Grand Canyon Geology

Grand Canyon Geology

Grand Canyon Geology

Grand Canyon Geology


This second edition of the leading book on Grand Canyon geology contains the most recent discoveries and interpretations of the origin and history of the canyon. It includes two entirely new chapters: one on debris flow in the Canyon and one on Holocene deposits in the canyon. All chapters have been updated where necessary and all photographs have been replaced or re-screened for better resolution. Written by acknowledged experts in stratigraphy, paleontology, structural geology, geomorphology, volcanism, and seismology, this book offers a wealth of information for students, geologists, and general readers interested in acquiring an understanding of the geological history of this great natural wonder.


It is strangely ironic that the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, one of the most frequently visited natural wonders of the world, was for three centuries ignored by the Europeans who explored and exploited western North America. Of course, the Native Americans of the Southwest had known the canyon for thousands of years before some of them led a little band from the Coronado expedition to the south rim of the canyon in 1540. The Spaniards were impressed, and said so, but that was about the extent of their interest in this magnificent natural feature. During the long interval from that fateful day, four hundred and fifty years ago, when Don García López de Cárdenas and his companions gazed across the canyon until the third decade of the nineteenth century, very few people of European heritage visited or bothered to describe the canyon.

Then, in 1831 there appeared a description of the canyon by mountain man James Ohio Pattie, the first account to be written by an American. Yet his published portrayal of the canyon did not bring a rush of people to see it. It was hard to reach, and its breathtaking proportions made it a barrier to travel along the southwestern lines of latitude. Indeed, it was as a barrier that those Americans who knew anything about the canyon were prone to view it.

In the middle years of the nineteenth century, there were several United States Army surveying expeditions through the Southwest, in part to search for a feasible railroad route to the West Coast. One of the expeditions, led by Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives, reached the floor of the canyon near the mouth of Diamond Creek in 1858. The canyon seemed anything but inviting to Ives, who wrote that “the increasing magnitude of the colossal piles that blocked the end of the vista, and the corresponding depth and gloom of the gaping chasms into which we were plunging, imparted an earthly character to a way that might have resembled the portals of the infernal regions.”

Fortunately, Ives had with him Dr. John Strong Newberry, one of the great pioneer American geologists, and it was Newberry who first looked at the canyon with a geologist’s eye. To him the canyon did not look in the least like the gates of hell, for he wrote that it was “the most splendid exposure of stratified rocks that there is in the world.”

Then, in 1869 and 1871 John Wesley Powell led his exploring parties down the Colorado River in their frail, wooden boats, penetrating the canyon from Green River to the Grand Wash Cliffs. Suddenly, people throughout the world were made aware of this great natural wonder. From then until the present day, the canyon has been scientifically explored and studied, so that there now exists a vast body of literature on all aspects of the canyon. All of this has taken place within two lifetimes.

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