Did you know that a river can carve out a deep ravine between cliffs over the course of millions of years? These ravines are called “canyons” or “gorges.” In Arizona, you can see a grand example of this phenomenon.

The Grand Canyon is an incredibly steep canyon that has been carved out by the Colorado River. Located in Arizona, most of the Grand Canyon is within Grand Canyon National Park, which was one of the first national parks in the United States. Today, nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year.

The size and beauty of the Grand Canyon is enough to overwhelm the senses. Following the course of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon stretches for 277 miles.

At its widest point, it is approximately 18 miles wide. And deep? You bet it’s deep! At its deepest point, the Grand Canyon is approximately 6,000 feet — more than a mile! — deep.

If you visit the Grand Canyon, you can see vast expanses at park overlooks. You can also hike trails down into deep gorges, take boat tours on the Colorado River as it passes through the Grand Canyon or even ride a burro through the canyon to an overnight camping spot! The sights, including ancient rocks and interesting wildlife, are like nothing else in the world!

Although it’s very deep, the Grand Canyon can’t claim the title of deepest canyon in the world. That honor goes to the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal, which scientists estimate is more than 18,000 feet — almost 3.5 miles! — deep.

In addition to gorgeous natural beauty, the Grand Canyon offers scientists a place to view almost 2 billion years’ worth of the Earth’s geological history. As the Colorado River did its work, slowly eroding layer after layer of rock, the Earth’s tectonic plates in the area shifted to push the areas on each side of the river to higher elevations.

What these processes left behind are steep rock walls that show scientists how the area changed over the course of time. Geologists believe the Grand Canyon provides one of the most complete geologic columns on Earth.

For years, scientists thought the Grand Canyon was 5 million to 6 million years old. More recent studies, though, show that it may be as much as 17 million years old.

The park is a treasure trove for geologists and archaeologists. Grand Canyon National Park has recorded more than 4,800 archaeological resources in a study of just 3 percent of the park’s area.

The oldest human artifacts that have been found are about 12,000 years old and appear to be from the Paleo-Indian time period. These artifacts, such as primitive tools and bowls, give researchers a glimpse into what life was like thousands of years ago.

 

23 Join the Discussion

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    • We think you’re super lucky to have been able to visit the Grand Canyon, Jennifer! What great memories you must have from your visit! Thank you for sharing about your adventure with everyone in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  1. I think that the Grand Canyon would be cool to see, and that if I went to the bottom of it, I would never get back up.

    • Hello, Pizzacuttercat! We’re sure glad you’re exploring different Wonders today! There are special trails and roads that lead people down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It takes a while to get down to the bottom, and it takes a while to get back up! We think it would be a cool WONDER to see, too! :-)

    • We hope you are able to make the trip to the Grand Canyon in the future, Isaiah! We bet it would certainly be a breathtaking sight! We hope you have a WONDERful day! :)

    • Great Wonder, Janelle! A phenomenon is usually something that occurs, or an event, that is almost beyond belief. Some people would describe the Grand Canyon as a natural phenomenon! :)

  2. I never knew how big the grand canyon was but now I know. I am learning about erosion in science class and I have to study for a test. You guys are helping me understand a lot more on erosion.

    Thank You
    Nicholas

    • We LOVE learning new things with Wonder Friends like you, Nicholas! We are so glad you’re WONDERing about erosion in class– it’s pretty incredible to think of all the natural areas that have eroded over thousands of years! We are glad to know that this Wonder has helped you with your homework– way to go, Nicholas! :)

    • Hi there Logan M! We are so glad that you and your classmates are WONDERing about erosion with us– we bet it’s a lot of fun! It’s amazing what can happen in nature! Thanks for joining us today! :)

    • That is great news, Beaib! We are so excited to hear that you’ve been WONDERing on your own and in science class– learning is so much fun with a great Wonder Friend like you! :)

  3. We were really excited to learn that the Grand Canyon took soooo long to form. We were way off on our ideas of long it took to form. We think that maybe in another 12,000 years they will be finding artifacts from our time.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How deep is the Grand Canyon?
  • Where is the deepest canyon in the world?
  • What archaeological discoveries have been made at the Grand Canyon?

Wonder Gallery

Grand Canyon_shutterstock_46192000Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to dig deep? Visit the National Park Service online to take the Grand Canyon River Archeology Virtual Tour!

This cool virtual tour of archaeological sites along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park will take you to places that had previously been buried for centuries. After excavation to create this virtual tour, these sites were reburied to protect them. This virtual tour is now the only way to visit these places where people lived thousands of years ago!

If you want to learn more about the excavations in the virtual tour, watch the Archeology Along the Colorado River video.

To experience a unique view of the Grand Canyon, check out the new Grand Canyon Skywalk!

 

Still Wondering

There’s so much more to learn about the Grand Canyon! Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ How Was the Grand Canyon Formed? lesson to learn how the process of erosion helped to create the Grand Canyon.

 

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