July 06, 2011

The Grand Canyon

World Largest Gorge


The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided gorge carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the first national parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29 km) and attains a depth of over a mile (1.83 km) (6000 feet). Nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. While the specific geologic processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to the point we see it as today.



Before European immigration, the area was inhabited by Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon ("Ongtupqa" in Hopi language) a holy site and made pilgrimages to it. The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was  Garcia Lo'pez de from Spain, who arrived in 1540.


The Grand Canyon is a massive rift 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. It is not the deepest canyon in the world; Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is far deeper, nor the widest (Capertee Valley in Australia is about 1 km wider and longer than Grand Canyon) but 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 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.

 

Uplift associated with mountain building events later moved these sediments thousands of feet upward and created the Colorado Plateau. The higher elevation has also resulted in greater precipitation in the Colorado River drainage area, but not enough to change the Grand Canyon area from being semi-arid. The uplift of the Colorado Plateau is uneven, and the north-south trending Kaibab Plateau that Grand Canyon bisects is over a thousand feet higher at the North Rim (about 1,000 ft/300 m) than at the South Rim. Almost all runoff from the North Rim (which also gets more rain and snow) flows toward the Grand Canyon, while much of the runoff on the plateau behind the South Rim flows away from the canyon (following the general tilt). The result is deeper and longer tributary washes and canyons on the north side and shorter and steeper side canyons on the south side.



 
 

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