CW Travelogue

The Formation of the Grand Canyon
Explorations | By Sky Barsch Gleiner , Oct 10, 2012 12:36 pm

The Formation of the Grand Canyon

There's a reason the Grand Canyon belongs to the exclusive club called the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The 277-mile long, mile-deep canyon is like nothing else you will ever see, and it will leave you feeling humbled.

There is no way a photograph or video can capture what the Grand Canyon truly looks like, because its size is beyond comprehension; and it changes appearance sometimes in seconds, as light ever so-slightly shifts, or a small amount of moisture creates a fleeting rainbow. This is something you must see in person.

How was this masterpiece created? According to the National Park Service, scientists don't have a definitive answer. The vast area around the Grand Canyon, called the Colorado Plateau, experienced an "uplift" at some point in its history, raising the area to a tall, yet flat, formation. This is unusual, because rocks are typically deformed during uplift, such as in the Rocky Mountains. Scientists have different theories to explain this unusual uplift.

What is agreed on is the Colorado River's role in carving out the canyon.  Over the past 5 to 6 million years, the Colorado has been creating the canyon—the geological term for a low-lying area of land, surrounded by high areas, with extremely steep sides, sometimes vertical, by eroding the rock, carving its river bed deeper and wider as time went on. With each flood and snowmelt, bigger pieces of rock are removed from the walls, causing more erosion.

For a very cool interactive geological timeline, check out the National Park Service's photo slide show.

President Theodore Roosevelt said of Grand Canyon, "Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see."

When you see the Grand Canyon in person, you'll likely agree with President Roosevelt. Nature did a fine job with its size, presence, and unmistakable beauty; it is a treasure that everyone should be able to experience.

For more information, check out our Arizona: Grand Canyon & Sedona trip.