The Grand Canyon
Anyone who has ever been there will never forget the sight of it .approaching from the plateau nothing appears out of the ordinary until the trees that mask it disappear and the ground suddenly drops into open space. thousands of feet high rock formations hundreds of millions even billions of years old. have been made visible to our eyes by the powerful natural force. of erosion and the view is truly spectacular no matter. where you look millions of people visit the grand canyon every year. drawn by its beauty and if it isn’t on your bucket list it should be there is simply no place on earth. quite like it, the forces of nature that combine together in this corner of the American southwest to create the canyon have created one of the world’s truly unique environments.
a place with its own ecosystem weather patterns climate the kind of place. that doesn’t seem real if viewed only through photographs, it truly must be seen to be believed and yet the visual spectacle of the grand canyon hides a dark side for the uninitiated or the unprepared it can be a cruel place a hostile environment that has claimed the lives of hundreds of visitors in the hundred years since it was designated as a national park the truly tragic
part is that almost all of those deaths could have been prevented with a little common sense or advanced planning or even just respect for the awesome power of mother nature in one of her most untamed playgrounds the grand canyon is located in the northwest corner of the u.s state of arizona it is truly grand in its dimensions 277 miles in length anywhere from 4 to 18 miles wide and over 6 000 feet deep the canyon was first formed around 6 million years ago when the movement of the tectonic plates raised a large section of sediment south of the rocky mountains
thousands of feet upward forming the colorado plateau the fast-flowing colorado river came down from the rockies and began to cut through the colorado plateau on its way to baja california in mexico as the years went on the river cut deeper and deeper into the plateau exposing layers of rock that hadn’t in the light of day in hundreds of millions or billions of years erosion caused by wind rain and rockfalls widened the channel further forming what we see today as the grand canyon the river continues to carve the canyon deeper at the rate of thickness of a sheet of paper every year the rocky exposed by the cutting of the river is a layer cake of different rock
types that form one of the most complete geological records of anywhere on earth the oldest rock at the bottom of the canyon is vishnu schist that was deposited there two billion years ago the newest is the kaibab limestone at the rim of the canyon 270 million years old the rock formations of the grand canyon have been studied for years by scientists as it tells the story of the geologic formation of the north american continent native americans have lived around the grand canyon since at least 1200 bce was the emergence of the ancestral public peoples over two thousand years later four distinct
peoples either currently live or have lived in the surrounding area of the grand canyon the havasupai the hualapai the pauluz and the navajo each incorporated the canyon into their mythologies especially their creation stories the area remained undiscovered by europeans until september 1540 when spanish conquistadors searching for eldorado the city of gold arrived in the south rim of the canyon they were predictably shocked by its gargantuan appearance and three members of their party along with some native hobby guides attempted to descend to the bottom where they could see the colorado river after three days they had run out of water and had to return to south rim it is believed that the hobby guides knew where the trail leading to the bottom of the canyon.
was but didn’t want to show the spanish hoping to keep the colonizers away from the area if that was their intention it worked as no european would set eyes on the grand canyon again for over 200 years after the conquistadors left after mexico ceded the southwest territories to the united states at the end of the mexican-american war americans began to explore the area in earnest in 1869 john wesley powell led an expedition down the colorado river through the grand canyon it was a true western adventure as the expedition had to navigate treacherous rapids and oppressive and hostile climate and shortages of food and other supplies.
three men disappeared believed to have been killed by mormon settlers who thought they were government spies but by the end of it powell and his surviving men became the first known to have navigated the entirety of the grand canyon it was powell in fact that named the site the grand canyon in the first place before that it was known as the big canyon powell’s name is a bit more appropriate the first permanent white suppliers to the grand canyon were in search of economic opportunities.
they believed the area provided miners scattered the area for gold and instead found an abundance of copper deposits and later in the 20th century a sizable uranium deposit as well others acquired large tracts of land for ranching increasingly pushing out the native peoples who had made the area their home but increasingly the area became recognized for its sheer natural beauty and visitors began to flock to the canyon to see it.
for themselves, the completion of the grand canyon railway connecting the canyon to the nearby city of Williams in 1901 had a dramatic effect on the area the whole community catering to tourists was built around the railway depot today grand canyon village is occupied year-round by around 2000 people all of whom work for the various hotels’ shops restaurants and visitor centers that make up the village the canyon’s most famous visitor in 1903 was president Theodore Roosevelt a devout lover of nature and the outdoors he sought to preserve the area for future generations of Americans to enjoy and designated the canyon a national monument in 1908.
unfortunately roosevelt’s idea of preserving the area meant kicking out all of the native americans who still lived there teddy who was once heard to proclaim the only good indian as a dead indian sent agents to seize the land around the canyon and force the inhabitants to leave while the natives would get some of their ancestral homelands back in the 20th century most of what encompasses grand canyon national park today is made up of this seized land especially on the south rim where most of the tourists visit the national monument was redesignated as a national park in 1919 and as word spread helped along by pictures and film the tourists came pouring to the canyon in 2019 grand canyon national park had almost 6 million visitors making it the second most visited national park in the country.
this massive influx of tourists transformed the economy of northern arizona as a number of cottage industries have sprung up dedicated to the whims of the tourists in addition to the hotels and souvenir shops located in grand canyon village there are also companies that will take visitors white water rafting down the colorado river and air tour companies some based as far away as las vegas that will fly you over the grand canyon for an aerial view the bright angel trail the most popular hiking trail in the park is a 10-mile excursion from south rim to the river if you don’t feel up for walking the distance you can buy a ride on a mule down the trail something that’s been done at the grand canyon for almost 100 years.
now almost everyone who visits the grand canyon comes away from it with a story to tell some find it a philosophical experience or a religious awakening unfortunately some visitors don’t make it out of the grand canyon at all though between 600 and 700 people have died in and around the grand canyon the hundred years that it’s been a national park you might assume that most of these deaths are caused by falls after all you’re dealing with drops of hundreds even thousands of feet it’s one of the most common questions asked to park rangers by visitors and that’s how many people fall in the answer is not as many as you might think the national park service spends heavily every year on safety improvements grading hiking trails and constructing new barriers and walls to keep visitors safe .
most of the people who fall to their deaths at the grand canyon do so after ignoring warning signs and circumventing the railings or walls often in an effort to get a better picture of the view or because they were showing off for their family and friends one person who died when warned by his son that he was getting too close to the edge replied sometimes you have to take chances in life almost immediately afterwards he slipped and fell off the edge it’s also a disturbingly popular place to commit suicide after the movie.
thelma and louise was released in 1991 a film which ends with the protagonists driving their car off a cliff that looks similar to the grand canyon there was a rash of incidents where people replicated the stunt in real life killing themselves and leaving a hell of a mess for the park rangers to clear up and of course several men have fallen off the edge of the grand canyon after succumbing to the male urge to urinate off the edge of a high place and then losing their balance more people actually die inside the canyon though than they do from falls the canyon is an extremely hostile
environment if you are prepared for it in the summer temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can reach up to 120 degrees fahrenheit by day and even in the shade or at night they still hover around 100 degrees it’s something you might not recognize as a problem if you’re standing on the south rim as temperatures there are 25 to 30 degrees cooler than the bottom the heat is like a stifling blanket that wraps itself around you the deeper you descend into the canyon many people get into trouble attempting the so-called rim to river to rim hike an 18 to 20 mile round trip hike down the bright angel trail from the south room to the colorado river
and back again park rangers consistently caution against anyone but the most experienced hike is attempting this in one day because doing so necessitates starting the ascent portion of the hike which is far more difficult than the descent during the hottest portion of the day still many novice tourists will try it not understanding the forces of work worse still many people find it hard to believe that a person hiking in the grand canyon needs as much as three gallons of water per day in order to stay healthy and therefore don’t carry enough water with them when a person
becomes severely dehydrated as will happen when physically exerting yourself in extreme heat without drinking enough water they lose the ability to think rationally dehydrated hikers have been known to wander off the trail thinking they see a faster way to the top others have stripped completely naked or removed their shoes slowing their pace and causing severe sunburns they become one of hundreds of people every year who require rescue by the park service and that’s if they’re lucky the unlucky ones aren’t found until they’ve suffered from heat stroke heat stroke is the most severe reaction to heat and dehydration that the body can suffer your
body becomes so dried out your sweat glands stop working and your internal body temperature is raised so high your brain is literally cooking inside your skull like an egg on a frying pan cardiac arrest and death will follow soon after conversing people who hike the grand canyon in the winter time can dramatically underestimate just how cold it gets there that time of year after all postcards of the grand canyon never show it covered in snow it doesn’t happen often but disoriented hikers have been known to suffer from hypothermia and have frozen to death after becoming lost or stranded sometimes their bodies aren’t found until the spring thaw another killer awaits tourists at the bottom of the canyon the colorado river is fast
flowing cold and hides rocks and whirlpools under its surface tourists are advised not to enter the river at all unless they’re on a licensed river running trip and life jackets are recommended even if just wading in the river for a short distance still quite a few people have either drowned or died of hypothermia in the colorado either while trying to navigate the treacherous rapids in a boat or entering it from shore to try and swim across or just play around in the deceptively calm looking river dehydration plays a role in some of these deaths as well severely dehydrated hikers who
aren’t thinking clearly have jumped into the river upon reaching it fully clothed some with their backpacks still on the sudden exposure to the cold water after spending so long in the heat is a shock to the system and if it doesn’t give you a heart attack outright it might cause your body to stop working for a period of time leaving you helpless to save yourself from drowning it also doesn’t help that almost no one who enters the river from shore is wearing a life jacket there are other less common ways to die in the grand canyon people have been struck by lightning caught in flash floods
hit by rockfalls one man was working on improving one of the hiking trails and had dynamite explode in his face one interesting fact to note is that no one has ever died in the grand canyon by being bitten by a rattlesnake or stung by a scorpion but if you’re looking for the deadliest place in terms of number of people who have died it isn’t actually in the grand canyon it’s actually in the skies above it [Music] almost since the airplane was invented people have had the urge to view the grand canyon from above and it does provide an impressive view even from space as shown in this picture which
was taken aboard the international space station the problem is at times too many people have the same idea at the same time one of the most famous aviation accidents in history occurred on june 30th 1956 when two commercial airliners twa flight 2 and united airlines flight 718 collided with each other at 21 000 feet above the grand canyon all 128 passengers and crew on board both planes were killed neither plane was originally supposed to be flying over the canyon according to their flight plans but both had diverted in order to provide their passengers with an excellent sightseeing opportunity the collision shocked the nation and immediately
led to a number of safety improvements to commercial aviation including the formation of the federal aviation administration the faa to oversee commercial aviation in the united states there was also the blanketing of america and radar stations to keep track of flights in the air and establishing controlled aerial highways over the country to keep planes apart and it’s worked almost perfectly ever since by contrast flying in the grand canyon didn’t necessarily become safer commercial flights may not be dodging each other over it anymore but the growth of designated sightseeing flights lowered to the ground exploded in the 30 years after the 1956 accident on june the 18th 1986 two of these flights crashed into each
other at an altitude of 6500 feet the plane and the helicopter dropped out of the sky and all 25 people on board both aircraft were killed the accident forced the faa to create a special air traffic corridor in the grand canyon area in an effort to keep these sightseeing flights away from each other although it can be argued that this was put into effect to reduce the number of complaints of noise pollution that these flights caused rather than for safety reasons the airspace just above the canyon is challenging and unique the hot air that rises up out of the canyon is unstable creating turbulent and unpredictable conditions the extreme heat and altitude changes require
more engine power than is needed on most sightseeing flights which can catch pilots unawares and for those who are daring enough to fly inside the canyon itself something that is now banned by the faa except for park service helicopters on rescue missions the walls of the canyon could close in on you real fast which has led to a number of accidents over the years that doesn’t even include the man-made obstacles such as bridges and cables stretch across the river that pilots have run into before and with flights over the grand canyon making up between one quarter and one-third of all sightseeing flights in the united states annually the aviation problem isn’t one that’s going to go away anytime soon so what can we learn from these
tragic tales of death in the grand canyon can we learn that this is a dangerous place that shouldn’t be visited by anybody hardly millions of people visit the grand canyon annually and only a handful of them will encounter any trouble at all during their visit fewer still actually die there if you ask people that work in the grand canyon they’ll tell you that people make the mistake of assuming that mankind has made the canyon proof that enough safeguards have been put in place to protect people from their worst impulses and thus keep them alive while they act foolishly but part of the price of preserving the natural beauty of the place is there is only so much you can do to modify it the grand canyon an inherently wild place that’s what makes it such an appealing place to visit in the first place even
keeping that in mind there are almost no fatal mishaps in the grand canyon that aren’t caused by some degree of human negligence usually on the part of the person who is killed if you plan to visit the grand canyon it is really not that difficult to come away from it safely if a sign tells you to stay behind the protective barriers on the rim to stay out on the mark trail to stay out of the river without a life jacket well there’s a reason those signs exist and you’ll do well to pay attention to them the other major thing you can do to protect yourself at the grand canyon is to understand that visiting this place isn’t something you do on a whim it requires planning in advance of the kinds of activities that you plan to do and the preparations and supplies you’re going to need in order to do them if you are out of shape
and unaccustomed to long hikes perhaps a 20-mile hiking day down into the grand canyon is not the best place to start the park rangers that work in the canyon are professionals they have years of experience if they tell you to avoid certain areas because of a risk of rockfalls or flash floods or any other advice they give you on how to navigate the canyon safely it’s in your best interest to pay heed to them it is part of their job to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable visit all in all the grand canyon is somewhere that you
should absolutely visit if you get the opportunity it is truly one of the world’s natural wonders a testament to the awesome creative power of nature just remember if you do visit that the grand canyon isn’t Disneyland it’s a wild untamed place and it will jump out and bite you if you are prepared for it