|Native American History||Dams||Designations||Establishment||Geology|
National Monument - 11 Jan 1908
National Park - 26 Feb 1919
World Heritage Site - 26 Oct 1979
Grand Canyon is unmatched throughout the world for the vistas it offers to visitors on the rim. It is not the deepest canyon in the world. Both the Barranca del Cobre in northern Mexico and Hell's Canyon in Idaho are deeper. But Grand Canyon is known for its overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are beautifully preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent. Grand Canyon is also one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world.
Grand Canyon was largely unknown until after the Civil War. In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran with a thirst for science and adventure, made a pioneering journey through the canyon on the Colorado River. He accomplished this with nine men in four small wooden boats. Though only six men completed the journey. His party was, as far as we know, the first ever to make such a trip.
In the late 19th Century there was interest in the region because of its promise of mineral resources, mainly copper and asbestos. The first pioneer settlements along the rim came in the 1880s. Early residents soon discovered that tourism was destined to be more profitable than mining, and by the turn of the century Grand Canyon was a well known tourist destination. Many of the early tourist accommodations were not much different than the mining camps from which they developed. Most visitors made the grueling trip from nearby towns to the South Rim by stagecoach.
In 1901 the railroad was extended from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim, and the development of formal tourist facilities increased dramatically. By 1905 the El Tovar Hotel stood where it does today, a world class hotel on the canyon's edge. The Fred Harvey Company, known throughout the west for hospitality and fine food, continued to develop facilities at Grand Canyon, including Phantom Ranch, built in the Inner Canyon in 1922.
Although first afforded Federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve and later as a National Monument, Grand Canyon did not achieve national park status until 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service. Today Grand Canyon National Park receives about five million visitors each year, a far cry from the annual visitation of 44,173 in 1919.
No dams exist within Grand Canyon National Park, although dams bordering the park have a profound effect on the canyon. At the upper end of the canyon, 15 miles / 24 km above Lees Ferry, is Lake Powell, formed by the waters behind Glen Canyon Dam. This dam was completed in 1963. At the lower end of the canyon is Lake Mead, formed by the waters behind Hoover Dam. This dam was completed in 1936.
The controlled release of water from Glen Canyon Dam at the upstream end affects the water that flows through Grand Canyon. Waters from Lake Mead flood the lower 40 miles / 64 km of Grand Canyon when the lake is full.
The Land - the Canyon and the River
The Colorado River rushes at the bottom of the canyons, about 1,850 feet above sea level. The sides of the canyons are made of rocks, cliffs, ridges, hills and valleys of every form. Many of the ridges have weather carved lines which make them resemble Chinese temples. Thick forests of blue spruce, fir, oaks as well as Ponderosa pines cover the canyon rim. Deep in the canyon's recesses, the foliage grows sparse and shorter. Pinon pines and juniper growing along the cliffs give way to dry desert scrub on the canyon floor.
The north rim of the Grand Canyon rises about 1,200 feet higher that the south rim. The highest points on the rim are about 9,000 feet above sea level.
Most of the 1,904 square miles of the park are maintained as wilderness. There are three distinct sections of the park; the South Rim, the North Rim and the Inner Canyon. Each section has a different climate as well as different vegetation and different experiences.
The North Rim is the coldest and the wettest. It receives up to 26 inches of precipitation a year. The South Rim only receives around 16 inches of precipitation a year. The Inner Canyon is the closest to a desert as the lower you descend, the hotter and drier it becomes. The floor of the canyon, approximately a mile below the North Rim, is about 35�F hotter than the temperatures above.
The colorful canyon rocks were formed millions of years ago. Their colors change with the changing light of the sun. Many layers of rock have been bared by the constant cutting force of the rushing river. The first layer of rock through which the Colorado River now cuts is black in color and is called Archean. The second layer, called Algonkian, has a brilliant red color. The next layer is a lavender-brown color and is known as Tapeats sandstone. The forth layer, the Devonian layer, consists of small deposits of lavender stone. Above this, the thick Redwall curves along the canyon. Above the Redwall lies 800 feet of red sandstone called the Supai formation. The Hermit shale, another layer of red rock covers this.
On top of the Hermit shale rests the sand colored Coconino sandstone, a pale bank that lies 350 feet below the rim of the canyon. The top layer of the canyon consists of cream and gray colored Kaibab limestone. This limestone forms a rim known as the Kaibab Plateau on the north side of the canyon, and as the Coconino Plateau on the south.
Scientists still haven't agreed on the how's and why's of the creation of the Grand Canyon, but there is always one constant, the Colorado River. It always was and always will be the catalyst for change in the canyon.
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