Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hwal' Bay Nyu Wa- A land to inspire our Spirit
(Home of the hualapai)
(painting of the canyon by Bruce aiken)
Grand canyon- one of the earth's most powerful inspiring landscapes-overwhelms our senses. Its story tells of geological processes played out over unimaginable time spans as a unique combination of size, colour and dazzling erosional forms: 446 km long, upto 29 km wide and 1.6 km deep. Its rugged landscape hosts a fascinating variety of plant and animal communities, from the desert next to the colorado river deep in the canyon to montane forests atop its north rim.
Humans have also played their part in the history of the canyon as evident from the archaeological discoveries.
The journey

I live in Tempe, Arizona presently. This belongs to the phoenix area, which is the capital of arizona state, known for its distinct Native indian population. We reached grand canyon through flagstaff, a town which is a 2 hour drive from here.
(USA-Arizona highlighted)
Grand canyon shown on google map (click to enlarge)

Our first trip was to the West rim of the canyon.

(The group)
This place is best known for its skywalk, a major attraction from couple of years back.
This is the best we could capture the skywalk(side view in the background) as we were not allowed cameras there. They had a system of capturing our picture while on the skywalk but charge us a humongous 30 dollars. So, we opted out of it. For a sake of feel of the skywalk I borrowed a couple of pictures from elsewhere in the web.
This is basically a glass bottomed, horse shoe shaped cantilever bridge which has been engineered using the state of art techniques. As you walk on it you can see through the bottom of the bridge to what is 4000 to 5000 feet of the depths of the canyon's wilderness. It is a scintillating experience. You are just a glass plate away from 4000 feet of free fall!
A nice video of the skywalk from national geographic

60 dollars is what puts off people who go to the west rim. On the other hand what i suggest is that it is worth the trip if you consider that you pay 20 dollars for the skywalk and 40 more to enter the area to see the grand views of the grand canyon. The eagle point is the same place as the skywalk but the eagle formation in the the rocks is a natural wonder.
If you observe closely the background in the above picture, you can see the dip in the rock formation and there it resembles the eagle's body and the sides resemble its wings spread out.
(An oblique view of the eagle)
(The edge of the canyon facing the eagle)
The other good view point in the west rim is the guano point. The colarado river cuts its way meandering all over the place.

The above view shows a small hill on the other side of which the canyon turns around from the left side to the right side. The grandness of the canyon is infinite to be captured by the tiny camera!

Near the earlier mentioned skywalk we also saw some model Native american huts. It was an interesting view.

These settlements belong to the hualapai tribe, which also privately owns the grand canyon. The hualapai along with a dozen other Indian tribes especially the yavapai and the havasupai descend from the ancient anasazi tribe who inhabited the ancient southwest america more than 4000 years. They speak the languages belonging to Yuman-Cochimí language family.

The europeans directed by the hopi(another famous tribe of arizona) first had a glimpse of the canyon in 1540. It was not until 1775 that fransiscan friar fransisco garces explored upto the colorado river on foot and horseback. 'colorado' meaning "rusty-red" in spanish is the name that caught on. After some minor explorations, a major undertaking was in 1869 by Major john wesley powell and his crew of eight. He encountered the wilderness of the canyon on its face and gives us a graphic description.

"The cyclopean forms which result from the sculpture of tempests through ages too long for man to compute, are wrought into endless details, to describe which would be a task equal in magnitude to that of describing the stars of the heavens or the multitudinous beauties of the forest..."
(.....A testimony of time)

South rim

Our next day trip was to the south rim which is generally a busier outpost compared to the west or the north rim. The first point there was the manther point.
This view is curious for a different reason. The peaks in the background here are named after Hindu and other ancient deities. For eg, there is the vishnu temple,shiva temple, buddha temple, Isis temple(ancient egyptian goddess). 'Temple' means a peak here.

Interestingly enough, the basement rocks of the canyon are called as vishnu basement rocks, which i premise to be a tribute to the almighty whose shariram(or the cosmic body) forms all of the manifested worlds.

Yaki point is another important view point in the south rim. We felt that here a more wider view(about 180 degree) is available.
(A view from yaki point)

Now on to some geographical information..........

The canyon is the old world marvel consisting of several layers of rock formation.

Five broad stages can be recognised in the ultimate formation that we witness at the moment. They are as follows:

Stage 1: Vishnu basement rocks

Tectonic plates move slowly across the earth's surface. Almost 2 billion years ago a plate carrying island arcs and the plate that became North America collided. Heat and pressure from this process changed those existing rock layers into dark metamorphic rock, the basement of the canyon. Molten rock then squeezed into cracks and hardened as light bands of granite.

Stage 2: Grand canyon supergroup
The red shale, fossil-algae bearing limestone and dark lava of the grand canyon supergroup are revealed only in a few areas. The many strata of the supergroup accumulated in basins formed a s the landmass pulled apart. The expansion caused blocks to rotate, tilting the supergroup layers.

Stage 3:Paleozoic Sedimentary rocks
Nearly horizontal layers of sedimentary rocks comprise the upper two-thirds of the canyon walls. These rocks formed near sea level and at the edge of a continent. The remains of marine life accumulated on the ocean floor to form limestone. Rivers deposited sediments in swamps and deltas that then became mudstones. Dunes solidified into sandstone.

Stage 4:The colorado plateau rises

About 70 million years ago the rocky mountains began to form, pushed up as the North American plate overrode the pacific plate. In the process a large section of what is now Utah, northern arizona, western colorado and a corner of new mexico rose from sea level to elevations of thousands of feet, forming the colorado plateau. This uplift occured with remarkably little tilting or deformation of the sedimentary layers. The stage was set for the carving of the canyon.

Stage 5:Canyon carving
By five or six million years ago, the colorado river flowed across the colorado plateau on its way from the rocky mountains to the gulf of california. Each rain washed sparsely vegetated desert soils into the river. A steep gradient and heavy sediment loads created a powerful tool for erosion. The river's volume varied seasonally and over time. As the las tice age ended 12000 years ago, the volume may have been 10 times today's volume.

As the river cuts down, the canyon deepens. Tributaries erode into the canyon's sides, increasing its width. Erosion carves faster into the softer rock layers, undermining harder layers above. With no foundation these layers collapse, forming the cliffs and slopes profile of the canyon. Erosion wears away the ridges separating adjacent side canyons, leaving buttes and pinnacles.
(Another elegant mark of the river)

Yavapai observatory point is a point that was chosen by geological and other experts to be one of the points where we can have the grandest view of this nature's wonder. Therefore the point has an observatory. The formation process of the canyon is explained there with various models similar to musuems. There is also a book shop available at the place.
(Yavapai observation station)

Exciting things to do at south rim

Helicopter ride, rafting and various trails are the different things you can engage yourself in, at this place. The helicopter ride seems costly at 150 dollars per person for just 25 to 30 minutes of the ride. We had a glimpse of how rafting would be at the yavapai observation station. Since we went as a group which had a small child, we could not attempt rafting.

This is an informative video on the first explorers and white water rafting.
There is an Imax theatre which hosts a short movie of about half an hour on the grand canyon. It was an amazing one which took us to the depths of the canyon upto the colorado river as well as gave us the bird's eye view too(the person who had flown in between the canyon walls to take a video of it did a brave and excellent job). We also learnt a bit about the people who had inhabited it and the explorers who discovered it.

Flora and fauna in the canyon
For this grand and colossal a place,the canyon teems with wildlife but it is difficult for a visitor to see most of it. I purchased a coffee table book about the canyon and it had some nice national geographic quality pictures of wildlife of the area.

Some of the fauna......
(Click to zoom in)
Some flora...
The colorado river has done the consistent work of carving the canyon. So it occupies the pivotal position in its history. Some paintings depicting the colorado river...

Grand canyon also has its share in the legends and imaginative accounts of people. What came to my mind immediately is the "Road runner show" which i used to watch in the cartoon network more than 10 years back. The coyote makes repeated tries to catch the road runner but in vain. I thought a snapshot from the cartoon was a nice way of representing it here.
(The coyote hatching another one of its 'would be failure' plots to catch the road runner)
(The coyote has a 90 degree fall into the canyon depths as a result of backfiring of its plans)

The Havasupai Indians have their creation story in relation to the grand canyon.

Before there were any people on earth there were two gods. Tochapa of goodness and Hokomata of evil. Tochapa had a daughter named Pu-keh-eh, whom he hoped would become the mother of all living. Hokomata the evil was determined that no such thing should take place, and he covered the world with a great flood. Tochopa the good felled a great tree and hollowed out the trunk. He placed Pu-keh-eh in the hollowed trunk and when the water rose and flooded the earth she was secure in her improvised boat.
Finally the flood waters fell and mountain peaks emerged. Rivers were created; and one of them cut the great gushing fissure which became the Grand Canyon.
Pu-keh-eh in her log came to rest on the new earth. She stepped forth and beheld an empty world.
When the land became dry, a great golden sun rose in the east and warmed the earth and caused her to conceive. In time, she gave birth to a male child. Later a waterfall caused her to conceive and she gave birth to a girl. From the union of these two mortal children came all the people on the earth. The first were the Havasupai, and the voice of Tochopa spoke to them and told them to live forever in peace in their canyon of good earth and pure water where there would always be plenty for all!’.
We can see that the great floods is nothing but the pralayam from which Lord sriman narayana rescued the vedas and sapta-rishis by taking the matsya avataram. We find that the same story trickles through to the stories of various cultures including the much later written Noahs story.
Some other myths revolving around the place are its possible link with the not-yet-proven atlantis civilization or with the Egyptian civilization.
"The canyon is its own answer. It fills the soul of all responsive persons with awe. It allures, attracts and holds those who have gazed into its mysterious depths."
--- George wharton James, 1910


  1. wow! dint read the whole thing but u went to the skywalker!It was on my list of to-do for a lifetime to be there! Awesome

  2. The snaps are really spectacular. It is like looking the world through a high resolution plasma TV. The sky walk looks thrilling - should have been a real adrenalin rush..Yuman-Cochimí_languages? Haven't heard of them before. Your post can motivate people to go there in terms of giving them very minute details and a very informative one at that !

  3. Forgot to add this ! I read you post in parts and successfully completed reading it today ! Give me a hi-five for that :D

  4. Spectacular pictures! Good narration!
    The piece of information about Shiva temple and Vishnu basement rocks is the most interesting part!
    I hope to see these places at least once in my lifetime.

  5. Thanks for all your comments.
    A Hi-fi for siddharth. :)

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks for your appreciation Ashim.
      Have you been to the grand canyon?