The Grand Canyon

They don’t call it the Grand Canyon without reason. 


It is just that, grand. 


While this destination is most well-known for the vast vista views that it provides, ever changing colors and incredible geology, it is a lot more than just a canyon. It has both great historic and cultural history. People have been exploring and inhabiting the Grand Canyon for thousands of years.


One of the main missions of the National Park Service is to help protect and preserve all of the human history and culture within this archaeological site. People have been a part of the Grand Canyon’s story starting some 10,000 years ago. This land has an immeasurable importance to the Native people in the Southwest. This national park shares boundaries with three federally recognized tribes and has ties to 11 federally recognized tribes.


The note of being federally recognized is especially important as these tribes possess certain rights of self-government and they are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services and protection because of their special relationship with the United States.  


The 11 tribes that have historic connections to the Grand Canyon are the 

  • Havasupai Tribe
  • Hopi Tribe
  • Hualapai Tribe
  • Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians 
  • Las Vegas Paiute Tribe 
  • Moapa Band of Paiute Indians 
  • Navajo Nation 
  • Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah
  • San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe 
  • The Pueblo of Zuni
  • Yavapai-Apache Nation


These indigenous people were the first inhabitants and caretakers of the land that we all know now to be the United States of America. They are the first people to live in harmony with the environment and possess invaluable knowledge about the land itself. 


One fascinating thing that I learned while doing more research about this land and the people that once called it home was about the village, Supai, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This village was home to the Havasupai tribe for at least the past 800 years. The name Havasupai means “blue green water” and people. 


This water can be seen today in the pools that gather at the base of Mooney Falls and other waterfalls along the Havasu Creek. 


The tribe had traditionally relied heavily on agriculture, hunting and gathering as their means of survival. While the rim and areas surrounding the top of the Grand Canyon offered a harsh climate, the Havasu Canyon provided more protection, water and a more predictable climate. During the summer months, the tribe planted crops and orchards in the Havasu Canyon. Utilizing the Havasu Creek as their water source. 


During the winter months the Havasupais would leave the Canyon and the below freezing temperatures and retreat to another place along the rim or plateau until warmer weather came about. 


Now, that is what we call a true nomad. 


The Havasupais left their mark on this landscape by paving the path that hikers now take to hike into the canyon itself. 


If you are lucky enough to score a permit to hike to this village and walk the paths that the Havasupai once did, you would score the permit of a lifetime. It is a 8 mile hike to the lodge within the village itself but remember, what goes down, must also come back up. 


This is a definite bucket list hike for me. 


Now that we have a better understanding of the people that once inhabited this land, have you ever given thought to how the Grand Canyon was formed and why it is located in Northern Arizona? The acronym that the National Park Services attributes to its formation is D U D E or Deposition, Uplift, Down cutting and Erosion. 


The story of the Grand Canyon begins two billion years ago with the formation of the igneous and metamorphic rocks that you can see in the inner gorge. Above these rocks lie layers of sedimentary rock, each indicative of the specific environmental history of the Grand Canyon. Geologists use these rock layers to gain a better understanding of the geologic time scale.


70-30 million years ago, through the shifting of tectonic plates, the entire region was uplifted resulting in the high and relatively flat Colorado Plateau. The Kaibab Limestone, which is the upper most layer of the Grand Canyon, was formed at the bottom of the ocean, yet today sits at elevations up to 9,000 feet. 


The how and why behind this uplift occurred is still a scientific mystery. One favored hypothesis is the shallow-angle subduction in which there is no volcanic activity. Instead, the Earth’s crust is uplifted along reverse faults. The second favored hypothesis is the continued uplift through isostatic rebound. Think about this phenomenon by having someone hold your arms close to your side while you push against the force as hard as you can. After holding this position and having the opposing force removed, did your arms continue in the path that you were pushing back at wanting to travel away from your sides? 


The Earth’s crust responds in a similar fashion. When significant amounts of rock layer are removed by erosion, the crust responds by rising after the release of the pressure.  


Beginning 5-6 million years ago, the Colorado River began to cave its way through the rock layers. Further erosion happened over time by tributary streams that lead to the widening of the canyon. This process is referred to as down cutting. It happens during periods of flooding when large amounts of water move through river channels carrying with it large rocks and boulders. These objects act like chisels and chip or knock off pieces of the riverbed as they are carried along. 


Along with the Colorado River, the continued erosion of the Grand Canyon takes place through the snowmelt and rainwater that flows down the sides of the canyon itself. 


It is incredible to stand at the rim of the canyon and for as far as the eye can see, you can witness just how powerful Mother Nature herself can be. While the creation of the canyon has taken millions of years, it is amazing to think that a river can cause the creation of such an intricate and beautiful geological feature. 


Visiting the Grand Canyon and experiencing its natural beauty is something that I think should be on everyone’s bucket list. You need to experience the natural wonder at least once, as there is truly nothing else like it in the world.


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