It’s one of the most famous and most-visited attractions in the whole of the United States, but this beloved landmark is still full of surprises. The national park, which is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, measures an incredible 277-miles long and 18-miles wide. That makes it larger than the state of Rhode Island. It’s deep too – in fact, if you were to pile up the entire global population into the canyon, there would still be room to spare. Looking to learn more about the geological marvel? Here are seven interesting facts about the Grand Canyon you might not be familiar with.
Interesting Facts About the Grand Canyon
1. There’s a town inside it
The Grand Canyon’s sweeping desolate landscape doesn’t tend to prompt the question, ‘I wonder who lives here’ – but some people do. The Supai Village is located at the base of the Grand Canyon, in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The population of 208 people makes up the remotest community in the lower 48 states. If you’re looking to visit, you won’t be able to travel by road. It’s a four-hour drive from the Grand Canyon Village with a hefty hike the other side.
Incredibly, the post here is still delivered by pack mule – the only place in the country where this happens. It takes three hours one-way, every day, to get there but it’s still the most reliable way to send mail and supplies here. A helicopter wouldn’t be able to fly on the rims with such high winds. While residents receive around a foot of letters every morning, it’s usually food the post office drops off.
2. Temperatures really vary
It might look like a big desert, but you should be prepared for a whole variety of climates during all seasons. The South Rim, where Grand Canyon Village is located, is 7,000 feet above sea level. That means snow in winter and cool nights in summer, with temperature highs of 21 – 27 ºC in the summer months and lows of -1 – 4 ºC during the winter. But, if you’re hiking below the rim you should be prepared for sweltering conditions. Summer temperatures along the Colorado River regularly hit highs of 47 ºC. Generally speaking, temperatures vary by around 11 ºC between the top and the bottom.
The Grand Canyon actually creates its own weather. The coldest, wettest weather station is the Bright Angel Ranger Station, while the hottest is only eight miles away, on Phantom Ranch.
3. We still don’t know how old it actually is
For a long time, it was widely held that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon around six million years ago. Then, in 2012 researchers examined rocks with a thermochronology method that suggests the whole process may have started 70 million years ago. In all likelihood, both conclusions are probably correct – the Grand Canyon is a hodgepodge of old and new sections.
That said, other sections are much young – a comparatively spritely five or six million years old. Then, over the past four million years ago erosion caused the newly formed giant canyon to grow deeper, wider and longer. There’s still no consensus on this.
4. The first Grand Canyon expedition took place in the 1860s
Many credit John Powell with leading the first expedition into the Grand Canyon, but John Ives was actually the first. He was thoroughly unimpressed though. In an 1861 report to Congress, he said: “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave”. We bet he didn’t envision six million people disagreeing with him every single year.
Then, famed explorer John Wesley Powell, led an expedition. He was the first to call it the Grand Canyon, in 1871. Before this, it was called the Big Canyon, which is just a touch little less grandiose.
5. World records…
The oldest person to cross the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim on foot is John Jepkema, who completed the journey in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona, USA, on 7 November 2019 at the age of 91 years 152 days.
On October 1 2017, Tim Freriks set the fastest known time for the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim route. He completed the 21-mile distance in just 2:39:38.
In 2020, Lars Arneson – a 30 year old trail runner – made a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon in less than seven hours to set a speed record on the 40-mile Rim to Rim to Rim route. He carved off an impress 15 minutes from the world record.
Less than two dozen people have completed a full length-wise hike through the Grand Canyon. To put that into perspective, that’s fewer people than have been on the moon.
6. It’s great for wildlife
There’s a vast amount of wildlife in the Grand Canyon, with over 90 mammal species, 447 bird species, 58 reptile species and five amphibian species. Botanists have counted as many as 1,750 different plant species too. Some species are endemic to the park too. The Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake is found only within the park’s boundaries. It’s one of six rattlesnake species that live inside the park.
Surprisingly, the most dangerous creature at Grand Canyon is the rock squirrel. Dozens of people each year are bitten, many while attempting to feed — or take selfies with — the cute-looking killer creatures.
7. It’s got a long history of taking selfies
Well before the rise of the photo camera, people were posing for pics’. In the early 20th century, photographers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb built Kolb Studio, one of the earliest tourist destinations on the South Rim. They took photos of mule riders from a toll shack on the Bright Angel Trail, developed them and bound them in leather folders for around $3 a pop – around $83 today. This toll shack then became a five-story home, theatre and photo studio. It played a huge role in transforming the Grand Canyon – which only became a national park in 1919 – into a national icon. . They took photos of people hiking and riding mules along the trail, then developed them in their studio and bound them in leather folders for $3 — approximately $83 today.
The studio is now a fascinating museum, open for visitors on weekdays.