Grand Canyon, USA, Part 4 :The Secret behind its Creation

The history of how the Grand Canyon came to be among us is in itself fascinating. Here, in this article I will  explain The Secret behind its Creation in Arizona, USA.

Way before the Grand Canyon existed ancient mountains as high as the Himalayas stood in its place. Soon that turned into a flat and featureless land created from 500 million years of erosion caused by the freezing and thawing of ice which cracked the rocks on the slopes and the wind and water which carried the debris down. Then came the sea almost a thousand billion years ago- the last time being about 80 million years ago -and covered this low lying plane. This happened at least 8 times –each time the sea brought different material-sand ,mud ,marine organisms- which formed different rocks. Sand formed buff coloured sandstone, mud formed darker shale, calcified remains of marine organisms formed light limestone –and this is where the study of marine life comes.But the dominant color is red which comes from the iron locked in the rocks which over millions of years has rusted   into a red hue.

This is part of a Travelogue on Grand Canyon USA .. Click here to read from the beginning.

So that is the reason for the layered cake effect!!

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

I soon found the Visitors centre. It was cosy with sofas scattered around and a piano at one side –someone was playing beautiful music on it and it had a rustic touch to it because it was made of stone and earth. A gigantic, larger than life- sized Kachina figure stood on one side.

Earth and stone –that is what made the Canyon what it is today. But how does a flat land turn into a plateau and how has its insides been carved for such splendid public viewing?

Marine organisms found in the light limestone suggests the existence of oceans ages ago, but the question is why are these underwater rocks high in the air 1000ft above sea level?

South RIm View

It all started with a series of extraordinary changes between 1.7 billion to 70 million years ago. In 1960 geologists discovered the collision between different tectonic plates which forced the land up. Now this happens all over the world and forms land into tilted mountains but in Arizona the uplift was unique-it lifted without tilting. So it formed a high, dry, smooth,horizontal plateau and the sea drew back.

It was still quite early but we had to reach Page by mid afternoon because we were booked to visit Antelope Canyon. So I left the Grand Canyon Visitors Centre after a while to go find Rhonda and Dad. From where I was standing I thought I could see a thin ,coppery flow of muddy water far back in the horizon. But that was all my imagination because the Colorado river is not visible from the North Entrance viewpoint. One has to peek through Angel’s Window in order to see a small sliver of the river at the tip of the Bright Angel area.  To see a forceful Colorado you have to trek deep into the canyon into remote places. Who would believe this meandering river was the reason for this mighty gorge with its sharp cliffs to come into existence!

Grand Canyon South Rim

Since there was no more water from the sea the next question was where did the Colorado River which created the gorges in the canyon, come from? The ancient and now non –existent Bedahochi lake 100 miles east of the Canyon is considered by some geologists to be the source of the river. From the green clay –proof of a lake being there -and the marine fossils –almost 6 million years old – found there , scientists came to this conclusion.

The force of the river water ,enough to fill 500 swimming pools, along with its tools-rock and debris, and the rapids formed from flash floods, cut into the bedrocks and incised forms that created steep drop offs between the Colorado river plateau and the land beneath .This in turn created backwards waterfalls which fell  10 ft every mile giving such immense depth to the canyon .

South Rim View Grand Canyon

What gives Grand Canyon its name and makes it unique and different from other canyons is its width. Violent erosion took place when exposed rock was weathered by rain. Gravity pushed this material deeper down into the river . Soon alternative layers of hard and soft rock were formed where harder rock like limestone and sandstone didn’t weather easily but softer shale crumbled away from rain  and allowed to increase the width. This became a continuous process of gathering  and flowing  out of debris again and again.

The formation of the Grand Canyon has  aptly been described as a murder mystery. The only things  scientists and geologists could gather were clues, clues and more clues. All these pieces have been put together and solved from time to time.

You can read more details about the geological formation of the Grand Canyon Here.

A Documentary on You tube gives a vivid description of how the Grand Canyon was made. Doing a study beforehand made the experience altogether exhilarating. The mid 1800s was the starting point of discovery but the story  of the  battle between earth and water is more than complete.

Our visit to North Rim ended at this point. We had to go to the more accessible  and active side -the South Rim and from there to Phoenix. With more time in hand a visit to the other points would have been more rewarding but good things always have to come to an end!!

You can follow the next part of my Grand Canyon, USA Travelogue here…