Nature & Science

Of all the interesting facts about the Grand Canyon, statistics relating to nature and science are some of the most impressive. Grand Canyon history is full of geologic events, unusual creatures and desert-adapted plants. Some of the plants and animals that call the Grand Canyon home are endemic, which means that they do not exist beyond the park’s boundaries.

Because of the park’s protected status, Grand Canyon wildlife provides an opportunity for scientists to learn more about desert biomes and ecology. The way that the Canyon formed has provided a clear cross-section of the earth’s crust, with over 40 different rock layers to study. Continue reading to find out more about plant life, animals and geology in Grand Canyon National Park.

Plant Life

If you were to make a list of Grand Canyon plants, it could take hours to write them all down. There are thousands of species of Grand Canyon vegetation, including trees, shrubs, wildflowers, fungi, lichen, moss and grasses. Due to the variety in elevations within the park, these plants are divided into over 100 individual vegetation communities.

The Grand Canyon climate includes areas for river-dwelling plants, woodland zones, desert areas and even meadowland. Many visitors are surprised by how colorful Grand Canyon plant life can be, given its desert location.

Color is not an anomaly in the desert. In fact, one of the park’s endangered plant species has green leaves that turn bright red every fall. Many shrubs, grasses and trees in the Grand Canyon bloom at certain times of year, leaving the landscape dotted with yellow, white and red flowers.

Several types of Grand Canyon plants are on the park’s list of protected and endangered species. In fact, one type of endangered plant species needed protection because it was being trampled by park visitors in one of only three small zones where it grew naturally. Grand Canyon plant conservationists are working to revive endangered plant populations and protect plants that can only be found at the park.

Animals

You may wonder, “What animals live in the Grand Canyon?” Indeed, many visitors expect to see just a few commonly-known desert-dwellers, such as hawks, snakes and squirrels. The truth is that thousands of creatures call Grand Canyon National Park home. In fact, North America’s largest land mammal lives here, the Elk. Visitors can also see the world’s only aquatic songbird, the American Dipper, and five species of fish that exist nowhere else in the world.

Birdwatchers love Grand Canyon National Park wildlife because it includes over 400 known species of bird. As with Grand Canyon plant life, birds tend to be sorted by the environment they prefer. Riparian birds live alongside the Colorado River and include a variety of ducks, kingfishers and sandpipers. Songbirds flutter through desert scrub, woodland and meadow zones of the park. Hawks, eagles, vultures and other birds of prey soar through all levels of the Canyon in search of their next meal.

As in most biomes, insects and invertebrates make up the largest number of creatures in the National Park. Even though most people think of insects as pests, park rangers ask visitors to avoid swatting at or killing bugs whenever possible. These tiniest Grand Canyon animals play a huge role in the park’s ecosystem, providing food for reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish.

Reptiles and amphibians are Grand Canyon animals that can be found in every region of the park. A variety of frogs, toads, lizards and snakes provide food for larger animals and work to keep the insect and rodent populations under control. Visitors should be aware that several venomous snakes, spiders and even a venomous lizard inhabit the National Park.

Interacting too closely with these and other Grand Canyon National Park wildlife can be dangerous for humans and animals alike. Visitors have a responsibility to respect all Grand Canyon animals and plants by keeping a safe distance away from them. Many birds and other creatures are on the Grand Canyon animal list of endangered species. The National Park Service is working hard to protect these animals and help them reestablish their lives in the Canyon biome.

Geology

It is easy to wonder, “How did the Grand Canyon form?” when you are standing in front of something so massive and majestic. Some scientists disagree with the dates surrounding the Grand Canyon formation, but most agree that it was over a billion years ago that the rocks in the inner gorge formed.

Many millions of years ago, plate tectonics uplifted the area. The type of uplift is another Grand Canyon mystery, because the rock layers were not significantly altered as they usually appear after being shifted by plate tectonics.

Next, approximately six million years ago, the Colorado River established its course. River and tributary erosion are part of what made the Grand Canyon widen and they continue to shape the natural landmark today. Grand Canyon National Park has attracted scientists, students of history and other researchers since 1858 and continues to be one of the best places to study a clear cross-section of the Earth’s crust.

Grand Canyon landforms reflect the principle of superposition, which means that rocks on top are younger than the rocks below. If you look carefully at the horizontal lines that form the canyon walls, you can see where seismic activity occurred because the layers will be tilted instead of horizontal. Lava flows also visibly punctuate the neat rock layers, although they may only be clear to the trained eye.

Several types of rock are represented in the Grand Canyon formation of layers, including different types of sandstone, shale and limestone. People often wonder how big is the Grand Canyon, and is it the biggest canyon in the world? They are often surprised to learn that even at an impressive one mile deep, there is a canyon in Asia that is a full two miles deeper than the Grand Canyon.