After America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, adventurers, fortune hunters and explorers rushed in to explore and strike a claim to this new land and its bounties. They were lured into exploring the wild expanse of the new continent in the hope of finding ancient treasures and natural resources, and sometimes something as basic as water.
Garcia Lopez de Cardenas of Spain, the then governor of a region of the new Spanish colony, set off from Mexico to find a river that the native tribes of Indians spoke about. After 20 long days of tracking northwards through inhospitable terrain, his party reached a rising plateau and while crossing it, suddenly they stopped in their tracks. There was no way that they could move any further, the ground literally seemed to split open before them, forming an enormous gorge that was at least a mile deep!
Yes, there was water too, but it was in the form of a silvery serpentine river gushing at the bottom of the gorge. Cardenas and his party tried to reach the river, but it was too steep to climb down. They returned without water but Cardenas became the first European to see the Grand Canyon that lies in present-day Arizona, USA.
Grand Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world — the first being the Tsangpo Canyon in Tibet — and with an average depth of one mile (1.6km), 277 miles (446km) long and ten miles wide (16km). It is estimated to have taken some six million years for wind and water erosion from the Colorado River to create this canyon. In reality, the Grand Canyon is not a single huge canyon, but made up of several side canyons which contribute to its sheer size.
To better understand how this happened, we need to go back further into time, some 20 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau was a seabed. Movements deep inside the earth pushed this land out and above the sea. A few million years later, that is about six million years ago, the Colorado River started to change its direction and cut its way across the Plateau. The Colorado River flowed with great force at the time because of the enormous amount of water on land from the melted glaciers of the Ice Ages that had come to an end. However, it took around two million years for the forceful water to cut a path in the rock The many tributaries of the river were responsible for the side canyons in the Grand Canyon. And the walls of the Canyon, with their lays upon layers of rocks, reflect the geological history of this part of the earth. You can find rocks as old as two million years at the top to 250 million years in the lower sections, among the oldest found on earth! The walls are of varying shades of brown, red, yellow and grey, the colours keep changing along with the vista of the whole Canyon as the sun moves in the horizon. Around the rim, the traces of ancient fossils of snails, corals and fish lend credibility to the fact that this area was under the sea once.
At its widest point, the two sides of the Grand Canyon stretch up to 18 miles or 29 kilometres, and even its narrowest point is four miles, or 6.4 kilometres wide! The Colorado River that flows at the bottom averages a width of 300 feet and depth of 100 feet, and flows pretty fast at the rate of four miles or 6.4 kilometres per hour, making travelling on it difficult. There are many rapids on the river too.
Let us also look into the history of the people who lived there much before any Europeans set foot on the continent. The Grand Canyon had been home to Native Americans, in other words Red Indians, as far back as 1200BC when the ancient Anasazi people are believed to have lived there. Archaeological remains found there have been dated as 4000 years old!
Later the Puebloans moved into the area around 500AD, and today there are as many as 2,000 ancestral Puebloan sites in the Grand Canyon. But research reveals that around the late 1200s, Grand Canyon was abandoned by the Native Americans, probably due to a long period of drought and it was almost a century later that tribes like Cerbat (ancestors of today’s Havasupai and Hualapai tribes), Navajo and Dine (relatives of the Apache) moved in and around the canyon.
Today, the West Rim of the Grand Canyon is owned and operated by the Hualapai Indians and one of the main attractions there is the ‘SkyWalk’ — a transparent horseshoe-shaped bridge at an elevation of 4,770ft (1,450m) and the vertical drop directly under the skywalk is between 500ft (150m) and 800ft (240m). Walking on this transparent bridge, looking down at the sheer drop underneath is not something to be tried by people who have a fear of heights.
The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919, which covers an area of 1,900 square miles and today it averages five million visitors each year, mainly along its three major rims — the South Rim, the North Rim and the West Rim.
The South Rim is the most popular and is only 60 miles from Williams, Arizona. The North Rim, accessible from southern Utah, is very remote and there are fewer facilities for tourists there, although those who have gone there claim that the view of the Canyon from the North Rim is far more spectacular than that from the South Rim. The West Rim is closer to Las Vegas and so many holidaymakers to the Las Vegas area take a trip to the Canyon, or ‘The Mountain Lying Down’ as the local American Indians called it.
The beauty of this breathtaking natural wonder can be enjoyed by just peeking over the rims of the Canyon, and those who are more adventurous and want to see the passage of time written on the walls of the Canyon, they can take tours that involve river rafting expeditions, hiking, mule rides and camping.