Grand Canyon National Park is located in northwestern Arizona just north of Williams and is the 15th site in the United States to have been named a national park. The park’s central feature is the Grand Canyon which is a gorge of the Colorado River and often considered one of the Wonders of the World. The park received more than six million recreational visitors in 2017, which is the second highest count of all American national parks after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Grand Canyon was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Grand Canyon Estimated Location: 36.082783, -112.095388
All images were taken from the Mather Point near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon, including its extensive system of tributary canyons, is valued for its combination of size, depth, and exposed layers of colorful rocks dating back to Precambrian times. The canyon itself was created by the incision of the Colorado River and its tributaries after the Colorado Plateau was uplifted, causing the Colorado River system to develop along its present path.
The primary public areas of the park are the South and North Rims, and adjacent areas of the canyon itself. The rest of the park is extremely rugged and remote, although many places are accessible by pack trail and backcountry roads. The South Rim is more accessible than the North Rim, and accounts for 90% of park visitation.
Most visitors to the park come to the South Rim, arriving on Arizona State Route 64. The highway enters the park through the South Entrance near Tusayan, Arizona, and heads eastward, leaving the park through the East Entrance. Interstate 40 provides access to the area from the south. From the north, U.S. Route 89 connects Utah, Colorado, and the North Rim to the South Rim. Overall, some 30 miles of the South Rim are accessible by road.
The North Rim area of the park located on the Kaibab Plateau and Walhalla Plateau, directly across the Grand Canyon from the principal visitor areas on the South Rim. The North Rim’s principal visitor areas are centered around Bright Angel Point. The North Rim is higher in elevation than the South Rim, at over 8,000 feet (2,400 m) of elevation. Driving time from the South Rim to the North Rim is about 4.5 hours, over 220 miles (350 km).
The Grand Canyon is a river valley in the Colorado Plateau that exposes uplifted Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata, and is also one of the six distinct physiographic sections of the Colorado Plateau province. Even though It is not the deepest canyon in the world, the Grand Canyon is known for its visually overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically, it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are well preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent.
The Grand Canyon is part of the Colorado River basin which has developed over the past 70 million years. A recent study examining caves near Grand Canyon places their origins beginning about 17 million years ago. Previous estimates had placed the age of the canyon at 5–6 million years. The study, which was published in the journal Science in 2008, used uranium-lead dating to analyze calcite deposits found on the walls of nine caves throughout the canyon. There is a substantial amount of controversy because this research suggests such a substantial departure from prior widely supported scientific consensus. In December 2012, a study published in the journal Science claimed new tests had suggested the Grand Canyon could be as old as 70 million years. However, this study has been criticized by those who support the “young canyon” age of around six million years as an attempt to push the interpretation of their new data to their limits without consideration of the whole range of other geologic data sets.
There are approximately 1,737 known species of vascular plants, 167 species of fungi, 64 species of moss and 195 species of lichen found in Grand Canyon National Park. This variety is largely due to the 8,000 foot (2,400 m) elevation change from the Colorado River up to the highest point on the North Rim. Grand Canyon boasts a dozen endemic plants while only ten percent of the Park’s flora is exotic. Sixty-three plants found here have been given special status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of the 90 mammal species found along the Colorado River corridor, 18 are rodents and 22 are bats.
The Park contains several major ecosystems. 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 equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada. Differences in elevation and the resulting variations in climate are the major factors that form the various life zones and communities in and around the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park contains 129 vegetation communities, and the composition and distribution of plant species is influenced by climate, geomorphology and geology.
Images property of Chromoscience.