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The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist sights in the world with over 5 million visitors a year. The Colorado River and its tributaries created the Grand Canyon by moving through the sandy soil of the desert. Most of the Grand Canyon is located within the Grand Canyon National Park within Arizona, although parts of the canyon are in Utah and in several Indian Reservations. \The canyon is believed to be over 17 million years old and cutting through 2 billion of years of history. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (443 kilometres) long and ranges in width of 4 to 6 miles (6.4 to 9.6 kilometres). At its deepest point the Grand Canyon is more than a mile (1.6 kilometres) deep!
The Grand Canyon has been a holy site for many indigenous groups in the United States. During prehistory many Native Americans made the Grand Canyon there home in the side canyons and caves. On many rafting trips you can see the ruins of different Pueblo Tribe sights that are over 500 years old. To this day the Hopi tribe consider certain parts of the Grand Canyon holy.
In September of 1540 Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, a conquistador, following Hopi guides went to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. They tried to descend into the canyon but they only got about a third of the way down before having to turn back. The conquistador suspected that the Hopi guides were not showing the proper way to the river. No Europeans returned to the canyon for another 200 years.
In the 18th century several catholic priests went to the canyon to unsuccessfully convert the natives. The beauty of the canyon shocked most of the priests. In the 1850s Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary, was sent by Brigham Young to locate the easiest places to set up river crossings. Hamblin was a natural diplomat and negotiated with the tribes along the canyon to set up the only two possible ferry crossings.
Hamblin’s knowledge and skill proved invaluable to John Powell and his expeditions to the Grand Canyon, starting in 1869. Powell was a one armed Civil War veteran with a scientific urge to explore. He rafted the entire length of the Colorado River and explored the Grand Canyon. The memoirs written on his experiences are amazing pieces of writing.
The Grand Canyon National Park was one of the first National Parks created in 1919, although it was a national moment in 1908. And today UNESCO has declared it as a Unesco World Heritage Site, which it deserves. After Glen Canyon Dam was built there has been no major construction projects in the park itself. Recently the forest service has forced the dam owners to recreate seasonal flooding which stopped after the dam was built.
The Grand Canyon is a canyon in the Colorado Plateau and contrary to popular belief is not the deepest canyon in the world (Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is far deeper), nor the widest (Capertee Valley in Australia is both wider and longer than Grand Canyon). However, the Grand Canyon is known for its visually overwhelming size 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 formation 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 Kaibab Plateau that Grand Canyon bisects is over a thousand feet higher at the North Rim (about 1,000 feet/300 metres) 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. Temperatures on the North Rim are generally lower than the South Rim because of the greater elevation (averaging 8,000 feet/2,438 metres above sea level). Heavy rains are common on both rims during the summer months. Access to the North Rim via the primary route leading to the canyon (State Route 67) is limited during the winter season due to road closures. Views from the North Rim tend to give a better impression of the expanse of the canyon than those from the South Rim.
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The Grand Canyon is located in a high altitude desert. Therefore it can get very cold in winter (well below zero, snow is not uncommon) and extremely hot (up to 45 °C on the canyon floor) in summer. Year round be prepared for extreme temperature shifts from day to night. Dehydration kills hikers every year so bring enough water with you. Many of the side canyons are dry except during flash floods. Flash floods occur in mostly in the springtime and are very dangerous. A dry canyon bed can get more than 20 feet (6 metres) of water in less than 10 minutes. The storms that cause the flash fluids can be many miles away. Meaning a flash flood can occur on a nice sunny day. If you see the water level rising quickly, immediately move to higher ground up the canyon walls. Wait out a flash flood, do not attempt to swim because boulders the size of school buses can be flowing in the water.
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Hiking, ruins and beauty are the main sights of the Grand Canyon. Most tourists only spend 45 minutes at the Grand Canyon that is a shame. You can spend days and weeks just hiking the few trails near the South Rim or North Rim. For the more hardcore person with the proper gear, backcountry permits are easy to get. People have spent weeks trekking along the Grand Canyon enjoying its beauty and solitude.
Another popular activity is to white water raft the Grand Canyon. This takes lots of planning and fair amount of money. It takes over a year to plan and it is possible to do the whole river or just the sections north or south of Phantom Ranch, which is roughly in the middle of the Grand Canyon. It is a trip of a lifetime and worth every penny. The trip allows you to see the more remote sections of the canyon and experience a part of it that most people in the world will never get to see. One highly recommended agency is Diamond River Adventures, they offer motorized and row boat raft tours.
If you have more questions the frequently asked questions page on Grand Canyon National Park official page is a great resource. Please click here for more details. For information on the cost to enter the park and other permit costs please click here
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The South Rim is the most visited section of Grand Canyon. Most people wishing to visit the national park come here because it has the best facilities and the easiest to get to from population centers. Remember to be conservative with water when you are here because all the water is actually pumped from a water source on the other side of the canyon!
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Havasu Canyon is a stunning side canyon of the Grand Canyon located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The main attraction of Havasu Canyon is a stunning series of waterfalls, which are featured in the Famous Waterfalls article. This falls are extremely pretty but hard to get to. The easiest way is to drive to the Havasupai Indian Reservation and hike down to the town. Yes I mean hike down to the town and bring plenty of water because there is no running water on the trail. The capital of Supai has no roads, not even a dirt road. The mail is even brought in every day by mule! Remember to book your campsite far in advance because they sell out early year round. For those who can't hike down you can always hire a mule or horse to take you down. For people with more money than they know what to do with, there is the option of taking a helicopter. For more information on camping, reservations, costs and how to get to the Havasupai Indian Reservation please visit the Official Havasupai Tribe website.
Another option is to take rafter trip down the second half of the Grand Canyon. All the boats stop at the bottom of the canyon and hike up it. The bottom part of the canyon is stunning and has less visitors than the top section does. Although the hike to the falls is pretty far and can only be done if your willing to move very quickly. The middle section of the canyon see the fewest amount of visitors and the trail can be a little hard to follow at times.
The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All visitor services, such as camping, lodging, and restaurants are available year round. Reservations are strongly recommended during the busy summer season. Some facilities are closed during the winter.
At the North Rim lodging and camping along with all other visitor services and facilities are only open from mid-May to mid-October. Reservations are strongly recommended. Additional facilities are available in the surrounding Kaibab National Forest, the Kaibab Lodge area, and Jacob Lake.
Admission for the first two below is for seven days and includes entrance to both the North Rim and South Rim.
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The main option for getting between the different sights is driving or hiking. Some parts of the park have a shuttle service, including shuttles running throughout the Grand Canyon Village and out to Desert View on the South Rim.
The best way to get to the Grand Canyon is to drive from Phoenix, Flagstaff or Las Vegas. Interstate 17 runs from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Interstate 40 runs east-west, passing Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon to the south. Route 89 travels along the eastside and northeast of the canyon.
A free shuttle bus system operates in the Grand Canyon Village area. It is easy to park your car at the visitor center and using the free shuttle buses to get around the village.
Camping is the main budget option. There are several camp grounds in the park although making a reservation in advance might be a good idea. There is the option of backcountry camping but you will need to get the proper permits.
There is a non-refundable fee of $10 per permit plus $5 per person per night camped below the rim and $5 per group per night camped above the rim.
There are a number of lodges and cabins available for rent in Grand Canyon Village, run by the company Xanterra. Details can be found at the Grand Canyon Lodges website.
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I am a National Park Ranger on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
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