures range from sub-zero in the winter to extreme highs in the summer.

For these reasons, it's perhaps not surprising that the canyon's Colorado River has just eight native fish species, six of which can only be found here. This includes the weirdly-named Humpback Chub.

The inhospitable climate affects humans, too, and is the reason fewer people have completed a continuous length-wise hike through the Grand Canyon than have walked on the moon.

But people do live there...

Contrary to popular belief, the canyon has a human population. Supai Village can be found in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The village is inaccessible by road, mules, not motorcars are the main form of transport, and there are just 208 residents.

Mule train on the steep South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon © Andreas Edelmann - Adobe Stock Image
Mule train on the steep South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon © Andreas Edelmann - Adobe Stock Image

It's the most remote community in America's so-called Lower 48 states, and the only place where the post is still delivered by mule.

Exploring it can take a while

Planning on visiting the North Rim and the South Rim in one day? It might be worth reconsidering. As the crow flies, they're only 10 miles apart, but getting between the two by car involves a 215-mile, five-hour drive.

It's much older than people think

Until relatively recently, it was believed that the Colorado River started carving out the Grand Canyon six million years ago. In 2012, a study revealed this process began 70 million years ago.

The mighty Colorado River © Joseph - Adobe Stock Image
The mighty Colorado River © Joseph - Adobe Stock Image

Experts suspect that this is when a series of smaller canyons formed, only becoming part of the wider Grand Canyon millions of years later. But there are more than just canyons- countless caves, too.

Today, the canyon has over 1,000 caves although only 335 have been recorded, and only one is open to the public.

It's the subject of one of the world's weirdest geological phenomenon

This phenomenon in question is referred to by experts as the Great Unconformity and refers to the discovery that layers of 250-million-year-old rock lie directly against layers of stone which are 1.2 billion years old.

Archaeologists have been unable to work out what happened to the hundreds of millions of years of missing layers.

The Federal Aviation Administration exists because of the Grand Canyon

In the 1950s, commercial aircraft regularly took unscheduled detours over the Grand Canyon to allow passengers a glimpse of this geological marvel. Until 1956 that is, when two passenger planes collided, killing all on board both aircraft.

The government realised there was a pressing need for an organisation which would have the final say on issues related to air traffic control and the FAA was created, as a direct result, two years later.

It's home to savage squirrels & lizards that spit blood from their eyes

Residents of Arizona's most breathtaking natural wonder include Gila monsters (venomous lizards), notoriously grumpy bighorn sheep and the Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake, one of six species of rattlesnake found within the park's boundaries.

Watch out for Rock Squirrels - they bite! - photo courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS
Watch out for Rock Squirrels - they bite! - photo courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS

But it's the rock squirrel which you need to look out for; visitors are regularly bitten by this deceptively cute rodent.

And if you were wondering about those lizards, the species in question is known as the shorthorn, and they shoot spurts of blood from their eyes to scare away predators. We're pretty sure that would do the job.

Teddy Roosevelt helped protect it

In 1903 the then-president Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon and was deeply moved by the stunning landscape.

In 1906 he signed a bill which saw the area become the Grand Canyon Game Reserve, and two years later, he made it a national monument, stating: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Weather in the Grand Canyon

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The Grand Canyon is notorious for its dry to arid conditions. While, it's sunny all-year-round, especially in summer, it can get very cold in winter. Find out more about the weather in the Grand Canyon and see when we think is the very best time to go.

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Tamara Hinson

Tamara Hinson
Posted on Wednesday 11th March 2020 in: Adventure Excursions Nature North America

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