Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is a massive chasm that was cut by the Colorado River and its tributaries over the past 6 million years. It is over 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile at itís deepest. It is located in north western Arizona and was one of the first national parks in the United States. The Grand Canyon is very diverse biologically. It contains four of the five types of desert found in the United States and five of the seven life zones. The zones include the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian, and Hudsonian. The parkís drastic changes in elevation and its varying climate levels throughout the elevations are responsible for the wide variety of plant and animal life.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the Grand Canyon. In the late 1800ís early Americans began exploring the area and by the early 1900ís the Grand Canyon became a tourist destination. The canyon received federal protection in 1893 and was recognized as a U.S. Nation Park in 1919. Today the park receives over 5 million visitors annually.
The Grand Canyon started out as deposits made from a warm shallow sea about 2 billion years ago. Different deposits of minerals and sediments through the ages cause the different layers in the canyon walls. These layers were formed as the shallow sea rose and fell, as beaches and swamp lands were formed, and from ancient sand dunes.
Eventually, the Colorado River was formed. Around 65 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau began to raise a large portion of land 5,000 to 10,000 feet above its original elevation. This elevation change caused the Colorado River and its tributaries to cut through the ground at a rapid rate. During the Ice Age moisture levels in the canyon increased and gave the Colorado River much more power to slice deeper and deeper through the rock and sediment. Then, nearly one million years ago, volcanic action in the western canyon area caused ash and lava to settle and form new deposits in the Grand Canyon. These rocks are the youngest found in the park today.
There are thousands of species of plant life in the Grand Canyon. There are about a dozen plants that are endemic to the Grand Canyon, meaning they are found in the park but nowhere else. The canyon walls are home to 11 percent of the plant species in the park. They can grow on the walls because water drips through the rock layers and emerges from the wall faces. North facing slopes in the canyon receive less sunlight than south facing slopes and therefore plants growing there are similar to the plants that grow in high elevations in the northern United States. South facing slopes of the Grand Canyon are fully exposed to the sun and the plant life here is similar to that in the Sonoran Desert.
The park is home to thousands of species of animals. The Colorado River is home to crustaceans, fish, and a few muskrats. In the areas around the river and its tributaries, there are frogs, insects, rodents, lizards, snakes. The park is also home to snails, mollusks, skunks, coyotes, porcupines, squirrels, elk, bears, mountain lions, deer, and bighorn sheep. Some of the poisonous creatures in the Grand Canyon include six types of rattlesnakes, scorpions, black widow spiders, and Gila monsters, a large lizard that is slow moving.
Camping is available at the park and the two main campgrounds at the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon require fees in addition to the park entrance fee. You can reserve these campsites through the National Recreation Reservation Service. In addition to these sites, camping is allowed in the canyon with a permit. A primitive camping site, Tuweep, is located on the far western side of the North Rim and does not require a fee to camp. Groups of 7-11 need a reservation for the group site here and the other sites are first come first served.
Mule trips are offered at both rims. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is generally booked a year in advance so you must plan ahead if you would like to book a mule trip there. Mule trips from the Grand Canyon North Rim are usually available on a daily basis and can be booked through the Grand Canyon Lodge or Grand Canyon Trail Rides. The price of a mule trip starts at $30 per person for a one hour trip. There are no overnight mule trips from the North Rim. South Rim trips can be booked through Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon can be extremely taxing, especially in summer months, due to the exposure to the elements. Even experienced hikers are at risk if they are not prepared. There are multiple options when it comes to hiking in the Grand Canyon. Hikes can be short, guided, day trips, over-night, or over multiple nights. Hikers planning to stay overnight in the canyon must have a permit. Permits require fees in addition to the park entrance fee.
River trips in the Grand Canyon range from one day commercial trips to private trips that last nearly one month. Private trips require a Noncommercial River Permit and the number of trips launched are limited.
Ranger Programs are free of charge and occur throughout the day. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Programs range from 30 to 90 minutes in length.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open all year while the North Rim is open mid-May through mid-October due to harsh winter weather conditions. Access to the South Rim is from Arizona Highway 64 while access to the North Rim is from Arizona Highway 67, this is on the ĎUtahí side of the park. Entrance to the park is $25 per private vehicle and $12 for individuals entering by foot, motorcycle, or bicycle. The permit is good for 7 days and is valid at both the North and South Rims. For $50 you can purchase a Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass. Or for $80 you can purchase a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that is good for national parks across the United States.
The weather at the park can be extreme during the winter and summer months. During the winter, snow is common in the higher elevations, especially the North Rim. Temperatures drop well below freezing at times. The Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon rarely sees snow and has milder temperatures during the winter. The summer months are extremely hot, especially in the Inner Gorge. Temperatures here can reach past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two rainy seasons at the canyon, one during the winter and one during the late summer. The summer storms are monsoon-like and often develop into thunderstorms. Flash flooding can occur on the canyon floor so hikers should be very careful when hiking in inclement weather. Grand Canyon weather forecasts can be checked at visitor centers and ranger stations before hiking into the canyon.