National parks are protected areas of natural or semi-natural land. Visitors from around the world flock to national parks to enjoy the serene beauty of the landscape. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) defines national parks as large areas of land with special characteristics. This is very evident in many of the national parks. Yellowstone National Park is notorious for its thermal activity. Sequoia National Park is famous for its gigantic trees. The Petrified Forest National Park is best known for its petrified wood. Arches National Park is famed for its 2,000 natural sandstones arches. The Grand Canyon National Park is legendary for its massive canyon. Water, ice, and the Colorado River helped to form the notorious Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon was granted Federal protection in 1893, and became a National Park in 1919. Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 6,000 feet deep. Visitors can tour the canyon by foot, car, horse, mule, bike, and even helicopter. Every year, an estimated 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon. Sightseers are truly amazed by the geological wonders of the park. There are nearly 40 identified rock layers that form the Grand Canyon’s walls. The different colors of the rock offer spectators a glorious view of the canyon. The Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, because the natural formation of the canyon is so spectacular.
Most scientists are still arguing about the exact age of the canyon, and the precise way it was formed. However, scientists agree that erosion by water played a vital role in the creation of the canyon. The Grand Canyon is located in a part of the country that is extremely dry due to the lack of annual rainfall. The absence of rain causes the soil to become very hard and tough. Since the ground is solid and firm, it is unable to absorb any water from the annual precipitation. The vegetation in the canyon has also been a factor of water erosion. Most of the plant life in the canyon has extremely shallow roots. This prevents the plants from keeping the soil and rocks in place. When the ground cannot absorb the water, and the roots cannot hold the soil in place, erosion by water occurs. The end result centers on massive torrents of water gushing down the canyon walls moving rocks, boulders, vegetation, and anything else in its path.
Scientists also agree that erosion by ice played a critical part in forming the Grand Canyon. Water sometimes flows into the cracks and crevices of the massive boulders found throughout the canyon. In the winter months, the temperatures of the canyon plummet below freezing. This causes the water in the cracks to freeze and expand. When the water expands, it creates larger gaps within the boulders. Over time, the fractures become bigger. Eventually, the boulders break and fall down the side of the canyon. Sometimes the rocks and boulders fall down the side of the canyon without disturbing the canyon floor. Other times, the falling rocks and boulders create massive rock slides that totally alter the landscape of the canyon.
The Colorado River was central in the formation of the Grand Canyon. When the rocks fell down the side of the canyon, and flooding carried them to the river, the river used the rocks to carve into the canyon walls. The huge boulders that were carried by the river cut into the banks and beds of the river. This caused rivers to widen, which cut into different layers of the canyon. This process continued to repeat itself over millions of years. The Colorado River persisted in carrying rocks, boulders, and sediments along the floor of the canyon until a massive gorge was formed. Most scientists claim the canyon is between 4 and 6 million years old, but this is still open for much debate in the scientific community.
Even though most scientists disagree about the exact measures and dates surrounding the formation of the Grand Canyon, many experts agree that river, water, and ice erosion played the largest part. Some of the smaller and less significant elements that helped to create the Grand Canyon are wind erosion, continental drift, and volcanic activity. Even today, the canyon continues to change. Water, ice, and the Colorado River still play a vital role in the transformation of the canyon. Massive flooding alters the canyon walls, rock slides change the landscape formation, and the Colorado River still erodes different layers of canyon. Erosion still occurs, just at a much slower rate. One reason centers on the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam controls the water flow into the Grand Canyon, and also filters out the sediment before it enters the canyon floor. The Colorado River no longer flows through the canyon at massive speeds. Constantly changing and always eroding, the Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world.