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10 Facts You Never Knew About the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon landscape view with rocks in foreground
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

People dedicate their lives to learning about the Grand Canyon knowing they won’t ever reach an end to their endeavor; the vast, incomparable landscape that makes up this world wonder is ever-changing and continuously revealing new secrets and fascinating historic and geologic stories. Let’s look at a few of the unique elements that make the canyon so grand.

10 Facts About the Grand Canyon


It’s not the biggest or the deepest canyon in the world.

Ranking canyon size gets a bit tricky, what with the considerations of depth, width, length and total area of a canyon system, not to mention elevation and accessibility for measuring such things. Being one of the seven natural wonders of the world and having a moniker like the Grand Canyon, it’s natural to think that Arizona’s beloved namesake is the biggest, deepest canyon around. But alas, it’s not. That title arguably goes to Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet at a whopping 18,000 feet depth to Grand Canyon’s 5,200 feet. Others say that Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal gets the title if you’re measuring from the river to the highest peak on either side (in this case 28,795 feet).

Panorama view of Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, Tibet

That said, our Grand Canyon is no slouch. It takes up a big chunk of Northern Arizona: roughly 277 miles from Lees Ferry to just outside of Lake Powell. At times it’s up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep. And Grand Canyon National Park is actually bigger than the state of Rhode Island.


The Grand Canyon has its own weather system.

One of the Grand Canyon’s greatest superpowers is its ability to control the weather. Well, sort of. It’s really just so big that it creates its own. With drastic changes in elevation, the canyon is home to a variety of microclimates. Temperatures along the river at the canyon floor can be a good 20-30 degrees warmer than temperatures at the rim. And because the North Rim is about 1,200 feet higher in elevation than the South, visits to each can vary dramatically.


The canyon is also home to some of the cleanest air in the country. Due to its elevation and size, so much of it is miles from the business of living that it enjoys an extent of nature unfettered. Unfortunately, the canyon’s historically clean air is in danger from increasing pollution from a variety of power plant, mining and tourist operations.


It’s home to a geologic mystery.

The Colorado River flowing through the rock formations of the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Rock Layers Exposed

The Grand Canyon exhibits a phenomenon known as the Great Unconformity. According to the Arizona Geologic Survey, approximately 1.2 billion years of missing rock record exists between the crystalline Vishnu Schist/Zoroaster Granite rock layers and the Tapeats sandstone layers above them, meaning rock layers of vastly different ages are stacked on top of each other without deposits in the middle as evidence of the years in between. Erosion? Non-deposition? Some significant geologic event? Hard to say. But it might be some combination of all three as rock, over time, lifts, erodes, becomes sediment, changes and even melts in a cycle that repeats through geologic time.


The Great Unconformity is visible from many places along the canyon’s rims, but the best place to see it up close and personal is in Blacktail Canyon at River Mile 121. Many rafting trips will take you to this side canyon where the unconformity is at eye level and you can touch where the two disparate layers meet.


People still live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Havasu Falls waterfall with blue-green pool at sunset
Havasu Falls in Havasupai, Arizona

Many people have heard of hiking Havasupai, a rigorous undertaking that leads you to the breathtaking scenery of blue-green waterfalls within Havasupai Canyon. But what many don’t realize is that there is actually a village at the bottom: Supai, Arizona. Home to members of the Havasupai Tribe (People of the Blue Green Water), the only tribe still living below the canyon’s rim, it has a population of only a few hundred and is only accessible on foot (an 8 mile hike), by mule or by helicopter. It is the remotest village in the contiguous United States. Mail is brought in and out by mule as are food and supplies, and in order to visit you have to score a pass won through the yearly lottery for hiking to the falls.


The Kolb brothers pioneered

the concept of travel photography.

You know those photos they sell at theme parks? The ones taken of your group from the biggest drop of the roller coaster with your eyes closed and mouths open in terrified screams? Some of the first tourist photographs in that spirit (though admittedly more subdued) were actually taken by the Grand Canyon’s famous photography duo: the Kolb brothers. Ellsworth and Emery Kolb made a business of taking pictures of tourists hiking, riding mules and generally enjoying the canyon and then selling them bound in leather albums for three dollars each.


The brothers went on many a daring expedition in the canyon, and their prints, postcards and travel lectures featuring their adventures were some of the first and most successful of early travel photography.


The most dangerous animal in the canyon is . . . a rodent.

rock squirrel with view of Grand Canyon as backdrop
Rock Squirrel in Grand Canyon National Park

According to the National Park Service, the Grand Canyon is home to 447 bird, 91 mammal, 48 reptile and 10 amphibian species. This includes predators such as the pink rattlesnake (a reptile exclusively found in the canyon) and the mountain lion. But based on documented injuries and hospital visits, it turns out the most dangerous animal of the lot at the Grand Canyon is the furry little rodent trying to score your snack scraps outside the gift shop. Rock squirrels are EVERYWHERE in the canyon and park, especially where people can be found, and while they may seem cute, they are actually known for their ferocity and tendency to bite visitors. So if you’re thinking of feeding or snapping a selfie with one of these little guys, think twice before getting too close or turning your back on one.


The Federal Aviation Administration exists, in part,

because of a crash over the Grand Canyon.

On June 30, 1956, two commercial jets flying from California collided over the Grand Canyon killing all 128 passengers. This tragic event was the first commercial flight incident to exceed 100 casualties and was one of a series of mid-air collisions that led to the passing of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which created the FAA in an effort to regulate the safety of airspace and the airline industry.


Air traffic control and regulation is crucial worldwide and especially at the canyon. Though there are no-fly zones to protect wildlife and visitors from noise pollution, there is still plenty of air traffic in designated corridors. Helicopter Alley, for example, is a stretch at the West Rim that is the most crowded helicopter landing area in the world with hundreds of helicopters flying tourists into the canyon each day.


Georgie White was the first female to run

commercial rafting trips through the canyon.

Two rafts on smooth water of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

A number of characters have run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon but arguably none so colorful as Georgie White. White was the first woman to row the river from Marble Canyon to Lake Mead in 1952. She then became the first female to run commercial rafting trips. She was known for wearing a leopard print leotard on the river, and her “triple rig” was the precursor for today’s motorized rafts, the most popular modern craft for traversing the river.

Georgie took her last river trip at the age of 81 and died the next year. Rapid 24 of the Colorado River is named Georgie’s Rapid for her accomplishments and contributions to the rafting community.


Popular movies have been filmed at the Grand Canyon.

The first scene that comes to mind is likely the iconic ending from Thelma and Louise (1991) when they drive their 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible over the edge. Or maybe it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) in which the canyon had a cameo, though Clark Griswold was too schedule-driven to enjoy the view for more than a few seconds before continuing on to Walley World.


But there are quite a few other movies that feature the canyon, however briefly, such as Maverick (1994), Fools Rush In (1997), Into the Wild (2007) and Transformers (2007). As the second most visited national park in the country, it makes sense that filmmakers would want to showcase it on the silver screen.


Few have hiked the Grand Canyon's length.

Male hiker on a trail at the Grand Canyon
Hiker at the Grand Canyon

Rim to rim hikes of the Grand Canyon are regularly checked off many a bucket list. But hiking the actual length of the canyon is a rare accomplishment. It’s often noted that more people have walked on the moon than have continuously thru-hiked the 800-mile length of the Grand Canyon below the rim, and less than 50 have done it in sections with breaks for refitting. There is no set route, no continuous trail, and nowhere to stop for supplies along the way, making it a difficult and often dangerous undertaking not for the faint of heart.


Kenton Grua was the first person in documented history to thru-hike the length of the Grand Canyon in 1977. Since then, a relative handful of other canyon enthusiasts have joined the elite club. Among them is Jen Hogan, the first woman to complete the thru-hike on her solo journey in 2021-2022.

Panoramic view of colorful Grand Canyon at sunset
Grand Canyon at Sunset

The body of information on the Grand Canyon is immense. But just like the canyon, it changes and it grows with the passage of time. What facts about the Grand Canyon might you discover on your adventure?


Let us know if you need a place to stay on your visit to the Grand Canyon and other Northern Arizona destinations.


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