Happy Anniversary to one of the most iconic landmarks in the USA; the Grand Canyon. The park officially became recognized as a national park 100 years ago and we are celebrating with a post dedicated to the history of this geological wonder, with a few fun facts mixed in. It’s time to pack your bags, grab your sun glasses and join us on our journey through the Grand Canyon.
Long before the canyon was a national park, scientists estimate the canyon was formed anywhere from 5-70 million years ago. It is estimated that about 30- 70 million years ago tectonic plates shifted back and forth to create the Colorado Plateau. From there, about 5-6 million years ago, the Colorado River helped shape the canyon over the next millions of years by slowly weathering away the Colorado Plateau. Even today these forces of nature continue to slowly widen and deepen the formation. Even though the formation of the canyon is a young 70 million or so years old, some of the oldest rock in the canyon, like that found in the inner gorge, can be traced back to around 2 billion years ago!
Since its formation, the Grand Canyon has hosted indigenous populations, groups of explorers and many who struggled to explore the land. It is estimated that the first humans passed in and around the Grand Canyon about 12,000 years ago. The first recorded group to inhabit the canyon was the Ancient Pueblas, who lived there an estimated 2,300 years ago. The park has had continuous occupants since that time. The first scientific expedition took place here in 1896 when US Major John Wesley Powell led a passage through the Grand Canyon with a volunteer group of nine men to see if the land could be successfully traversed. This was due to the widely believed theory that the land in the Grand Canyon was uninhabitable. Powell and his men completed the journey successfully and showed that the canyon can be crossed in its entirety. He also coined the name “Grand Canyon” as opposed to its previous names of “Big Canyon” or “Great Canyon.”
From there, the Grand Canyon still had several years and political hurdles until it became a national park. Before his presidency, Benjamin Harrison introduced a bill to attempt to crown the Grand Canyon a national park in the years 1882, 1883 and 1886, all of which were unsuccessful. In 1893, now President Harrison established the area as the Grand Canyon Reserve and in 1893 it was declared a monument. Even after these milestones, the US Senate attempted to elevate the canyon to national park status in both 1910 and 1911 and both attempts were shut down. The Grand Canyon had supporters in very high places and still did not see national park status for 8 more years.
Finally, in 1919, under the administration of President Wilson, the area was delegated as an official national park on February 26. For a place to be considered for designation, it must possess a unique natural, cultural or recreational resource. In the United States, it is maintained by the national government and by act of congress.
The Grand Canyon was finally a protected national park and its popularity skyrocketed and continues to. The area now sees over 5 million visitors a year and is continuously one of the top most visited national parks in the United States. It was the 2nd last year just behind the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. It is a true piece of Americana and holds a place in the hearts of visitors for a lifetime.
That’s enough of our history lesson, we will now provide you with some fun facts about the Grand Canyon National Park!
- The US Bureau of Reclamation wanted to build a staircase of reservoirs through the canyon in the late 1960s.
- The Grand Canyon Railway was completed in 1901 and now brings over 225.000 passengers to the park each year.
- In 2014, a five-day routine flooding of the Grand Canyon was ordered in hopes to improve the environment by delivering sediment to the Grand Canyon. This flooding released enough water in the Grand Canyon to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 2.5 seconds. These floods are expected to continue through 2020.
- Grand Canyon National Park is larger than the state of Rhode Island at 277 miles in length.
- The canyon is 18 miles at its widest point across with it stretching a mere 4 miles at its narrowest.
- The rock found at the bottom of the canyon is around 2 billions years old with the rock on top being only 230 million.
- The Grand Canyon is not the widest, longest or deepest canyon in the world but it is one of the most popular with around 5 million visitors per year.
- It is around 6,000 feet deep.
- Native Americans have been living in and around the canyon for thousands of years, long before Powell started his journey.
- It creates its own weather because of the drastically varying elevations. The weather you are experiencing in one part of the park can be completely different from the weather just a few miles away.
- There are no dinosaur bones in the Grand Canyon because the rock that makes up the majority of the canyon is about a billion years older than the dinosaurs.
*As a special bonus, we wanted to give a shout out to National Parks week from April 20- April 28! Celebrate National Parks Week by visiting our Celebrating National Parks Week: Facts from our National Parks blog post. Learn more about your national parks and get inspired to see some of these beautiful places for yourself!