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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grand Canyon: Part I ~ Description & Early Exploration

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

This will be the first installment of a 4-part series on the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona, is known for its overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Over time, the elements have scoured and carved the dramatically splendid Grand Canyon, known as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The distance from the South Rim to the North Rim varies from half a mile to eighteen miles, and the canyon has a maximum depth of 6,000 feet. This great range in elevation allows for a variety of climate, flora, and fauna; of the seven life zones on the North American continent, four can be experienced within Grand Canyon.

The most prominent feature in the Grand Canyon, besides the deep gorges exposing millions of years of rock layers, lies at the bottom—the Colorado River. Named in 1776 by a Spanish missionary, Padre Francisco Tomás Garcés, it means “red” in Spanish, which is how the river would have appeared back then. Due to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in northeastern Arizona in 1964, the river is now clear, clean, and cold.

Here's me on the Colorado River on a week-long boat trip
through Grand Canyon.
The river begins as a tiny stream in Rocky Mountain National Park, eventually flowing into Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam. Below the dam, it begins its journey through Marble Canyon by joining with the Paria River. At the confluence of the Little Colorado River does the Colorado finally enter Grand Canyon National Park, flowing 217 miles until it reaches Lake Mead Recreation Area.

John Wesley Powell
The first documented expedition of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon was accomplished by Major John Wesley Powell in 1869. Powell, a Civil War veteran with only one arm, and nine companions became the first men to journey 1,000 miles on the river, part of it through Grand Canyon. They braved rapids, heat, plummeting morale, and the loss of three men. Powell’s account of this expedition, Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries, made him a national hero as well as brought the canyon to the attention of the country. The Paiutes called the plateau that the canyon cuts through ”Kaibab” or “Mountain Lying Down,” but it was Powell who first consistently used and published the name “Grand Canyon” in the 1870’s.

In addition to setting her 1877 historical western romance The Sparrow in Grand Canyon, Kristy will also have a short story featuring this natural wonder in Lassoing A Groom, an anthology coming this summer from Prairie Rose Publications. A U.S. Deputy Marshal hunts a fugitive in Grand Canyon, but is saddled with an unwanted companion when he rescues a young woman who may not be what she seems. To stay up-to-date, visit Kristy's website.


  1. A sight to behold. I love the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which is nearby when I need a canyon fix. (A miniature Grand Canyon).

    We sometimes miss the beauty around us and it is good to be reminded. Thanks and looking forward to the remaining 3 installments. Doris

    1. Doris,
      So very true! I've only scratched the surface at the Grand Canyon, but it draws one back again and again.

  2. Kristy, I'm looking forward to this series. The Grand Canyon is one of the most majestic sights I've ever been privileged to see.

    I still remember one trip from my childhood. We stopped at a scenic overlook to admire the view, and right at the edge of a several-thousand-foot sheer drop to the canyon floor was a warning placard: "No parking beyond this sign." No parking? No kidding! :-D

    1. Kathleen,
      You'd be surprised by how many people commit suicide at the Grand Canyon, either by jumping or occasionally driving a car over the side. My sister worked as a Grand Canyon park ranger for a time, and her response was, "Please go kill yourself somewhere else." She wasn't cold-hearted, but it's dangerous for the SAR personel to retrieve remains.

    2. Oh my. Well, suddenly that sign makes more sense. What a sad (and dangerous) chore for those poor SAR personnel. :-(

  3. Kristy, I remember as a kid we stopped at the Grand Canyon when we went from Oklahoma to California to visit relatives the summer I turned 6. There was a "trading post" there, and many Indians. One thing I will never forget is how there was only 2 widely-spaced rails that kept you from falling over the edge, and there was one little boy whose mother and aunt sat nearby, letting him play on the rails--he must have done this every day, because he used them kind of like a jungle gym, doing flips, etc. I asked my mom if I could go play with him, and she said, "My goodness, NO. He's liable to fall and kill himself." All I could think of was worrying about that little boy falling to his death, while mom and auntie sat nearby watching. I still don't know why they didn't stop him.

    I have a picture of me sitting on a boulder in front of the trading post/gift shop by the GRAND CANYON sign. I still remember looking out over that canyon there, down to the tiny river (from where we stood!) and my little 6-year-old brain being awestruck. I think that was the first time that happened to me--seeing something that takes your breath away and not understanding WHY, at that age.

    Love your pictures!

    1. Cheryl,
      Even today there aren't good safety rails to prevent children (or anyone) from falling. The only reason I can think for this is the desire to keep the area as pristine and natural as possible (it's the same reason my sister said that the rangers won't stop people from doing things--like hiking, etc.--that could be dangerous). The park is open to everyone, there's not many regulations to keep people from enjoying it.

      But when we visited years ago with my toddler-age children, I wasn't a happy camper. On the South Rim, the most touristy side, there are many, many areas where children could fall, and not just a little fall. Although I must say--last summer we where there with my teenagers, and they liked climbing out on precipices for good photo ops. I had to turn away. Children terrify you at any age!

  4. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but I have flown over (commercial airline) a few times, and it's awe inspiring even from thousands of feet above. My parents rode the mules to the bottom a couple of times, and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

    It's a place I hope to visit someday, and I'm looking forward to the next three installments.

    1. Kaye,
      I, too, have flown over and it's really amazing to see it that way. Regular commercial flights from Phoenix to Las Vegas take that route, and the pilot will often come on the intercom to alert you of the canyon.

      I've never done the mules, but have hiked out the South Rim. It was grueling. And in the summer (when I did it) the mule pee on the trail bakes to a nice pungent smell. Lovely animals, but that was a bit hard to take after awhile.

  5. Hi Kristy, wonderful post! We celebrated our 30th anniversary here and had such a great time...sitting in the evening just watching the canyon! Some day I want to take our little grandsons on the train to the canyon from Williams.

  6. Tanya,
    What a lovely way to spend your anniversary. I've yet to take the train from Williams but hear it's great fun, especially for kids.

  7. I've heard people who have visited the Grand Canyon that it was like a spiritual experience. I can't imagine the majesty and awe of such a place.
    I love your story premise, Kristy. Can't wait for the anthologies to come out so I can read it.
    I'm looking forward to your next post on the Grand Canyon.