10 Dramatic Facts About Grand Canyon National Park

Toroweap point, Grand Canyon
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Easily one of the most recognizable sites on Earth, the Grand Canyon has earned a place on many a traveler’s bucket list throughout the years. Its layered colors of textured rock reveal millions of years worth of geological history, while the desert landscape has become home to a myriad of unique plants and animals.

Helping to protect this iconic marvel is Grand Canyon National Park, which encompasses 1,904 square miles of land from the Colorado River to adjacent uplands in Arizona. Explore 10 dramatic facts about Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park Is Bigger Than the State of Rhode Island 

Grand Canyon National Park spans 1,904 square miles in total—that’s 1,218,375 acres, large enough to fit the entire state of Rhode Island.

The Grand Canyon itself measures 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point, though the park doesn’t even include the whole canyon. To put it in perspective, the drive from the North Rim Visitor Center to the South Rim Visitor Center in the park is around 200 miles and takes about four hours.

Its Size Can Influence the Weather

Grand Canyon National Park spans over 1.2 million acres
Grand Canyon National Park spans over 1.2 million acres. simonkr / Getty Images

The Grand Canyon boasts an elevation between 2,460 feet and 8,297 feet, so it experiences a wide range of different weather conditions. As such, the sudden changes in elevation actually influence the temperature and precipitation, with temperatures increasing about 5.5 F with each 1,000-foot loss in elevation.

According to the National Park Service, the coldest temperature ever recorded inside Grand Canyon National Park was –22 F on the North Rim in 1985, while the warmest was 120 F at Phantom Ranch just 8 miles away.

Park Managers Use Controlled Fires to Protect the Landscape

Park rangers perform controlled fires throughout the park
Park rangers perform controlled fires throughout the park. Tina Power / Getty Images 

The natural process of burning has been instrumental to the Colorado Plateau ecosystem for millennia. Not only does controlled burning help mitigate issues concerning the wildland-urban interface, but it also thins the forest of “fuel” (materials like dead leaves and branches that ignite easily) and recycled nutrients to make it easier for new plants to grow.

The park has a dedicated management department for controlled burning, with members who are tasked with maintaining the natural balance in the ecosystem using fire.

There Are About 1,000 Hidden Caves Scattered Around the Park

The Grand Canyon contains at least 1,000 hidden caves within its geological formations, though only a few hundred have been officially discovered and recorded. In the past, scientists have found important mineral formations and prehistoric artifacts inside, but the caves also provide habitats for cavern-dwelling wildlife.

Park officials routinely deal with unauthorized cave access and even vandalism by visitors who attempt to carve into the natural rock walls; unfortunately, these marks are irreversible due to the delicate preservation quality of the caves. Cave of the Domes is the only cave that is open to the public in Grand Canyon National Park.

The Oldest Rocks in the Grand Canyon Are 1.8 Billions Years Old

Grand Canyon National Park is made up of layers upon layers of sedimentary rock that began forming about 2 billion years ago. The youngest rock layer, known as the Kaibab Formation, is about 270 million years old, much older than the main canyon itself.

Between 70 and 30 million years ago, plate tectonics uplifted the whole region to create what is now referred to as the Colorado Plateau. Then, sometime around 5 million to 6 million years ago, the Colorado River began the process of carving its way downward, which, paired with erosion, helped create the Grand Canyon.

The Park Is Full of Fossils

Trilobite fossils in a limestone cave within Grand Canyon
Trilobite fossils in a limestone cave within Grand Canyon. Nicholas Motto / Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, the rich geological history inside Grand Canyon National Park is the perfect setting for fossils. Although you won’t find any dinosaur fossils (the rocks making up the canyon actually predate dinosaurs), fossils of ancient marine species, sponges, and more recent terrestrial creatures like scorpions, reptiles, and even dragonfly wing impressions, are abundant.

The oldest fossils date back to Precambrian Time 1,200 million to 740 million years ago, while some of the later specimens come from the Paleozoic Era 525-270 million years ago.

President Teddy Roosevelt Was Passionate About Protecting the Canyon

When 26th president of the United States and avid naturalist Teddy Roosevelt first visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, he felt immediately compelled to protect it.

After viewing the canyon he reportedly said, “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness." Three years later, he signed the Grand Canyon Game Reserve bill, and two years after that, he created the Grand Canyon National Monument.

Over 90 Mammal Species Live Inside the Park

The elusive ringtail cat is Arizona's state animal
The elusive ringtail cat is Arizona's state animal. lorentrager / Getty Images

From bison and elk to mountain lions and bats, Grand Canyon National Park is home to over 90 different species of mammals—the park has a higher mammalian species diversity than even Yellowstone National Park.

While it is common for visitors to see animals like deer and squirrels on a regular basis, the park also holds much rarer species (like the ringtail cat, the state animal of Arizona).

The Park Once Held 8 Species of Native Fish

The razorback sucker is native to Grand Canyon
The razorback sucker is native to Grand Canyon. EdwardSnow / Getty Images

Due to frequent flooding, silt, and extreme temperatures between seasons, only five native fish species are found in the park today. Six out of the park’s original eight native species are now found only in the Colorado River basin. Two of these species are listed under the Endangered Species Act, the humpback chub, which has been endangered since 1967, and the razorback sucker, which was listed as endangered in 1991.

Grand Canyon National Park Is Home to a Rare Species of Pink Snake

The Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake is only found inside Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake is only found inside Grand Canyon National Park. Mark Newman / Getty Images

Six species of rattlesnake live inside Grand Canyon National Park, each with its own distinct color pattern.

The snakes help control the rodent population, which in turn prevents the spread of disease and overgrazing of certain plants. One of these snake species is known as the Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus abyssus), and is found nowhere else in the world but within the boundaries of the park.

View Article Sources
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  2. "Nature & Science." National Park Service.

  3. "Weather and Climate." National Park Service.

  4. "Grand Canyon National Park Cave." US Parks.

  5. "Geology." National Park Service.

  6. "Fossils." National Park Service.

  7. "Grand Canyon National Park Presents Living History Performance of President Theodore Roosevelt." National Park Service.

  8. "Mammals." National Park Service.

  9. "Grand Canyon's Native Fish." National Park Service.

  10. "Rattlesnakes." National Park Service.