A City Slicker's Guide to the Grand Canyon

At 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, The Grand Canyon is truly an amazing sight to behold. In fact, it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World! Etched out of the rock by the Colorado River over a period of seventeen million years, this stunning testament to Mother Nature has a rich history that delights anthropologists, geologists, archaeologists and historians alike. The Grand Canyon also delights five million visitors every year. People from every part of the world come to experience the stunning views, rich history and outdoors adventures that the canyon has to offer. From the remains of ancient civilizations to a heart-thumping rafting expedition down the Colorado River rapids, The Grand Canyon is unique place that has something to offer everyone.


The Grand Canyon was formed over a period of millions of years by the Colorado River, as it slowly wore the rock down layer by layer. The first humans to live in the Grand Canyon area were called the Paleo-Indians, and archaeological evidence found by scientists in the canyon shows that probably settled there around 10,000 BC. From 6,500 B.C until 1,300 A.D, The Pueblo people called The Grand Canyon home. From ancient times when they hunted mammoth and decorated the walls of the rocks with paintings called pictographs, until the later years of their inhabitance when they began to farm, make pottery and build homes called Kivas, these people dominated the area for thousands of years. Mysteriously, they abandoned their homes around 1,300 A.D, and relocated to other areas of Arizona and the Southwest. Scientists aren't sure what caused them to migrate, but popular theories include drought, lack of food, and an increase in war. Coronado was the first European to explore the canyon in 1540, but he didn't have much success due to problems in the expedition that included natural barriers that wouldn't allow him to access much of the canyon. It wasn't until 1869 that a successful exploration of the canyon was undertaken by John Wesley Powell, a major in the U.S Army. Because of his daring adventure, the American people became fascinated by The Grand Canyon, and a geographical legend was born. As early as 1880, sightseeing tours into the canyon were already being commandeered, and that tradition still exists today.

Landmarks/Areas of Interest

From steep cliffs to deep valleys, and from canyons to caves, there are hundreds of interesting landmarks throughout the Grand Canyon. The Vermillion Cliffs climb to 3,000 feet at their highest point, and condors soar and dip in the air around the cliffs to make the views even more breathtaking. Mather Point is considered one of the most famous landmarks in the canyon, standing at over 7,000 feet tall and offering fantastic views of the Inner Gorge and Pipe Creek Canyon. Lipan Point is another popular viewing promontory: from this area visitors can see Unkar Creek and many interesting rock formations. If you journey about forty miles north of Flagstaff, you can see the Black Falls at the Little Colorado River, named because they run out over several layers of black lava! There are also many caves and caverns in the canyon, from the Ice Caves (which, true to their name, contain ice inside all year long), to Refuge Cave, which is ripe with Navajo legend and was an important archaeological site. Peppered throughout the canyon, there are also many buttes, which are small, isolated hills or mounds of rock or lava with flattened tops. They are usually named after people of historical significance to the area. Some of the more famous buttes include Hall Butte, Hancock Butte, Elephant Butte and Dana Butte.


The weather in the Grand Canyon is a study in extremes caused by the huge differences in elevation. For example, high points of the canyon can harbor snow in the winter, but low points usually have desert-like weather conditions. For the most part, the weather is usually dry for most of the year, but the canyon usually experiences a period of heavy rainfall at the change of seasons in the summer and in the winter. Temperatures in the canyon can also fluctuate greatly, depending on the area, altitude and season. High temperatures of well over one-hundred degrees regularly occur, and low temperatures have been known to dip to 20 degrees below freezing.

Things to Do

Whether you are interested in Geology or hiking, the Grand Canyon offers many activities for visitors. You can get a birds-eye-view by sightseeing at the 7,000 foot South Rim or by taking a helicopter or plane ride that gives an even more amazing overview of the area. Exploration of the canyon can be done by hiking (with many people extending the trip into multi-day backpacking and camping adventures), or even on the back of a mule descending into the base of the canyon! For water lovers, many boating and white-water rafting expeditions are available. These generally start upriver and descend into the base of the canyon. For history buffs, Grand Canyon Village offers historic buildings, information about the Grand Canyon, and awesome views. A trip to either the Havasupai or Hualapai Indian Reservations gives visitors a chance to see spectacular waterfalls, take motorized boat rides, or experience the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which is a glass-bottomed walkway spanning a portion of The West Rim. The Grand Canyon also offers premier star-gazing: every year in June there is a Grand Canyon Star Party at Yavapai Point.

Fun Facts!
  • There are currently forty different layers of rock exposed at the canyon, and erosion still continues to change the topography and rock formations today.
  • Of all the artifacts and fossils discovered in the Grand Canyon, there has never been a fossilized reptile bone found!
  • There are almost 300 species of birds living in the canyon area.
  • Every hour, 800 million gallons of water flow through the canyon.
  • The base of the Grand Canyon is roughly 1/3 the age of the planet earth!
  • The Hopi Indians believe that the canyon will be their spirits eternal resting place after they death.
  • The Grand Canyon can be seen from space!
  • The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

For more information on The Grand Canyon, visit the sites below:

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