Grand Canyon

ElvesChasm.com is all about The Grand Canyon! The first goal of this site is to help you come and see the Canyon for the first time.

Ultimately these pages are an outlet for my personal obsession with its magnificence. Once the Grand Canyon sinks its teeth into you, it never lets go! Writing all about it is a big undertaking, so I’m gradually going to take on a single subject a time.

I’ve been dying to get my 2013 River Trip Journal online, so that’s the no-brainer place to get started. Rafting! THE RIVER! Yes!

But first lets spell out some basics.

Grand Canyon Facts and Information

Which rim should I go to?
What’s the best time to go?
How was it formed?
How old is the Grand Canyon?
How deep is it?
How wide is it?

Where is the Grand Canyon located?

It’s in the state of Arizona, within the United States of America. The Canyon covers most of the northern part of the state, and is located entirely within Arizona. A common misconception is that the Grand Canyon is in Colorado, likely because the Colorado River flows through the Canyon.

The closest major airports to the Grand Canyon are in Las Vegas and Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff AZ, but most flights into “Flag” transfer from Phoenix anyway.

Where is Grand Canyon?

Where to See It

The Canyon is so big that there’s a number of different places to see it that are separated by hundreds of miles of driving! Most of these locations require at least two days to travel from a major city and take your pictures.

If you’re in Vegas and only have a day, the single practical option is to do a day tour out of Las Vegas… but on these tours you won’t stand on the edge and see the real Grand Canyon!

The coolest place to see the Grand Canyon is from outer space!
Why? BECAUSE YOU CAN.

“One small step for man, one superb view of the Grand Canyon for mankind.”

Well if you don’t plan on becoming an astronaut, check out the earth-bound places to see it:

The South Rim

South Rim

If you’re visiting for the first time and have about 2 free days from Phoenix or Vegas, the best place to go is the South Rim Village in Grand Canyon National Park. At the South Rim you’ll see the real Grand Canyon with its classic, breathtaking views. This is the headquarters of the National Park, with plenty of lodging and things to do.

Driving distance from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim is about 275 miles, or 4.5 hours. Don’t forget to check out the Hoover Dam on the way!

Driving distance from Phoenix to Grand Canyon South Rim is about 230 miles, or 3.5 hours.

Cool Tip! Vision Airlines has daily flights from Las Vegas to the South Rim. You won’t find these flights on a site like Expedia or Priceline. They have to be booked directly through Vision.

There’s also public vehicle transportation to the South Rim.

The North Rim

North Rim

This side of the Canyon is isolated, quiet, and rustic. It’s great for an extended stay with more of a “retreat” atmosphere, with less amenities and things to do beyond relishing the outdoors.

The North Rim is only open from mid-May until mid-October. It’s closed for the winter because of frequent, heavy snowfall. This is caused by its high elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, whereas the South Rim is more temperate at 7,000 feet.

Driving distance from Vegas to the North Rim is about 270 miles, or 4.75 hours.

Driving distance from Phoenix to the North Rim is about 350 miles, or 6 hours.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls

The waterfalls of the Havasupai Indian Reservation are a magical thing. Few people from across the country “back east” have even heard of this special place.

The seemingly third-world Havasupai Village and waterfalls are located deep within the Grand Canyon. To see the falls, it’s necessary to do a 20-mile round-trip hike or book an expensive helicopter ride.

Havasu doesn’t have any of the “classic” views. You will not “See the Grand Canyon” here. Sorry.

Access begins at a primitive parking area/trailhead called the Hualapai Hilltop.

Driving distance from Phoenix to Havasu Falls (Hualapai Hilltop) is about 260 miles, or 4.5 hours.

Driving distance from Vegas to Havasu Falls (Hualapai Hilltop) is about 220 miles, or 4 hours.

Driving distance from Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) to Havasu Falls (Hualapai Hilltop) is 190 miles, or 3.5 hours.

Grand Canyon West (The Skywalk)

Frankly, if you go to the Skywalk, then you sir are a sucker!

This is not a “must-do.”

The price is at least $85 per person, but the real cost is your time that could have been spent elsewhere, like the South Rim.

This king-of-all-tourist-traps is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, relatively close to Vegas. Driving time from Las Vegas to the entrance of “Grand Canyon West” is 2.5 hours, or 120 miles.

Did I mention that you’re forbidden to take your camera onto the Skywalk? They have guards posted to ensure that you can’t!

Yes, you can see the Grand Canyon here, and yes, it’s pretty, but the view at the west end pales in comparison to what you see at the South Rim.

I’m biased – I’ve heard few good things about the Hualapai Tribe regarding Grand Canyon. They absolutely forbid hikers and backpackers from exploring “their” chunk of the Canyon. Also, go ahead and Google “Hualapai news” to read about the lovely financing behind their tourist operations.

What is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon?

I’ve lived at the South Rim for five years, so I’m referring to what each month brings to the South Rim Village.

For the most pleasant weather, consider September into early October, and April into May. The crowds are also more tame at this time.

The best times for hiking are April and October.

Winter is wonderful, but fickle. Some days you can’t even see the Canyon because of thick clouds and fog. Standing on the rim can be like being on a cloud-covered mountaintop…

Grand Canyon Fog

Grand Canyon Winter
…but the perfect timing after a fresh snowfall is pure magic.

January and February are the coldest and snowiest months. Along with early December, they’re also the most quiet and intimate. Local residents breathe a huge sigh of relief at this time.

Christmas/New Years and Thanksgiving are busy, but special. It’s usually a “White Christmas.”

A window of downtime and breathing room can be found in early to mid November.

June, July, and August are generally busy as you would expect. Late August slows down a little as families gear up for “back to school.” The 4th of July is also a little quieter, probably because of the lack of fireworks in the area.

June is usually the hottest and driest month of the year. It’s often illegal to have a campfire (Even in the campgrounds) at this time because of wildfire risk. On the bright side, there’s the least chance of rain in late May through early June.

Monsoon season with violent thunderstorms and dramatic sunsets rolls through in July and August. This is a great time for photographers.

March is actually quite crowded, and home to some of the busiest days of the year. Spring Break!!!

How was the Grand Canyon formed?

Carving Canyons

Geologists are still trying to come up with a definitive answer. Fortunately, they all agree on a few things that should satisfy your curiosity.

Simply put, the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River, basically through accelerated processes of erosion. The presence of this major river is the key.

The other rivers of the world haven’t carved any Grand Canyons because the circumstances of the Colorado River are unique. This perfect storm of factors is what scientists love to ponder (Whilst stroking their beards and debating with one another).

Here’s two main points that they agree on:

Uplift of the Colorado Plateau – So the big geological “plate” under the Pacific Ocean has been pushing into California. This causes San Francisco’s notorious earthquakes. The Rocky Mountains fold up like wrinkles in a tablecloth.

To the west of the Rockies, primarily in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, there’s a significant rise in elevation called the Colorado Plateau. It’s basically a flat-topped, level uplift of the land that goes on for hundreds of miles. This is unique. It’s extremely unlikely for a major river to run a course directly through such a formation, but there it is.

Desert Climate – The Colorado Plateau is compromised of desert. This means that the bedrock is close to the surface, with minimal topsoil or vegetation. Therefore when rain drops fall, they’re much more likely to strike bare rock with a much greater force than if they were to be filtered through the trees and soaked in dirt.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, these drops chisel away at the rock. Flowing water gathers, funneling through bare surfaces with the alarming force of flash floods. This is how canyons are carved.

A major river like the Colorado naturally has an extensive drainage system that feeds it. Flowing perpendicularly, these canyons have their own accelerated erosion in the desert. Over time, this system of violently flowing branches of water becomes Grand.

For the very best in-depth look at this subject, check out Wayne Ranney’s Carving Grand Canyon

A lot of people think that Noah’s biblical flood created the Grand Canyon. They also say that millions of species rode out the cataclysm on a single boat, etc…

Also, I’m pretty sure that Ancient Egyptian artifacts were never found in the Grand Canyon. Having explored extensively below the rim myself, and begin familiar with those that have rappelled into its most inaccessible caves and reaches, well, the whole thing just sounds incredibly unlikely. It carries a strong scent of “hoax.” If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, however, the subject makes for an entertaining evening of online reading.

How Old is the Grand Canyon?

It’s old as dirt!

…actually, it’s younger than the dirt inside it, but anyway…

For a long time, the general consensus of scientists has been that the Canyon is “only” six million years old.

Now there’s a growing group of geologists that say the Canyon could be much older – about 70 million years old.

The one thing that they do agree upon is that the Grand Canyon cannot be more than old 80 million years old. They say it was covered by an ancient sea prior to this time.

For what it’s worth, I think the Canyon is the more youthful of the two – six million years old.

How Deep is the Grand Canyon?

The depth of the Canyon varies, but it’s generally about one vertical mile (1,600 meters) from the rim to the river. Its deepest measurement is about 6,000 feet (1,830 meters).

The average elevation of the South Rim is 7,000 feet (2,130 meters) above sea level. It’s highest point is Desert View, at 7,438ft (2,267 meters).

The North Rim averages about 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) above sea level. The highest point of the North Rim (And of the entire National Park) is at Point Imperial – 8,803ft (2,683 meters).

Point Imperial
Mount Hayden as seen from Point Imperial

Grand Canyon is not the deepest canyon in the world. Hell’s Canyon in Idaho and Copper Canyon in Mexico are deeper, but surely neither is more grand!

How Wide is the Grand Canyon?

The width of the Canyon varies greatly. It averages about 10 miles (16 kilometers) wide. Especially in the area of the South Rim Village, it’s about ten miles as the raven flies to the North Rim.

Its greatest distance is 18 miles (29 kilometers) wide.

Remember that guy that walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon? That was not the Grand Canyon! He walked across the Little Colorado River gorge, which is just a tributary of the mighty chasm.

There’s a Grand Canyon on Mars called Valles Marineris. It’s so wide that if you were to stand on the edge of it, the other side would be invisible because it would be beyond the horizon!