What's so Grand about this Canyon?
September 30, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm not going to the Grand Canyon any time soon, but I'm still curious: what are some of its most unique aspects or little-known features?

What is it about the Grand Canyon, other than its obvious size and history, that makes it special?

Does it have any rare wildlife that lives there?

Are there any particularly interesting rock formations or cool petroglyphs?

Any super dangerous zones (quicksand, dens of rattlers, flash flood areas, etc?)

Please tell me some little-known facts or tidbits or even personal anecdotes about the Grand Canyon, that illustrate its character more than "it's just a big canyon."

posted by egeanin to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Havasupai are a pretty incredible part of the canyon. Their village (Supai) and the surrounding falls are really amazing. Apparently Mooney falls was affected greatly by a flood several years ago, but if it's even remotely like it was ten years ago it is truly a sight to behold. That hike to the Colorado is nine kinds of amazing as well.
posted by carsonb at 3:24 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I visited, I picked up a book at one of the gift shops called "Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon." and read most of it during my stay at one of the lodges. It's a bit macabre, but there are tons of interesting tidbits in that book and I believe the authors are/were trail guides so you really get a sense of all the different (dangerous) aspects of the canyon.
posted by pourtant at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not just big, it's HUGE. And steep. It's not the deepest canyon in the world, or even the US, but it's accessible and well-known. Seeing pictures doesn't do it justice - being there can be pretty intense. Weather differs from side to side, and depending on how deep you go. That's a pretty big canyon.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:26 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

FLT is right about the enormity of it. I haven't been to the rim but I've flown over between Phoenix and Seattle. From 30,000 feet it is astonishingly massive, with enldess little nooks and crannies.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:21 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: It's actually the Colorado Plateau that's amazing, and the Grand Canyon is simply its most accessible/spectacular bit. Don't forget about Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Escalante, .... not to mention all the state parks.

The plateau is amazing because it's all sedimentary layers that have remained horizontal, and it's in a desert climate so the rocks aren't hidden behind lots of vegetation. In that area, each section of high ground (and the rims of the GC are high) is like a biological island in a sea -- populations get isolated, so there are lots of animals that are only found in the specific mountain range. The whole area is just packed with everything you ask about: petroglyphs, rock formations, quicksand, dens of rattlers, flash flood areas... I've been backpacking and hiking in that region for almost thirty years now and it still amazes me. It's my favourite part of our planet.

(PS: please don't call it an enormity!)
posted by phliar at 5:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

The most dangerous animal in the Grand Canyon, by a very wide margin, in both minor and major injuries to visitors is - the chipmunk!

The Grand Canyon has an army of chipmunks that are fed by foolish tourists. These animals have become nearly dependent on humans as a key food source. They all seem very cute, and they come surprisingly close to you - even if you are not feeding them. Especially, the ones on the South Rim, which get a steady stream of buses full of mindless day tourists from Vegas.

It is relatively common for one these feeding sessions to go bad. Especially if the person has allowed it to go on for a while and has collected a small crowd of chipmunks. This little guys can do some serious damage to your hand, arm, or leg with incredible speed.

It is a good thing to tell some ignorant tourist you see there when they toss that first piece of bread to one of the chipmunks. "I wouldn't feed him. That is the most dangerous animal in the park. They dole out hundreds of stitches a year to tourists."
posted by Flood at 6:08 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Install the official Google Earth plugin on your browser of choice and plug "grand canyon" into the MONSTER MILKTRUCK! driving simulator. Pictures don't do the canyon justice, and scale is hard to judge on the bird's-eye-view of Google Earth, but exploring the canyon from a (ridiculously powerful) vehicle's perspective really gets the point across. It's absolutely massive, and seems to go on forever.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Please read the Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs. While it covers a number of different deserts, the perspective it gives of the variety of terrain, dangers and beauty of each of them will give you what you seek when the author does narrate his own harrowing adventures in some remote areas of the Grand Canyon. It's sparkling prose and will perhaps inspire you to spend some time in some of the most awesome wilderness in the US.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:12 PM on September 30, 2011

The chipmunk may be the most dangerous (they are definitely way too accustomed to people, and I saw several trying to get into tourists' backpacks), but the one that freaked me out the worst was the elk. I was at the Grand Canyon a couple months ago, driving to my campsite around sunset, and the car in front of me comes to a skidding halt because there's a massive bull elk in front of it in the road - yikes. I saw a mother and baby the next day of visit - cute, and not in the road, whew. I drove across the entire Southwest and saw elk crossing signs everywhere, but those three were the only actual elk I saw. As for petroglyphs, my understanding is that if you do the hike the Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon there are some good ones visible somewhere around the tunnel..? I didn't see them myself, since I was on a bit of a tight schedule and didn't do much hiking. The park rangers are a bit cagey about giving out info on where petroglyphs are located because they're worried about damage; those were the only ones I heard about.
posted by naoko at 9:47 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: It wasn't the elk that scared me -- it was the stupid ram that decided to stand across the Bright Angel Trail as my brother and I were hiking back up in the rain. I read somewhere that you weren't supposed to look at them directly or they'd take it as a challenge (sort of like Madonna), so, eyes averted, my brother and I waited about 10 minutes for it to move on.

When it finally did decide to move, I said in a totally snarky tone, "Thanks a lot!" which caused the animal to stop dead in its tracks. My brother hissed "Good going!" under his breath.

Remember as you hike into the canyon that you're climbing a mountain in reverse. Don't try to go down to the valley floor in one go unless you're on a pack animal.

Dangers? Lightning strikes in exposed areas. Dopey unprepared tourists. Overpriced restaurants.

It's an amazing place -- thunderstorms below the canyon rim, amazing vistas -- it looks like a movie set. Just incredible.

I'm going to put in a plug for Monument Valley as well. Just astonishing.

Enjoy -- I hope to go again some day. I'll avoid challenging rams, though.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 9:59 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

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