Overview: Bright Angel Trail is perhaps the premier trail in the Grand Canyon. Join NaturePods naturalist, Stewart Aitchison to explore a bit... more »
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Overview: Bright Angel Trail is perhaps the premier trail in the Grand Canyon. Join NaturePods naturalist, Stewart Aitchison to explore a bit... more » of the canyon's geology, wildlife, and history. Along the way, we'll stop and visit with the earliest explorers who found a home or infamy in the canyon. We'll also stop and give you a peak into the geology of the canyon and the struggles biologists have had in describing the wildlife that make this the most magnificent canyon in the world. less «
Tips: The Bright Angel Trail starts just west of Bright Angel Lodge. Please check in with the ranger station for current trail information.... more » The trail is steep and rugged, as are all trails in the park, but you will find water and rest stops along the way. Remember that you are the most important decision maker along the trail. Although we have planned a full day trip, you can break it into shorter dayhikes or a multi-day backpacking trip. Plan accordingly and don't try to overdo it. Enjoy this magnificent canyon in a safe and rewarding manner. less «
There is nothing else in the world quite like the Grand Canyon. A few canyons are slightly deeper, maybe a little longer, but the Grand Canyon combines depth, width, and length to expose an array of colorful rock layers carved into a most astounding landscape.
The sheer scale, immensity, and uniqueness leaves you breathless. Plus the fact,... More that you are standing more than mile above sea level where the air is a bit thin. But take a seat, breathe in the pine and sagebrush scented air, and try to absorb the spectacle before you. Here is a magnificent hole in the ground some 5,000-feet deep, 277 miles long (measured by the route of the Colorado River), and upwards of 18 miles in width.
Many other canyons drop sheer or steeply to their bottoms, but the Grand Canyon's profile is stair-stepped. Each horizontal layer of rock, whether it be sandstone, limestone, shale, or some metamorphic type, is of a different hardness and therefore erodes at a different rate, giving us a canyon of unusual breadth and appearance. Additionally, these incredible geologic layers reveal the earth's long history like pages in a book. The oldest stories, which are more than 1.8 billion years old, are at the bottom of the canyon with succeeding layers recording younger and younger environments and events. And although the rim rocks, the Kaibab Limestone, are 230 million years old, much of the rest of the story can be found in the younger rocks exposed east and north of the Grand Canyon.
Not only is the Grand Canyon a geologic marvel, it is also home to more than 1400 species of flowering plants and hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians arranged in a variety of habitats that mirror ones found from the boreal forests of southern Canada to the sun-baked deserts of northern Mexico. And then there is the human aspect. For more than 12,000 years, people have lived in the Grand Canyon region. The earliest known are the Paleo Indians, who hunted strange, huge mammals left over from the last ice age. These hunters crafted distinctive stone points for their spears. Then came the Archaic hunters, who used the atlatl or spear throwing device to go after smaller game. These folks were followed by prehistoric farming people -- the Anasazi, the Cohonina, the Sinagua, and other cultural groups. Today, native people still inhabit the area. The Havasupai live within one of the great side canyons to the Grand, and the Hualapai, Southern Paiute, and Navajo live near its rims. Other Southwest tribes are also tied spiritually and historically with the canyon.
So join me in exploring this magnificent place...the Grand Canyon.Less
Precariously perched at the head of the Bright Angel Trail is the rambling house and studio built by Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. These brothers arrived at the South Rim in 1902 in hopes of finding a job. Tourism at the Canyon was in its infancy and so was tourist photography, but Emery and Ellsworth were visionaries. They bought a little... More photographic studio in Williams and hauled it up to the canyon.Less
The history of the multicolored, horizontal layers of sedimentary rock that rise above the Inner Gorge to the rims and also found beyond the park to the north and east is a fascinating story of changing environments and evolving life forms. From about 545 million years ago until about 80 million years ago, the region now known as the Colorado... More Plateau was often near or below sea level. Oceans transgressed and retreated, swamps were covered by sandy deserts, the sea returned, and life evolved from simple marine invertebrates to fish, sharks, and reptiles.
When paleontologists compare the meager fossil record in the Grand Canyon Supergroup to the abundant fossils in the Tapeats Sandstone, the oldest of the Paleozoic rocks, they are astonished at an apparent "explosion" of life forms. About the only fossils seen in the older rocks are rounded colonies of limestone secreting cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) known as stromatolites. Yet the Tapeats and the overlying Bright Angel Shale record an advancing ocean teeming with an amazing diversity of complex, multi-celled organisms -- marine worms, brachiopods or lamp shells, and trilobites, to name a few. What transpired during the Great Unconformity time span?
Biologists speculate that the giant evolutionary step to multi-celled organisms could not take place until oxygen became a major component of the atmosphere AND be dissolved into the ocean's water. Sometime during the Precambrian era, organic compounds transformed into the first living cells, termed prokaryotes. These single cells were types of bacteria and cyanobacteria living in a world lacking free oxygen. However, the cyanobacteria practiced photosynthesis -- the conversion of water and carbon dioxide into organic compounds for growth with oxygen being a by-product. Over a couple of billion years, oxygen slowly built up in the atmosphere. Lightning caused some of the oxygen to combine into ozone. This ozone layer filters out much of the sun's harmful ultraviolet light. The abundance of oxygen, the filtering effect of the ozone and other changes to the environment set the stage for organisms that could be aerobic, the oxygen-dependent eukaryotes.
Eukaryotes are membranous cells that reproduce by the division of a nucleus, the storeroom for genetic material. Prokaryotes reproduce simple by duplicating themselves into two equal parts -- a very limited way of evolving new species. But with the eukaryotes continually shuffling their DNA, the possible permutations were limitless. Just as the last layers of the Grand Canyon Supergroup were being deposited, complex multi-celled organisms developed for the first time. Unfortunately, in the Grand Canyon region, the Great Unconformity was a time of erosion rather than deposition so no fossil record occurs until the later marine Tapeats Sandstone. By then, an incredible array of new life had evolved.
Climbing up through the Paleozoic-age rocks, you find fossil marine burrows, trilobites, fern impressions, reptile tracks, brachiopods, shark's teeth, as well as, other clues to past environments, like ripple marks and mud cracks. The walls of the Grand Canyon reveal earth history to careful observers.Less
If you visit the small cemetery on the South Rim, there is one grave that is marked by an extraordinarily large rectangle of rocks. This is John Hance's last resting spot and even in the afterlife, things associated with him are exaggerated.
Hance came to the Canyon in 1883 seeking his fortune in the precious mineral deposits thought to be hiding... More in the walls of the Grand Canyon. But the geology is not conducive to deposits of gold and silver. Hance did locate a little copper and a little asbestos, but soon realized that there was more gold and silver in the pockets of tourists. So he became a hotelier and tour guide, placing this ad in the Flagstaff newspaper:
"Being thoroughly conversant with all the trails leading to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, I am prepared to guide parties thereto at any time. I have a fine spring of water near my house on the rim of the Canyon, and can furnish accommodations for tourists and their animals."
He had a gift for telling tall tales but with such sincerity that many a tenderfoot was taken in. He liked to tell about how the tremendous summer heat at the bottom of the Canyon melted the wings off flies. Or he would relate how one day when the canyon was filled with clouds, he was snowshoeing across the top of clouds when a sudden wind blew the clouds away, leaving him stranded on one of the buttes.
Also, one day he was in the forest along the South Rim when he encountered a stranger. Hance told the man about the big buck mule deer he recently shot. The deer was huge and its rack many tined. The stranger replied: "Guess you don't know that I am the game warden." To which Hance replied: "Guess you don't know me. I am the biggest liar in these parts."
He also bragged how he had dug the Grand Canyon in his search for minerals. But one day after relating this story, a little girl tugged on his sleeve and asked, "What did you do with all that dirt?" For the first time, Hance did not have a ready answer. Later in life, he fell ill, was taken to the hospital in Flagstaff, and just as he was about to pass on, he muttered, "I wonder what I coulda done with all that dirt."
Later, Hance sold his ranch, trails, and mining claims and moved to the Grand Canyon Village. There the Fred Harvey Company provided him with room and board in the Bright Angel Lodge in return for him to continue to entertain the tourists with his colorful yarns.
One visitor, William "Bucky" O'Neill, wrote in Hance's guestbook: "God made the cañon; John Hance the trails. Without the other, neither would be complete."Less
Deer have always been more common on the North Rim than the South. There is simply more deer habitat on the north side. However, that never seemed to faze various early wildlife managers. Between 1927 and 1931, about 60 fawns were transported from the North Rim to the South. But by 1934, the deer herd had so increased in number that they were over... More browsing the Grand Canyon Village area. But this was a minor problem in comparison to what had happened on the Kaibab Plateau a couple of decades earlier.
After hunting mountain lions on the North Rim in 1913 with game warden Jimmy Owens, Theodore Roosevelt remarked, "One important feature of his (Owens) work is to keep down the larger beasts and birds of prey, the archenemies of the deer, mountain sheep, and grouse; and the most formidable among these foes of the harmless wildlife are the cougars." This prevailing attitude of the time led to the dangerous tipping of nature's balance between predators and prey on the Kaibab Plateau.
Within a few years of ceaseless shooting, trapping, and poisoning of coyotes, mountain lions and wolves (the Mexican gray wolf was extirpated by 1924) on the North Rim, hunters, forest managers, and visitors began to report that the size of the Kaibab deer herd was exploding in numbers. A browse line (as high as deer could reach) became evident in the forest, and forage was disappearing. A movement began to increase the number of hunting permits for deer, but it became snarled in political maneuvering between state and federal officials.
Nature soon delivered her own brand of management. During the winter of 1924-25, thousands of deer starved to death; the population decline would last for a decade. From this disaster, wildlife managers came to view the Kaibab deer herd as the archetype of "ungulate irruption" (a population explosion of deer) brought on by excessive predator control.
Only in recent years have biologists re-examined the Kaibab incident in light of new research regarding predator-prey relationships. Surprisingly, the increase in the number of deer may not have been as dramatic as previously presented, and the lack of predators may have played only a small role. The earlier population figures are open to question: in 1919 estimates of the Kaibab deer herd ranged from five to 50 thousand. Figures for other years are equally suspect. All that can be said for certain is that there apparently was an increase in the number of deer from about 1914 to 1924, and a deterioration of the range.
Biologists have also investigated the impact of livestock grazing on the wildlife. By the late 1880s, perhaps 20,000 cattle, 200,000 sheep, and unknown numbers of horse and dairy cows were grazing on the Kaibab Plateau. By 1906, through government regulation and declining forage, livestock numbers had been significantly reduced. Did the easing of livestock grazing allow vegetation to rebound and trigger an increase in the deer herd? Very recent research now suggests that fire suppression, which allowed aspens and other plants to rebound, was a major factor in increasing browse for deer.
Biologists believe that food supply is the major factor in determining prey populations and in turn, prey numbers influence predator populations. This is the exact opposite of the conventional wisdom of earlier wildlife managers. Predators, it appears, play a minor role in controlling prey densities. Studies done on the Kaibab indicate that lion predation, even at the highest rates measured, would not prevent the deer herd from increasing, provided that there is adequate browse for the deer. Whatever the real dynamics of the deer population might have been, the Kaibab deer story is an excellent example of the interaction of science, conservation, politics, and management.
Wouldn't Owens, Roosevelt, and all those other early sportsmen and game wardens be surprised to know that the mountain lion, "...destroyer of the deer...lord of stealthy murder...with a heart both craven and cruel," is now viewed as a wonderful and necessary cog on the wheel of life. As our ecological knowledge expands, hopefully so will our wisdom to be better stewards.Less
On October 20, 1928, a pair of newlyweds from Idaho set off from Green River, Wyoming in a large, rectangular wooden box to follow the route of John Wesley Powell. Their unusual craft, which they christened Rain-in-the-Face, was a sweep boat, a type used on streams and rivers that have a consistent, moderate gradient. Glen Hyde was experienced... More with such boats on rivers in Idaho. The boatman, in this case Glen, stands in the middle while grasping the handles of long, oar-like sweeps...one goes out the bow, the other over the stern. The sweeps are primarily for steering the boat not propulsion.
Glen and his young bride Bessie had dreamed up this trip as part of their honeymoon. If they succeeded, Bessie would be the first woman to venture down the Green and Colorado rivers including a descent through the Grand Canyon. The Hydes planned to write book about their adventure and also go on the Eastern lecture circuit. A bright, prosperous future looked promising.
For miles, the river flowed slowly and the sweeps were useless as oars. Glen could only try to stay out of back eddies and keep in the current. Then came the canyons and their rapids. Most of the rapids on the Green and Colorado are short but steep drops full of huge waves, big rocks, and holes ready to swallow you up. The faster current helped propel the boat downstream; but by the time it picked up enough momentum so that the sweeps could be used for maneuvering, another boulder or angry wave loomed. When the blade of one of the sweeps was caught by a wave or rock, the leverage was too great for Glen to push against it. It was either hang on and get tossed out of the boat or duck out of the way before the handle crushed his ribs or skull. Each rapid was a wild, terrifying, out-of-control ride.
Amazingly, 26 days later, they reached the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon and the foot of the Bright Angel Trail. Time for a little R&R. They hiked out to the South Rim, where they eventually met Emery Kolb, who, along with his brother Ellsworth, had completed their own Colorado River trip in 1911-12. Emery was no doubt surprised at this young couple's naiveté when it came to running the Colorado. They declined Emery's offer of using his and Ellsworth's life jackets. Glen boasting that he and Bessie were good swimmers. After a few days of rest, the Hydes were ready to return to the river.
Although their boat was discovered some weeks later in western Grand Canyon still upright and containing their camping gear, Glen's camera, and Bessie's enigmatic diary, the young couple was never seen again. Their fate is still debated among river historians.Less