The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located entirely in northern Arizona
and is one of the great tourist attractions in the United States
. The massive canyon encompasses several distinct areas, most famous of which is Grand Canyon National Park, a United States National Park. The national park is itself divided into two main areas: the remote North Rim and the more accessible (and therefore more crowded) South Rim. In addition, the southwestern end of the canyon is located within the borders of two Indian reservations: the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the Hualapai Indian Reservation (also known as Grand Canyon West). All of the sections of the canyon offer amenities for visitors, but the national park, and in particular the South Rim, is by far the most popular destination and the best equipped to handle the millions of yearly visitors.
The Canyon is an overwhelming experience, and nothing can prepare a visitor for the sight. The Grand Canyon is a massive canyon carved over several million years by the Colorado River. Grand Canyon National Park boasts an elevation change of nearly 7,000 feet (2130 m) from Point Imperial (at nearly 9,000 feet or 2740 m) to the banks of Lake Mead (at just over 2,000 feet or 610 m). The canyon itself is, from rim to river over a mile (1610 m) deep. In spots the rock layers exposed in the canyon display over two billion years of geologic history.
Throughout the past century, hundreds of authors have attempted to depict the enormous landscape that is Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, words most often fail to invoke the sense of awe and wonder that many visitors experience. Edward Abbey, a noted Southwest author, once penned: "Those who love it call it the canyon. The canyon. As if there were no other topographic feature on the face of the Earth".
There are, of course, other canyons on the planet. Some are longer, others wider, and even some that are deeper. Canyon visitors are often surprised to learn that Grand Canyon sets no records for sheer size. It is, however, simply regarded by most as the "grandest" canyon of them all.
Geologically, the canyon extends from Lee's Ferry near the Arizona/Utah border to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, a distance of 277 mi (445 km). It ranges in width from about a quarter mile to over 18 mi (29 km) wide. In places the canyon is over a mile deep.
However, it is not the statistics that define this landscape as "grand", but rather a combination of factors. The desert environment and a lack of herbaceous ground cover reveal a geologic story that is unparalleled. Surprisingly, the rock layers displayed at Grand Canyon show little sign of wear. The layers have been preserved almost perfectly, as though they were layers in a cake. Nowhere else on Earth displays so many volumes of the planet's history in such pristine condition.
The resulting landscape provides visitors with some of the most magnificent and unsurpassed vistas on the planet.
» Flora and fauna
Arguably, the most famous animal in the park is the rare California Condor. They can occasionally be seen flying near Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Common bird life includes Canyon Wrens, Stellar's Jays (with their peaked caps), swallows, hummingbirds, and the playful and entertaining Raven.
Mule Deer are common. Some of the largest Elk in North America can be found in the national park, and in the adjacent Kaibab National Forest. Desert Big Horn Sheep are also seen on occasion, mainly in the inner canyon.
You'll often spot Coyote no matter where you are in the park, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear them sing. Other predators are Mountain Lions and Bobcat. Black Bears are rare, and they generally stay away from the inhabited areas.
Some of the smaller creatures that can be found in the inhabited areas of the park are the Ringtail (called a cat, but not in the cat family), which like to live in the rafters of some of the historic buildings on the rim. They are quick and stealthy, but they often forget how visible that tail is, and you'll see it hanging out over a beam.
A favorite with visitors is the Abert's Squirrel with their tufted ears. Other varieties of squirrels and chipmunks are also popular. They seem tame and like to beg for food behind the Bright Angel Lodge, near the Ice Cream fountain. But heed the warnings and resist the urge. One of the most common injuries in the park are squirrel bites.
You might also see the common Striped Skunk, and if lucky, you might even see the rarer Western Spotted Skunk (usually at lower elevations). Skunks here are also habituated to humans and may seem tame, but they will react as all skunks do, so don't come up on them suddenly!
For the reptile family, there are variety of small lizards, and a few snakes. The most striking (in more ways than one) is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake; with its reddish (almost pink) coloring it neatly blends into the rocky terrain of the canyon. They are interesting to see as long as it is at a safe distance. Rattlesnakes are MORE afraid of you than you are of them. If given the chance, they will avoid any contact with humans. Most rattlesnake victims are young males that are chasing or trying to capture a snake.
Do not feed the animals. It is unhealthy for them, and may be unhealthy for you. A seemingly tame squirrel might bite you--they carry plague, rabies, etc. A deer or elk can charge at you without warning. If the animal is aware of your presence, you're too close.
Temperatures and weather within the park vary greatly by location. Temperatures on the North Rim are often 20-30°F (11-16°C) cooler than at the river. This is a land of extremes. It can be snowing at the rim, while others are comfortable sunbathing at the river. Conversely, it can be cool and comfortable at the rim in the summer, while temperatures at the river exceed 120°F (49°C). It is not unusual for local canyon guides to encounter neophyte hikers in desperate shape. Some die. An unusual number of fatalities occur among young males who overestimate their abilities.