The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Location Map of the Grand Canyon National Park
Location Map of the Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon from the South Rim
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim
Photographer: Olivier

A bighorn sheep overlooking the grand canyon
A bighorn sheep overlooking the grand canyon
Photographer: Marcin Wichary

Abert's Squirrel eating a ponderosa pine cone
Abert's Squirrel eating a ponderosa pine cone

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
Photographer: Saffron Blaze

Aerial view of the lower grand canyon, down river from Toroweap Overlook
Aerial view of the lower grand canyon,
down river from Toroweap Overlook
Photographer: Doc Searls

Guano Point
Guano Point
Photographer: Travis212

The grand canyon covered in snow
The grand canyon covered in snow

The grand canyon skywalk
The grand canyon skywalk
Location Arizona, USA
Area 4,931 sq. km (1,904 sq. miles)
Established 1919
Governing Body National Park Service
World Heritage Site 1979
Approx. Number of visitors each year 5 million

Origins of the Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is the 15th oldest national park in the USA and the park's central feature is the Grand Canyon itself. The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon that has been carved by the Colorado River and recent evidence suggests that the river established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago.

The park is situated in Arizona in the United States of America and it covers an area of 4,931 sq. kms (1,904 sq. miles). The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 kms) long, it is between 4 and 18 miles (6.4 - 29 kms) wide and it is over 1 mile (6,000 ft/1,800 m) deep.

The Grand Canyon National Park is contained within and managed by the National Park Service, the Hualapai Tribal Nation and the Havasupai Tribe. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area and he visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.

Popular Features

The Grand Canyon is valued for its extensive size, depth and exposed layers of colourful rocks that date back to precambrian times. The main public areas of the park are the North and South Rims of the canyon itself and the rest of the park is extremely remote and rugged, although many places are accessible by pack trail and backcountry roads.

The North and South Rims are connected in three places; the Navajo Bridge near Page connects the rims by road and this journey can take about 5 hours by car, they are also connected via Boulder City, Nevada and the Hoover Dam.

The North Rim is a smaller, more remote area with less tourist activity, where as the South Rim is more accessible and it is where most visitors to the park come. The park headquarters are at Grand Canyon Village which is near the south entrance to the park and the most popular viewpoints.

There are a variety of activities at the South Rim available to visitors such as sightseeing, driving tours, walking tours, hiking, running, rafting, camping and private canyon flyovers in helicopters and small planes. Good viewing points for the canyon are located at Lipan Point, the Toroweap Overlook and the Grand Canyon Skywalk.


Weather in the Grand Canyon varies according to elevation. The forested rims are high enough to have snowfall in winter but along the Colorado River in the inner gorge temperatures are similar to other low elevation desert locations in Arizona.

Conditions in the Grand Canyon region are generally dry but substantial rainfalls occurs twice a year. Average annual precipitation on the South Rim is less than 16 inches (35 cms) with 60 inches (132 cms) of snowfall, the higher North Rim usually receives 27 inches (59 cms) of precipitation and 144 inches (317 cms) of snowfall, and Phantom Ranch, situated far below the canyon's rims, receives just 8 inches (17.6 cms) of rainfall and snow is rare.

Temperatures vary throughout the year with summer highs within the gorge commonly exceeding 100 °F (37.8 °C) and winter lows sometimes fall below 0 °F (-17.8 °C) along the canyon's rims.

The national weather service has had a weather station on the south rim since 1903 and the highest temperature it has recorded was on the 26th June 1974 when temperatures reached 105 °F (40.6 °C) and the lowest recorded temperature was -20 °F (-29 °C) which was reached in 1919, 1985 and 1990.

Plant and Wildlife

Due to the 8,000 ft (2,438 m) change in elevation from the Colorado River to the highest point on the North rim, the Grand Canyon National Park hosts a wide variety of plant and animal life. The park contains several major ecosystems and its great biological diversity can be attributed to the presence of five of the seven life zones and three of the four desert types in North America.

The five life zones represented are the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian and Hudsonian; this is the equivalent of travelling from Mexico to Canada.

Lower Sonoran - this life zone spans from the Colorado River up to 3,500 ft (1,067 m). Plants such as coyote willow, arrowweed, seep-willow, western honey mesquite, catclaw acacia and tamarisk are predominant species.

There are 33 species of crustaceans found in the Colorado River and its tributaries and the three most common amphibians are the canyon tree frog, red-spotted toad and the rocky mountain toad.

Only 48 species of bird regularly nest along the river while others use it as a migration corridor or wintering habitat. The bald eagle uses it during the winter months.

Mammals that can be found in this life zone include beavers, antelope squirrels, pocket mice, bats, coyotes, ringtails, spotted skunks, bobcats, grey foxes, weasels, raccoons, mountain lions, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

Insect species commonly found in the river corridor include midges, caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies, black flies, mites, beetles, butterflies, moths, fire ants, spiders and scorpions.

Ten species of reptiles are commonly found along the river corridor and these include gila monsters and chuckwallas as well as several species of snake.

Above the river corridor a desert scrub community thrives. Typical plants in this area are creosote bush, white bursage, brittlebrush, catclaw acacia, ocotillo, mariola, big sagebrush, blackbrush, four-wing saltbush, and rubber rabbitbrush. There are around 50 species of mammals in this area which mainly consist of bats and rodents, reptiles include the desert gopher tortoise and common insects include orange paper wasps, honey bees, black flies, tarantula hawks, stink bugs, beetles, black ants, butterflies, wood spiders, garden spiders, black widow spiders and tarantulas.

Upper Sonoran - The upper sonoran life zone includes most of the inner canyon and South Rim at elevations from 3,500 - 7,000 ft (1,067 - 2,134 m). Species of plant life include blackbrush, sagebrush, pinyon-juniper woodlands, four-winged saltbrush, creosote bush, utah agave, narrowleaf mesquite, ratany, catclaw, snakeweed, mormon tea, narrowleaf yucca, and various cacti species.

WIldlife in this life zone include approximately 30 species of birds, bats, porcupines, shrews, red squirrels, tassel eared kaibab, abert's squirrels, black bear, mule deer, and elk.

Transition - The transition life zone is at elevations between 7,000 and 8,200 ft (2,134 - 2,500 m) and ponderosa pine forests grow in this area on both the North and South Rims. Other species of plant life include pinyon pine, utah juniper, gambel oak, new mexico locust, mountain mahogany, elderberry, creeping mahonia and fescue.

Grey foxes, mule deer, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, utah tiger salamanders, great basin spadefoot toads and approximately 90 species of birds inhabit the transition life zone.

Canadian - this life zone spans from 8,200 - 9,000 ft (2,500 - 2,743 m) and it includes the North rim and the Kaibab Plateau. The sub-alpine climate enables englemann spruce, blue spruce, douglas fir, white fir, aspen, mountain ash, several species of perennial grasses, groundsels, yarrow, sedges, asters, lupines and cinquefoil to grow. Wildlife includes mountain lions, kaibab squirrels and northern goshawks.

Hudsonian - The montane meadows and subalpine grassland communities of the hudsonian life zone are rare and are only located on the North Rim. Both are host to many species of grass including blue and black grama, big galleta, indian rice-grass and three-awns. The wettest areas also support sedges and forbs.

Interesting Facts

The grand canyon is considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

In 2010 the Grand Canyon National Park was awarded its own coin under the America the Beautiful Quarters program.

There are approximately 1,737 species of vascular plants, 167 species of fungi, 64 species of moss and 195 species of lichen found in the park.

There are 47 species of reptiles in the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world's premier natural attractions and approximately 5 million people visit the park each year.

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