WHAT IS A CANYON?
A canyon or gorge is a deep ravine between pairs of escarpments or cliffs and is the most often carved landscape by the erosive activity of a river over geologic timescales. A canyon may also refer to a rift between two mountain peaks, such as those in ranges including the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Himalayas or the Andes. Usually a river or stream and erosion carve out such splits between mountains. Canyons within mountains, or gorges that have an opening on only one side are called box canyons. Slot canyons are very narrow canyons, often with smooth walls.
Steep-sided valleys in the seabed of the continental slope underwater are referred to as submarine canyons. Unlike canyons on land, submarine canyons are thought to be formed by turbidity currents and underwater landslides.
Etymology. The word canyon is Spanish in origin (cañón pronounced: [kaˈɲon], with the same meaning. The word canyon is generally used in North America while the words gorge and ravine are used in Europe and Oceania, though gorge and ravine are also used in some parts of North America. In the United States, place names generally use “canyon” in the southwest and “gorge” in the northeast, with the rest of the country graduating between these two according to geography. In Canada, “gorges” are usually narrow, and “ravines” more open and often wooded. The military-derived word defile is occasionally used in the United Kingdom.
Formation. Most canyons were formed by a process of long-time erosion from a plateau or table-land level. The cliffs form because harder rock strata that are resistant to erosion and weathering remain exposed on the valley walls.
Canyons are much more common in arid than in wet areas because physical weathering has a more localized effect in arid zones. The wind and water from the river combine to erode and cut away less resistant materials such as shales. The freezing and expansion of water also serves to help form canyons. Water seeps into cracks between the rocks and freezes, pushing the rocks apart and eventually causing large chunks to break off the canyon walls, in a process known as frost wedging. Canyon walls are often formed of resistant sandstones or granite.
Sometimes large rivers run through canyons as the result of gradual geological uplift. These are called entrenched rivers, because they are unable to easily alter their course. In the United States, the Colorado River in the Southwest and the Snake River in the Northwest are two examples of tectonic uplift.
Canyons often form in areas of limestone rock. As limestone is soluble to a certain extent, cave systems form in the rock. When these collapse, a canyon is left, as in the Mendip Hills in Somerset and Yorkshire Dales in Yorkshire, England.
Box canyon is a small ravine or canyon with steep walls on three sides, allowing access and egress only through the mouth of the canyon. Box canyons were frequently used in the American West as convenient corrals, with their entrances fenced. They were also used as kill sites for wild game, which could be driven into the confined space and killed.
The definition of “largest canyon” is imprecise, because a canyon can be large by its depth, its length, or the total area of the canyon system. Also, the inaccessibility of the major canyons in the Himalaya contributes to their not being regarded as candidates for the biggest canyon. The definition of “deepest canyon” is similarly imprecise, especially if one includes mountain canyons as well as canyons cut through relatively flat plateaus (which have a somewhat well-defined rim elevation).
Only the largest mountain ranges of Asia have the scale for such canyons to have formed. The Andes of South America are high mountains, but not on the same scale as the Himalayas, Karakoram, or Hindu Kush, which all come together at the confluence of the Gilgit and the Indus in Pakistani Kashmir.
1. Indus Gorge. 23,360 feet. Kashmiri Pakistan
The deepest canyon in the world is at the confluence of the Gilgit and Indus rivers, where the Karakoram Highway was constructed; the river flows at an elevation of about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above sea level. To the south by 15 km, rising in one continuous sweep above the Indus, the world’s largest such rise is the summit of the world’s ninth-highest mountain, Nanga Parbat, 8,126 m (26,660 ft) high. Rising to the north, also visible from the bridge over the Gilgit, is the westernmost of the great Himalayan peaks, Rakaposhi, 7,788 m (25,550 ft) high. That makes the Indus gorge 7,120 m (23,360 ft) deep from river to peak at that point, more than 1500 m (5,000 ft) greater than the depth of the Kali Gandaki Gorge and 1,100 m (3,600 ft) deeper than the Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge.
2. Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. 19,714 feet or 6,009 m. Tibet, China
(Tsangpo Canyon, Brahmaputra Canyon)
The Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet, China, is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and at 504.6 km (314 miles) is slightly longer than the Grand Canyon, making it one of the world’s largest. Yarlung Tsangpo is the Tibetan name for the upper course of the Brahmaputra, originates near Mount Kailash and runs east for about 1700 km, draining a northern section of the Himalayas before it enters the gorge just downstream of Pei, Tibet near the settlement of Zhibe.
Length – 150 miles (240 km) as the gorge bends around Mount Namcha Barwa (7782 m) and cuts its way through the eastern Himalayan range.
Drop – from 2,900 m near Pei to about 1,500 m at the end of the Upper Gorge where the Po Tsangpo River enters. The river continues through the Lower Gorge to the Indian border at an elevation of 660 m. The river then enters Arunachal Pradesh and eventually becomes the Brahmaputra.
Depth – Average: 16,000 feet (5,000 m) between the peaks of the Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri mountains. Average depth overall: 7,440 feet (2,268 m). Deepest: 19,714 feet (6,009 m).
Location – This part of the canyon is at 29.769742°N 94.989853°E. Namcha Barwa, 25,531 feet (7782m) high, is at 29°37′33″N 95°03′26″E, and Gyala Peri, at 23,733 feet(7234m), is at 29°48′48″N 94°58′02″E.
Kayaking: The Chinese government resumed issuing permits in the 1990s. Since then the gorge has also been visited by kayakers. It has been called the “Everest of Rivers” because of the extreme conditions. The first attempt was made in 1993 by a Japanese group who lost one member on the river. In October 1998 an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society attempted to kayak the entire gorge. Troubled by unanticipated high water levels, it ended in tragedy when Doug Gordon was lost. In January–February 2002 an international group with Scott Lindgren, Steve Fisher, Mike Abbott, Allan Ellard, Dustin Knapp, and Johnnie and Willie Kern completed the first full descent of the upper Tsangpo gorge section.
Waterfalls. The falls and rest of the Pemako area are sacred to Tibetan Buddhists who had concealed them from outsiders including the Chinese authorities. In 2005 Chinese National Geography named them China’s most beautiful waterfalls. There are two waterfalls in this section: Rainbow Falls (about 70 feet high) at 29.777164°N 95.183406°E and Hidden Falls just downstream at 29.776023°N 95.181974°E (about 100 feet high).
Dams. Plans and feasibility studies for a major dam to harness hydroelectric power and divert water to other areas in China have been done. The size of the dam in the Tsongpo gorge is 40,000 megawatts, more than twice the output of Three Gorges. It is feared that there will be displacement of local populations, destruction of ecosystems, and an impact for downstream people in India and Bangladesh.
3. Kali Gandaki Gorge. 18,278 feet. In the Himilayas of midwest Nepal
Depth – The gorge separates Dhaulagiri (8,167 m or 26,795 ft) on the west and Annapurna (8,091 m or 26,545 ft) on the east. The portion of the river directly between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I (7 km downstream from Tukuche) is at an elevation of 2,520 m or 8,270 ft, 5,571 m or 18,278 ft lower than Annapurna I.
Course – The Kali Gandaki river source coincides with the Tibetan border and Ganges-Brahmaputra watershed divide. The river then flows south through the ancient kingdom of Mustang. It flows through a sheer-sided, deep canyon immediately south of the Mustang capital of Lo Manthang, then widens as it approaches Kagbeni where high Himalayan ranges begin to close in. The river continues southward past Jomsom, Marpha, and Tukuche to the deepest part of the gorge about 7 km south of Tukuche in the area of Lete. The gorge then broadens past Dana and Tatopani toward Beni.
Trade and Trekking – The Kali Gandaki gorge has been used as a trade route between India and Tibet for centuries. Today, it is part of a popular trekking route from Pokhara to Muktinath, part of the Annapurna Circuit. The gorge is within the Annapurna Conservation Area.
The pass at the head of the Kali Gandaki Gorge is Kore La. The pass is only 315 ft or 96 m above the south bank of the Tsangpo as it flows peacefully a few kilometres to the north in Tibet.
4. Cotahuasi Canyon. 11,000 or 3354m. South Peru
Course. The Cotahuasi River arises 4,750 m (15,580 ft) in Lake Wansuqucha. Cotahuasi is located at the highest Andean point of Arequipa, in the south of Peru. This province is characterized by its steep relief: incised by rivers and gullies, ranging between 1,000 and 6,093 metres, with 19 ecological zones. Its tributaries are the Wayllapaña to the north, and the Huarcaya to the west, and is later joined by the Maran River to form the Ocoña River that ends at the Pacific Ocean.
Depth. Near the city of Arequipa in Peru, the Rio Cotahuasi has eroded a chasm between two enormous mountain massifs: the Coropuna (6,425 m or 21,079 ft) and the Sulimana (6,093 m or 19,990 ft), to a depth of approximately 3354 meters – over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
Access – The only road leading to the canyon begins on the Panamerican Highway near Arequipa and goes through Chuquibamba, Condesuyos province, and is then unpaved to Aplao, Castilla Province. The bus drive is 10–12 hours long and goes through a 4500m pass between Coropuna and Sulimana.
Organic agriculture includes: kiwicha, quinoa, mint, dark maize, llacon, fava, oca, beans, arveja (pea), chulpi maize, anise, tarwi. Very little is produced for export. Food autonomy is reached thanks to ecological techniques, rational use of water, promotion of improved seeds, conservation of biodiversity, strengthening of producer associations, and complementary livestock breeding.
The landscapes are quite many, from the rivers at the bottom of the canyon to the cold desert areas of the summits. There are 12 different ecosystems in Cotahuasi reserve. There are also a number of Inca and pre-Inca works including the many agricultural terraces still in use today. The region is also rich with culture and traditions, preserved by ancient Andean people : weaving, colonial churches, inca tracks, numerous festivals.
5. Colca Canyon. 10,725 or 3,270m. South Peru
Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru, located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Arequipa. It is Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination with about 120,000 visitors annually. With a depth of 10,725 ft (3,270 m), it is one of the deepest in the world, second in Peru after the Cotahuasi Canyon and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States.
History. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley, with pre-Inca roots of the Quechua-speaking Cabanas and the Aymara-speaking Collaguas (from Lake Titicaca). Towns were founded in Spanish colonial times. The local people maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces.
The Inca arrived around 1320 AD, and established their dominion through marriage, rather than through warfare. The Spaniards under Pizarro, arrived in 1540. In the 1570s Toledo ordered the inhabitants to move to a series of centrally located pueblos, which remain the principal towns of the valley. Franciscan missionaries built the first chapel in the valley in 1565, and the first church in 1569.
Access. No passable roads existed between Arequipa and Chivay until the 1940s, when a road was completed to serve the silver and copper mines of the region. More roads were built in the 1970s and 1980s by the Majes Hydroelectric Project, a program to divert water from the Colca River to irrigate crops in the Majes region. Access today is usually via Arequipa.
Rafting. In May 1981, the Polish Canoandes rafting expedition led by Jerzy Majcherczyk, made the first descent of the river below Cabanaconde, and proclaimed the possibility of its being the world’s deepest canyon. Tourism has increased since the 1980s and 1990s from a few thousand visitors annually to nearly 150,000 visitors in 2010.
Geography. Colca-Arequipa is known as the Majes River, and then the Camana before reaching the Pacific Ocean at Camana. Within the province of Caylloma it is known as the “Colca Valley” between Callalli and Pinchollo/Madrigal. Down to Huambo it is known as the Colca Canyon. The town of Chivay is located at the midpoint of the Colca valley. Above Chivay, at an elevation of 12,000 ft (3,650 m), agriculture gives way to livestock raising, principally alpacas and llamas, with some sheep and dairy cattle as well. Below Chivay the valley presents intensely terraced landscapes, continuing for many kilometers downstream. Within the deepening valley downriver, a series of small villages is spread out over the approximately 35 miles (56 km) between Chivay and the village of Cabanaconde. The canyon reaches its greatest depth in the region of Huambo, where the river has an elevation of 3,497 ft (1,066 m). In contrast, about 15 miles (24 km) to the southeast of Cabanaconde rises the 20,630 ft (6,288 m) high Ampato, a snow-capped extinct volcano.
Attractions. The canyon is home to the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), and can be seen at close range as they fly past the canyon walls. ‘Cruz del Condor’ is a popular tourist stop to view the condors. At this point the canyon floor is 3,960 feet (1,200 m) below the rim of the canyon. The Andean Condor lives about 60-70 years, and has a wingspan of about 7-9 feet.
Other bird species present in the Colca include the giant hummingbird, Andean goose, Chilean flamingo, andmountain caracara. Animals include vizcacha, a rabbit-sized relative of the chinchilla, zorrino, deer, fox, and vicuña, the wild ancestor of the alpaca.
La Calera natural hot springs are located at Chivay, the biggest town in the Colca Canyon. Other hot springs, some developed for tourist use, are dotted throughout the valley and canyon.
Caves of Mollepunko above Callalli where rock art (said to be 6,000 years old) depicts the domestication of the alpaca; the mummy of Paraqra, above Sibayo; the Fortaleza de Chimpa, a reconstructed mountaintop citadel that looks down on Madrigal; ruins of pre-Hispanic settlements throughout the valley; and many others.
Wititi festival in Chivay, named as a “cultural heritage” of Peru. The Colca is also well known for crafts: goods knitted from baby alpaca fiber and a unique form of embroidery that adorns skirts (polleras), hats, vests, and other items of daily wear and use.
The most distant source of Amazon River is accessible from the Colca valley via Tuti, a one-day trip to a spring at 16,800 feet (5,120 m), where snowmelt from the Mismi bursts from a rock face.
Infiernillo Geyser, on the flanks of the volcano Wallqa Wallqa, which is accessible on foot, horseback, or mountain bicycle, and a number of casas vivenciales where tourists can stay with a local family in their home and share in their daily activities.
6. Grand Canyon. 6,093 feet 1860m. Northern Arizona USA
Grand Canyon of northern Arizona in the United States, with an average depth of 1,600 m (one mile) and a volume of 4.17 trillion cubic metres, is one of the world’s largest canyons. It is the only canyon in this list that is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters).
It is not the deepest canyon in the world but is known for its visually overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically, it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are well preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent. Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted about 5 to 6 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River has driven the down-cutting of the tributaries and retreat of the cliffs, simultaneously deepening and widening the canyon.
It is contained within and managed by Grand Canyon National Park, the Kaibab National Forest, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, the Hualapai Tribal Nation, theHavasupai people and the Navajo Nation. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.
The uplift of the Colorado Plateau is uneven, and the Kaibab Plateau that Grand Canyon bisects is over a one thousand feet (300 m) higher at the North Rim (about 1,000 ft or 300 m) than at the South Rim. Almost all runoff from the North Rim (which also gets more rain and snow) flows toward the Grand Canyon, while much of the runoff on the plateau behind the South Rim flows away from the canyon (following the general tilt). The result is deeper and longer tributary washes and canyons on the north side and shorter and steeper side canyons on the south side.
Temperatures on the North Rim are generally lower than those on the South Rim because of the greater elevation (averaging 8,000 feet or 2,400 metres above sea level). Heavy rains are common on both rims during the summer months.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903. He established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906. Livestock grazing was reduced, but predators such as mountain lions, eagles, and wolves were eradicated. Roosevelt added adjacent national forest lands and redesignated the preserve a U.S. National Monument on January 11, 1908. Grand Canyon National Park was finally established as the 17th U.S. National Park in 1919.
The federal government administrators who manage park resources face many challenges. These include issues related to the recent reintroduction into the wild of the highly endangered California condor, air tour overflight noise levels, water rights disputes with various tribal reservations that border the park, and forest fire management. The canyon’s ecosystem was permanently changed after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963.
Between 2003 and 2011, 2,215 mining claims had been requested that are adjacent to the Canyon, including claims for uranium mines. Mining has been suspended since 2009, when 1 million acres was withdrawn from the permitting process for a 20-year moratorium on new mines, but allows existing mines to continue. Critics are concerned that, once mined, the uranium will leach into the water of the Colorado River and contaminate the water supply for up to 18 million people. In 2012, the federal government stopped new mines in the area.
South Rim buildings
There are several historic buildings located along the South Rim with most in the vicinity of Grand Canyon Village.
• Buckey O’Neill Cabin was built during the 1890s by William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill. He built the cabin because of a copper deposit that was nearby. He had several occupations such as miner, judge, politician, author and tour guide. This cabin is the longest continually standing structure on the South Rim. It is currently used as a guest house; booking is required well in advance.
• Kolb Studio was built in 1904 by brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb. They were photographers who made a living by photographing visitors walking down the Bright Angel Trail. In 1911, the Kolb brothers filmed their journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Emery Kolb showed this movie regularly in his studio until 1976, when he died at the age of 95. Today the building serves as an art gallery and exhibit.
• The El Tovar Hotel was built in 1905 and is the most luxurious lodging on the South Rim. The hotel consists of 4 stories with a rustic chalet appearance called “National Park Rustic.” It was designed by Charles Whittlesley. A gift shop and restaurant are located inside the hotel.
• Hopi House was built by Mary Jane Colter in 1905. It is based on structures that were built in an ancient Hopi settlement called Old Oraibi, located on the Third Mesa in eastern Arizona. It served as a residence for the Hopi Indians who sold arts and crafts to South Rim visitors.
• Verkamp’s Curios, which stands next to the Hopi House, was built by John Verkamp in 1905. He sold arts and crafts as well as souvenirs. Until September 2008, it was run by his descendants; in November 2008, the building reopened as a visitor center focusing on the history of the Grand Canyon Village community.
• Grand Canyon Railway Depot was completed in 1910 and contains 2 levels. Gordon Chappell, Regional Historian for the Park Service, claims that this depot building is one of only three log-cabin-style train stations currently standing, out of fourteen ever built in the U.S. The depot is the northern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway which begins in Williams, Arizona.
• Lookout Studio, another Mary Colter design, was built in 1914. Photography, artwork, books, souvenirs, and rock and fossil specimens are sold here. A great view of Bright Angel Trail can be seen here.
• Desert View Watchtower, one of Mary Colter’s best-known works, was built in 1932. Situated at the far eastern end of the South Rim, 27 miles (43 km) from Grand Canyon Village, the tower stands 70 feet (21 m) tall. The top of the tower is 7,522 feet (2,293 m) above sea level, the highest point on the South Rim. It offers one of the few full views of the bottom of the Canyon and the Colorado River. It was designed to mimic Anasazi watchtowers, though, with four levels, it is significantly taller than historical towers.
• Bright Angel Lodge was built of logs and stone in 1935. Mary Colter designed the lodge and it was built by the Fred Harvey Company. Inside the lodge is a small museum honoring Fred Harvey (June 27, 1835 – February 9, 1901), who played a major role in popularizing the Grand Canyon. In the History Room is a stone fireplace layered in the same sequence as those in the canyon.
Weather. Weather in the Grand Canyon varies according to elevation. The forested rims are high enough to receive winter snowfall, but along the Colorado River in the Inner Gorge, temperatures are similar to those found in Tucson and other low elevation desert locations in Arizona. Conditions in the Grand Canyon region are generally dry, but substantial precipitation occurs twice annually, during seasonal pattern shifts in winter (when Pacific storms usually deliver widespread, moderate rain and high-elevation snow to the region from the west) and in late summer (due to the North American Monsoon, which delivers waves of moisture from the southeast, causing dramatic, localized thunderstorms fueled by the heat of the day). Average annual precipitation on the South Rim is less than 16 inches (41 cm), with 60 inches (150 cm) of snow; the higher North Rim usually receives 27 inches (69 cm) of moisture, with a typical snowfall of 144 inches (370 cm); and Phantom Ranch, far below the Canyon’s rims along the Colorado River at 2,500 feet (762 m) gets just 8 inches (20 cm) of rain, and snow is a rarity.
Temperatures vary wildly throughout the year, with summer highs within the Inner Gorge commonly exceeding 100 °F (37.8 °C) and winter minimum temperatures sometimes falling below zero degrees Fahrenheit (−17.8 °C) along the canyon’s rims. Visitors are often surprised by these potentially extreme conditions, and this, along with the high altitude of the canyon’s rims, can lead to unpleasant side effects such as dehydration, sunburn, and hypothermia.
Air Quality. The Grand Canyon area has some of the cleanest air in the United States. However at times the air quality can be considerably affected by events such as forest fires and dust storms in the Southwest.
Sulfates largely result from urban emissions in southern California, borne on the prevailing westerly winds throughout much of the year, and emissions from Arizona’s copper smelter region, borne on southerly or southeasterly winds during the monsoon season. Airborne soils originate with windy conditions and road dust.
Prescribed fires are typically conducted in the spring and fall in the forests adjacent to the Canyon to reduce the potential for severe forest fires and resulting smoke conditions.
Grand Canyon tourism
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world’s premier natural attractions, attracting about five million visitors per year. Overall, 83% were from the United States: California (12.2%), Arizona (8.9%), Texas (4.8%), Florida (3.4%) and New York (3.2%) represented the top domestic visitors. Seventeen percent of visitors were from outside the United States; the most prominently represented nations were the United Kingdom (3.8%), Canada (3.5%), Japan (2.1%), Germany (1.9%) and The Netherlands (1.2%).The South Rim is open all year round weather permitting. The North Rim is generally open mid-May to mid-October.[
Aside from casual sightseeing from the South Rim (averaging 7,000 feet [2,100 m] above sea level), skydiving, rafting, hiking, running, and helicopter tours are popular. The Grand Canyon Ultra Marathon is a 78-mile (126 km) race over 24 hours. The floor of the valley is accessible by foot, muleback, or by boat or raft from upriver. Hiking down to the river and back up to the rim in one day is discouraged by park officials because of the distance, steep and rocky trails, change in elevation, and danger of heat exhaustion from the much higher temperatures at the bottom. Rescues are required annually of unsuccessful rim-to-river-to-rim travelers. Nevertheless, hundreds of fit and experienced hikers complete the trip every year.
Camping. All overnight camping below the rim requires a backcountry permit from the Backcountry Office (BCO). Each year Grand Canyon National Park receives approximately 30,000 requests for backcountry permits. The park issues 13,000 permits, and close to 40,000 people camp overnight. The earliest a permit application is accepted is the first of the month, four months before the proposed start month.
Tourists wishing for a more vertical perspective can go skydiving, board helicopters and small airplanes in Boulder, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Grand Canyon National Park Airport (seven miles from the South Rim) for canyon flyovers. Scenic flights are no longer allowed to fly within 1500 feet of the rim within the national park because of a late 1990s crash. The last aerial video footage from below the rim was filmed in 1984. However, some helicopter flights land on the Havasupai and Hualapai Indian Reservations within Grand Canyon (outside of the park boundaries).
In 2007, the Hualapai Tribe opened the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk on their property, Grand Canyon West. The Skywalk has seen mixed reviews since the site is only accessible by driving down a 10-mile (16 km) dirt road, costs a minimum of $85 in total for reservation fees, a tour package and admission to the Skywalk itself and the fact that cameras or other personal equipment are not permitted on the Skywalk at any time due to the hazard of damaging the glass if dropped. The Skywalk is about 250 miles (400 km) by road from Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The skywalk has attracted “thousands of visitors a year, most from Las Vegas”.
In 2016 Skydiving at the Grand Canyon become possible with the first Grand Canyon Skydiving operation opening up at the Grand Canyon National Park Airport, on the South rim.
In 2014, a developer announced plans to build a multimedia complex on the canyon’s rim called the Grand Canyon Escalade. On 420 acres there would be shops, an IMAX theater, hotels and an RV park. A gondola would enable easy visits to the canyon floor where a “riverwalk” of “connected walkways, an eatery, a tramway station, a seating area and a wastewater package plant” would be situated. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has indicated agreement; the tribe would have to invest $65 million for road, water and communication facilities for the $1 billion complex. One of the developers is Navajo and has cited an 8 to 18 percent share of the gross revenue for the tribe as an incentive.
Grand Canyon fatalities
About 600 deaths have occurred in the Grand Canyon since the 1870s. Some of these deaths occurred as the result of overly zealous photographic endeavors, some were the result of airplane collisions within the canyon, and some visitors drowned in the Colorado River.
Of the fatalities, 53 have resulted from falls; 65 deaths were attributable to environmental causes, including heat stroke, cardiac arrest, dehydration, and hypothermia; 7 were caught in flash floods; 79 were drowned in the Colorado River; 242 perished in airplane and helicopter crashes (128 of them in the 1956 disaster mentioned below); 25 died in freak errors and accidents, including lightning strikes and rock falls; and 23 were the victims of homicides.
1956 air disaster. In 1956 the Grand Canyon was the site of the deadliest commercial aviation disaster in history at the time.
On the morning of June 30, 1956, a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation and a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 departed Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of one another on eastbound transcontinental flights. Approximately 90 minutes later, the two propeller-driven airliners collided above the canyon while both were flying in unmonitored airspace.
The wreckage of both planes fell into the eastern portion of the canyon, on Temple and Chuar Buttes, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The disaster killed all 128 passengers and crew members aboard both planes.
This accident led to the institution of high-altitude airways and positive control by en route ground controllers.
7. Copper Canyon. 7,000 feet or 2133m. NW Mexico
(Spanish: Barrancas del Cobre) Copper Canyon refers specifically to the canyon of the Rio Urique and generally to the many nearby canyons carved out of the Sierra Tarahumara by at least 20 different rivers in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in northwestern Mexico. Together these canyons are four times larger than the Grand Canyon and nine of them are deeper than it is. All six rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Gulf of California. The walls of the canyon are a copper/green color, which is where the name originates.
History. The New Spanish arrived in the Copper Canyon area in the 17th century and encountered the indigenous locals throughout Chihuahua. For the New Spanish, America was a new land to explore for gold and silver and also to spread Christianity. The New Spanish named the people they encountered “Tarahumara”, derived from the word Raramuri, which is what the indigenous people call themselves. Some scholars theorize that this word may mean ‘The running people’. During the 17th century, silver was discovered by the Hispanic in the land of the Tarahumara tribe. Some were enslaved for mining efforts. There were small uprisings by the Tarahumara, but to little avail. They eventually were forced off the more desirable lands and up into the canyon cliffs.
Climate. The alpine climate of the mountainous regions of Copper Canyon has moderate temperatures from October to November and March to April. The bottom of the canyons are humid and warm and remain that way throughout the year. During the warmest months, April through June, drought is a chronic problem with little rainfall until July when the rainy season begins.
Flora and fauna. The Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region contains some twenty-three species of pine and two hundred species of oak trees. Mexican Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga lindleyana) trees cover the high plateaus in altitudes over 8,000 feet (2,400 m), but due to deforestation in the area, many species of wildlife are endangered. Cougars live in the remotest of regions and are rarely seen. After the summer rainy season these upper regions blossom with wildflowers until October.
From 4,000–8,000 feet (1,200–2,400 m), oak trees grow in the huge forests as well as the more shade-tolerant types of trees. In the fall the forests become brilliant with color from Andean alder (Alnus acuminata) and poplar (Populus spp.) trees. Brushwood and scrubby trees grow on the canyon slopes, which can accommodate the dry season. Huge fig (Ficus spp.) and palm trees thrive at the bottom where water is plentiful and the climate is tropical.
Threats to the ecosystem. Due to increases in human population, there are many threats to the ecosystems of the Sierra Tarahumara Occidental region. The government funding to build a “tourist friendly” atmosphere poses threats to the environment and indigenous cultures. Roads have been built in the former isolated mountainous zones. Agriculture and grazing as well as the cutting of hardwoods and other trees for firewood has accelerated a soil erosion problem. Mesquite (Prosopis spp.) and desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) trees are cut and exported primarily to the U.S. for charcoal. Amapa (Tabebuia chrysantha) trees yield highly prized lumber for building and furniture making. Other trees are also cut and sold for their high-priced lumber. Over harvesting of the forests in the area has caused the extinction of the imperial woodpecker and Mexican wolf. Approximately, two percent of the original old-growth forest remains. However, a massive forest-harvesting project in the region has been abandoned, for now, by the World Bank.
The government has taken measures to halt or slow down the cultivation of opium poppies and cannabis by spraying crops with herbicides, which threaten the populations of many different species. A large saturnid moth, Rothschildia cincta, are one of the species that are threatened by the spraying. Their cocoons are used by the native population for ceremonial purposes.
Open-pit mining for copper, gold and other metals not only produces air pollution from smelters, but has been linked to the serious decline of the Tarahumara frog (Rana tarahumarae). Every river system has been dammed causing fresh water shortages in nearby desert communities. An enormous dam is being constructed on the Rio Fuerte, which poses major environmental problems and may lead to massive losses of tropical forest and habitats.
Indigenous people. Copper Canyon traditional inhabitants are the Tarahumara or Rarámuri. With no official census, the population of the Rarámuri people probably ranges between 35,000 and 70,000. Many Rarámuri reside in the cooler, mountainous regions during the hot summer months and migrate deeper into the canyons in the cooler winter months, where the climate is more temperate. Their survival strategies have been to occupy areas that are too remote for city people, way off-the-beaten-path, to remain isolated and independent, so as to avoid losing their culture. Their diet is largely domestic agrarian, but does consist of meat from domesticated cows, chickens and goats, wild game, and freshwater fish. Corn (maize) is the most important staple of the Rarámuri’s diet. The Rarámuri people are known for their endurance running. Living in the canyons, they travel great vertical distances, which they often do by running nonstop for hours. A popular Rarámuri community race called rarajipari, is played by kicking a wooden ball along the paths of the steep canyons. Tourism is a growing industry for Copper Canyon, but the acceptance of it is debated in the local communities. Some communities accept government funding for building roads, restaurants and lodging to make the area attractive for tourists. Many other groups of Rarámuri maintain their independence by living in areas that are as far away from city life as possible. Their way of life is protected by the mountainous landscape.
Tourism. There are many other ways to explore Copper Canyon such as hiking, biking, driving or horseback riding. The most popular way is by train, as the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacíficoor ChePe, runs along the main canyon called Canyon Urique, between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, on the Gulf of California.
The Chihuahua al Pacifico began in the late 19th century. The revolution, lack of funding, and the overall difficulty of building a railroad over such terrain hindered its completion until 1961. The railroad comprises 405 miles of rails with 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. The total trip takes approximately 15 hours and passes through towns, as well as the towering cliffs of the canyons. Along the railway, many Tarahumarans lay out their food, crafts and other wares for sale.
Mexico established the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon National Park) to showcase this remote area. The park is located in the municipalities of Batopilas,Bocoyna, Guachochi, and Urique.
The Basaseachic Falls National Park around the Basaseachic Falls is located within the canyon area.
Cities and towns. Among the villages located in or on the Copper Canyon are:
• Bahuichivo, ChePe train stop for Cerocahui, Urique, Piedras Verdes, Tubares
• Basaseachi, located near the pouroff of 840 ft (246m) Cascada Basaseachi in the Barranca Candameña. The towns and ranchos of San Lorenzo, Cahuisori, and Huahumar encircle the rim of the canyon, also home to Mexico’s highest waterfall Piedra Volada (1200 m). It is on the main Federal Highway 16 between Chihuahua, Chihuahua, and Hermosillo, Sonora. The Rio Candameña is a tributary of the Rio Mayo which flows into the Gulf of California.
• Batopilas, elevation 600 m, a town on the Batopilas River at the bottom of a canyon; first established by the Spanish around 1632 to mine silver. It is located 30 km southeast of Urique.
• Bocoyna, 30 km east of Creel, and on the eastern escarpment of the continental divide. The nearby Rio Conchos flows into the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) on the Mexico-Texas border. Carichí, Sisoguichi, and Panalachi are important Tarahumara settlements on the Rio Conchos drainage system.
• Cerocahui, 14 km S. of the train stop at Bahuichivo.
• Creel, atop the canyon and, at 2,340 metres (7,677 ft) altitude, marking one of the highest points on the ChePe railroad route (San Juanito is higher at 2,400 metres – 7,874 ft); a central point for commerce and tourism.
• Divisadero, a key train stop and vista point with amazing views down into the Urique Canyon of the Barranca del Cobre. The ChePe train allows a 15-20 minute stop for visitors to enjoy the view. Divisadero and nearby Areponapuchi (located 4 km south) are major canyon-rim trailheads for hiking into the Rio Urique canyon. This high mesa is home to three tourist class hotels strategically located on the canyon rim, and several low budget guesthouses offering basic accommodations with meals included.
• Témoris, a dual town located 400 m apart in elevation. The ChePe train traverses the valley 3 times including a mile long tunnel to gain elevation. Located on the Rio Septentrion, lower Temoris is at 1000 m.
• Urique, 560 m. Located at the bottom of the canyon rim below Bahuichivo, on the Urique River. It is 30 km NW of Batopilas, now connected by a rough road.
The nonfiction book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, chronicling the story of ultra-runner Micah True in the Copper Canyon with the Tarahumara Indians, who taught him a better way to run. True was the race director of the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, which ends in Urique’s plaza. The race covers 50 miles (80 km) of single track trail and dirt road.
8. Fish River Canyon. 1800 feet or 550m. South Namibia
(Afrikaans: Visrivier Canyon or Visrivier Afgronde, German: Fischfluss Canyon)
It is the largest canyon in Africa, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 100 miles (160 km) long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 meters deep.
The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. The river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon is the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais.
Public view points are near Hobas, a camp site 70 km north of Ai-Ais. This part of the canyon is part of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The other 90 km of this canyon are privately owned.
Geology. The Fish River canyon consists of an upper canyon, where river erosion was inhibited by hard gneiss bedrocks, and a lower canyon formed after erosion had finally worn through the gneisses.
Upstream, the river runs through horizontal dolomite strata; these metamorphic rocks formed part of the canyon. About 650 million years ago (Mya), plate movement formed a north-south graben, or lowered area, along which the ancient Fish River could flow and eventually erode a flat plain, which is today’s upper canyon. Glaciation at around 300 Mya, part of the Dyka glaciation during the Karoo Ice Age, further deepened the canyon. About 60 Mya, South America and Africa separated (due to continental drift) and Africa rose significantly; the consequentially increased gradient of the Fish River enabled it to erode the lower canyon into the hard gneisses, forming the current deeply twisting, meandering system of the lower canyon.
The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail. 90km long, it starts in Hobas and ends in Ai Ais. From its highest point of 840m, it descends 620m to its low point of 220m. The best season is winter in the Southern Hemisphere 1May – 15 September. Sights include spectacular scenery and wildlife. Hazards include steep descents, boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, baboons, snakes, scorpions.
The Fish River Canyon hiking trail is one of the more popular hiking trails in Southern Africa. The immense scale and rugged terrain has drawn many visitors from all over the world to experience what hiking or trail running the canyon can offer.
Apart from the 2 kilometre descent west of Hobas and some optional short cuts, the trail generally follows 88 kilometres of the Fish River through to Ai Ais and is usually completed within 5 days. Although there are a number of footpaths through the canyon, the trail is not fixed leaving the hiker to decide where and how long to hike.
There are no amenities on the trail and hikers have to carry all their needs with them. Open fires are not allowed on the trail.
In times of inclement weather, some shelter in a run-down building can be found at the Causeway (27.829°S 17.571°E) but otherwise sleeping is outdoors.
The weather is usually mild and typical temperatures vary between 5°C and 30°C with little humidity. Extreme weather, such as flash floods, stormy winds and rain occasionally play havoc during the hiking season.[
Permits. Due to flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures reaching 48°C in the day and 30°C at night, permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September. Prior to arriving at Hobas a hiking permit must be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts for groups not smaller than 3 and not larger than 30. All hikers must be older than 12 years and a certificate of fitness, completed by a medical doctor must be presented at the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at Hobas.
In recent years the trail has become popular, particularly during School holidays and long weekends, and permits should be obtained timeously. Bookings for the following year’s season open 1 May.
Trailhead camping grounds are at Hobas (27.619°S 17.715°E) houses the Ministry of Environment and Tourism offices as well as Namibia Wildlife Resorts offices and a little shop for curiosities and basic necessities. Camping underneath Camelthorn trees with ablution blocks is available for hikers who plan to overnight at Hobas. The trail ends at Ai Ais where a resort with hotel rooms, chalets and camping grounds can be found.
A shuttle service runs approximately every three hours between Ai Ais and Hobas. It should be booked in advance through the offices of Namibia Wildlife Resorts at Ai Ais.
The trail starts from the car park (27.577°S 17.609°E) 13 kilometres west from Hobas. The descent is steep and chains are provided to assist hikers over the first 100 meters. Thereafter the unmarked path follows a gravel trail to the beach at the bottom (27.588°S 17.598°E). On the descent some misleading game trails lead to the north and should be avoided.
The trail can be divided into three notable sections:
• The descent down to Sulphur Springs (also known as Palm Springs) will take the hiker through the narrowest section of the canyon, layered with big boulders, rocks and deep sand making hiking slow and laborious resulting in an average hiking speed between 6 and 10 kilometres per day.
• The route from Sulphur Springs to Three Sisters is mostly on firmer ground with plenty river stones and frequent river crossings. Average hiking speed between 15 and 25 kilometres per day.
• From Three Sisters to Ai Ais the canyon widens out with some sections reachable in 4×4 vehicles. Average hiking speed between 25 and 35 kilometres per day.
Optional short cuts are available. They offer little in beauty but may be a welcome change of scenery and terrain.
The river flows stronger early in the season and by September usually dries up to form a chain of stagnant pools. Water is safe to drink, however water purifying tablets are recommended by park officials.
River crossings are a notable feature with more than 20 crossings over the course of the trail, and crossings may become a major consideration when water levels are high.
Emergencies. There is no mobile phone reception in the canyon and only two emergency exits are available. Evacuation from the deep canyon is done via stretcher on foot or helicopter and vehicles in the later parts of the trail.
Trail running in the Canyon. Documented running through the canyon started in 1990 when a group of hikers completed the 5 day, 90 kilometer hiking trail in 11hrs 42min. In August 2003 this time was lowered to 10hrs 54min. Then in August 2012, after a previously abandoned attempt in 2011, Ryan Sandes completed the course in 6hrs 57min.
The Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon. Unofficial running through the canyon has subsequently evolved into the annual Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon which held its inaugural race on the 27th of August 2011.
This technical marathon follows most sections of the current hiking trail, testing the athlete’s capabilities to the extreme.
The route starts close to Hobas and after a short section on the rim of the canyon steeply descents 500 meters to river level. Thereafter the contestants mostly follow the river to Ai Ais. They are allowed to plan their own routes and take short-cuts through the canyon provided they reach a number of predefined checkpoints. Shortcuts may greatly reduce the total distance of the race but may also cost the contestant dearly in effort.
Due to the remoteness of the trail, all competitors are required to be self-sufficient for the duration of the event and are expected to have adequate nutrients as well as the stipulated survival gear. Water is generally sourced from the river which is always close by.
9. Greenland’s Grand Canyon. 2,600 feet Central Greenland
This is a tentative canyon of record length discovered underneath the Greenland ice sheet as reported in the journal Science on 30 August 2013 who described it as a mega-canyon. Ice-penetrating radar data collected during NASA’s Operation IceBridge showed a huge subglacial canyon running from the central region of the island northward into the Arctic Ocean, to the fjord of the Petermann Glacier. The canyon is likely to have influenced basal water flow from the ice sheet interior to the margin. The distinctive V-shaped walls and flat bottom suggests water carved the buried valley, not ice.
The canyon is more than 750 kilometres (466 mi) long, up to 800 metres (2,600 ft) deep and 10 kilometres (6 mi) wide, making it the longest canyon discovered on the Earth to date. The canyon predates ice sheet inception and has influenced basal hydrology in Greenland over past glacial cycles.
10. Capertee Valley. SE Australia
The Capertee Valley is a large valley in New South Wales, Australia, 135 km (84 mi) north-west of Sydney.
The valley follows the Capertee River as it cuts through the Sydney Basin, a sedimentary basin consisting of Permian and Triassic sedimentary rock west of the Blue Mountains. The original inhabitants of the land surrounding the valley were the Aboriginal Wiradjuri people.
One of the most prominent features of the valley is Pantony’s Crown, a sandstone butte that is now part of the Gardens of Stone National Park. Parts of the valley are also included in the Wollemi National Park, the second-largest national park in New South Wales. The only population centre of any kind is the village of Glen Davis, which includes a camp-site and often serves as a starting-point for bushwalks around the Capertee River and other parts of the Wollemi National Park.
The Capertree Valley has been noted to be the second largest (in terms of width) of any Canyon in the world.
Birds. The valley is classified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area because it is the most important breeding site for the endangered regent honeyeater. It also supports populations of the painted honeyeater, rockwarbler, swift parrot, plum-headed finch and diamond firetail. In the US published book Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die, author Chris Santella lists Capertee Valley as one of only two locations in Australia selected in his top 50 world bird watching locations.
I have been to many of these canyons (but not the deepest, the Indus Gorge). One travels alongside the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet a great deal, but the gorge itself is downstream and quite remote. At the very end of my 28-day trek across the south of the Annapurna, I was halfway up the side of the Kali Gandaki Gorge when we reached the far western edge of the range. I have not been to Cotahuasi but have walked to the bottom and back of Colca Canyon. From the hot springs at the lower end, it is about 3,000 vertical feet to the rim. The canyon has some interesting features, but…….. I took the train both ways through the Copper Canyon in 2007. I also went down to Batopilas and walked around for a few days. Walking the Fish River Canyon is on my to-do list this year. I should be in Namibia just at the start of the hiking season.
Besides visiting both rims of the Grand Canyon National Park on many occasions, I have also been to the bottom several times: twice from the South Rim I hiked down the South Kaibab Trail, overnighted at the NP Campground and then came out of the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. I walked the 22-mile rim to rim in one day. I backpacked down to Supai and then walked the 8 miles down Havasu Canyon to the river and back. I have spent some time at Toroweap on the north rim. And this year, I had the penultimate Grand Canyon experience – rafting 225 miles of the canyon. The hiking was as good as the river experience.
In my experience, nothing compares – even comes remotely close – to the Grand Canyon. When I think of a canyon, only one easily comes to mind – the one that appears after driving for hundreds of miles over an immense flat plateau with no mountains. Then you arrive at the rim – the gash in the earth is so immense, so vertical, it is almost horrifying. You can’t imagine being able to go past the rim.
All the canyons that are deeper, are deeper because they exist in the middle of huge mountain ranges, the Himalaya and the Andes. And the measurements of depth are taken from the top of the mountains. You wouldn’t even recognize the Indus Gorge or Kali Gandaki Gorge as being a canyon. The mountains around them are quite spectacular but not the canyon aspect of them. When I think of a canyon, I think of standing on the rim of a giant hole in the ground, not part way up a 15km long moderate slope with mountains 10,000 feet above me forming the walls of the canyon. Colca Canyon looks much more like a “canyon” but the depth from the rim is only 3,000 feet. It is also a very simple canyon with none of the fantastic geology or formations of the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon is deeper and bigger but it has none of the drama of the GC. The train ride is one of the best in the world. The road down to Batopilas is terrible but we still had 16 people in the Suburban. The geology was relatively humdrum. There are many towns in the bottom and thousands of people, including up to 50,000 indigenous people.
In the final analysis, they are all different and all amazing places in their own right.