Image of the Grand Canyon and surrounding area taken from the International Space Station
A map of the Colorado Plateau.
The Grand Canyon from an airplane, with the Colorado River visible
The Four Corners region and the Colorado Plateau. Click image to see state lines.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, Nevada, Lake Powell to Lake Mead, June 27, 2017, Sentinel-2 true-color satellite image. Scale 1:450,000.
The Book Cliffs of Utah.
Diagram showing the placement, age and thickness of the rock units exposed in the Grand Canyon
The Green River runs north to south from Wyoming, briefly through Colorado, and converges with the Colorado River in southeastern Utah.
Rockfalls in recent times, along with other mass wasting, have further widened the canyon
MODIS satellite image of Grand Canyon, Lake Powell (black, left of center) and the Colorado Plateau. White areas are snow-capped.
Ancestral Puebloan granaries at Nankoweap Creek
The Permian through Jurassic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau area of southeastern Utah that makes up much of the famous prominent rock formations in protected areas such as Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. From top to bottom: rounded tan domes of the Navajo Sandstone; layered red Kayenta Formation; cliff-forming, vertically jointed, red Wingate Sandstone; slope-forming, purplish Chinle Formation; layered, lighter-red Moenkopi Formation; and white, layered Cutler Formation sandstone from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah.
La conquista del Colorado (2017), by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, depicts Spanish Captain García López de Cárdenas 1540 expedition
Castle Gate rock formation in Carbon County, UT.
William Bell's photograph of the Grand Canyon, taken in 1872 as part of the Wheeler expedition
Navajo sandstone cliffs in Zion National Park.
Noon rest in Marble Canyon, second Powell Expedition, 1872
Sunset in Ojito Wilderness, near Albuquerque, NM
Desert View Watchtower in 2004
Castle Gate Power Plant near Helper, UT.
1923-built steam locomotive No. 4960 at the Grand Canyon Depot
Grand Canyon covered with snow
Smoke from prescribed fires on the South Rim, as seen from Yavapai Point, April 2007.
Natural fog sometimes fills the canyon, during temperature inversions
Grand Canyon Climate Summary Chart (NPS)
A bighorn ram perched on a cliff in the Grand Canyon
A bighorn ewe at the Grand Canyon, 2008
A California condor in flight, photographed from Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon, 2008. Wild condors are numbered to aid wildlife researchers. As of April 2009, there were 172 wild California condors known.
Red-tailed Hawk flying at the south rim of Grand Canyon
An elk searching for water at Grand Canyon National Park in 2018.
Rafters in the Grand Canyon pass one of the rapids of the (mud-)"colored" Colorado River
Guano Point – a popular vantage point for tourists, situated on the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, Hualapai Indian Reservation
Grand Canyon rescue helicopter, 1978

Nearly two billion years of Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.

- Grand Canyon

In the southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau lies the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

- Colorado Plateau
Image of the Grand Canyon and surrounding area taken from the International Space Station

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Colorado River

One of the principal rivers (along with the Rio Grande) in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

One of the principal rivers (along with the Rio Grande) in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Colorado River in the Grand Canyon seen from Pima Point, near Hermit's Rest
Satellite view of the Colorado River valley near Yuma, Arizona; interstate 8 runs from left to right just below center.
Colorado River as it exits the United States into Mexico beneath the San Luis Colorado-Colonia Miguel Aléman Bridge (September 2009)
The San Juan River near Mexican Hat, Utah
The Green River at Mineral Bottom, just north of Canyonlands National Park
Annual Colorado River discharge volumes at Lee's Ferry between 1895 and 2004
Map showing the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin, and adjacent areas supplied by Colorado River water.
The Black Suspension Bridge crosses the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon at Phantom Ranch, Arizona.
Remnants of basalt flows from the Uinkaret volcanic field are seen here descending into the Grand Canyon, where they dammed the Colorado over 10 times in the past 2 million years.
Navajo woman and child, photographed by Ansel Adams, c. 1944
Pueblos and cliff dwellings such as this one in New Mexico were inhabited by people of the Colorado River basin between 2,000 and 700 years ago.
Two Mohave warriors beside the Colorado River in 1871
La conquista del Colorado, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, depicts Francisco Vázquez de Coronado's 1540–1542 expedition
Coronado Sets Out to the North, by Frederic Remington, c. 1905
Lithograph of Fort Yuma, c. 1875
Marble Canyon, one of the many gorges that Powell's expedition traversed
The steamboat Mohave No. 2 at Yuma, c. 1876
John D. Lee, date and photographer unknown. He established a permanent ferry across the Colorado.
Harrison Gray Otis, president of the Colorado River Land Company
Hoover Dam releasing water in 1998
The Grand Ditch, one of the earliest water diversions of the Colorado River, is still in use today.
Hoover Dam under construction, 1934
The Imperial Dam (bottom right) diverts water into the All-American Canal (center) running towards Imperial Valley.
Glen Canyon Dam, the largest dam of the Colorado River Storage Project
The main canal of the Central Arizona Project, crossing the Sonoran Desert
Lake Mead in 2010, showing the "bathtub ring" left behind by low water levels
Heavily forested banks of the Colorado River near Topock, Arizona
The Colorado was named for the reddish color caused by its natural sediment loads, but damming the river has caused it to acquire a clear green hue as seen here in lower Glen Canyon.
A rafting party on the Colorado River

Starting in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, it flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada border, where it turns south toward the international border.

Arizona

State in the Western United States, grouped in the Southwestern and occasionally Mountain subregions.

State in the Western United States, grouped in the Southwestern and occasionally Mountain subregions.

La conquista del Colorado, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, depicts Francisco Vázquez de Coronado's 1540–1542 expedition
Mexico in 1824. Alta California is the northwesternmost state.
Geronimo (far right) and his Apache warriors fought against both Mexican and American settlers.
Children of Depression-era migrant workers, Pinal County, 1937
Eleanor Roosevelt at the Gila River relocation center, April 23, 1943
Köppen climate types of Arizona
The Grand Canyon
View of suburban development in Scottsdale, 2006
A population density map of Arizona
Extent of the Spanish language in the state of Arizona
A Navajo man on horseback in Monument Valley
The Spanish mission of San Xavier del Bac, founded in 1700
Arizona's Meteor Crater is a tourist attraction.
Entering Arizona on I-10 from New Mexico
The original Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix
Art Deco doors of the Cochise County Courthouse in Bisbee
Arizona teacher's strike and rally on April 26, 2018
The University of Arizona (the Mall) in Tucson
Arizona State University (a biodesign building) in Tempe
Northern Arizona University (The Skydome) in Flagstaff
View of Monument Valley from John Ford's Point
Standin' on the Corner Park and mural in Winslow, Arizona
State Farm Stadium in Glendale
A spring training game between the Cubs and White Sox at HoHoKam Park

Northern Arizona features forests of pine, Douglas fir, and spruce trees; the Colorado Plateau; mountain ranges (such as the San Francisco Mountains); as well as large, deep canyons, with much more moderate summer temperatures and significant winter snowfalls.

Located in northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a colorful, deep, steep-sided gorge, carved by the Colorado River.

1938 poster of the park

Grand Canyon National Park

15th site in the United States to have been named as a national park.

15th site in the United States to have been named as a national park.

1938 poster of the park
Grand Canyon Quarter
Grand Canyon regional map
From Powell Point on the South Rim
Sunset at Cape Royal Point, North Rim. Wotans Throne featured.
From Toroweap Overlook on the North Rim
From Desert View on the South Rim

The park's central feature is the Grand Canyon, a gorge of the Colorado River, which is often considered one of the Wonders of the World.

The canyon itself was created by the incision of the Colorado River and its tributaries after the Colorado Plateau was uplifted, causing the Colorado River system to develop along its present path.

Southwestern United States

Geographic and cultural region of the United States that generally includes Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent portions of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.

Geographic and cultural region of the United States that generally includes Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent portions of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.

Panoramic view of the southwestern United States
The Chihuahuan desert terrain mainly consists of basins broken by numerous small mountain ranges.
Saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert.
The Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Four Corners Monument
Ancestral Puebloans ruins at Chaco Canyon
Map of Paleo-Indians in the American Southwest and Mexico
Oraibi pueblo
Narváez expedition (1528–36)
1846 map: Mexican Alta California (Upper California) in pink.
United States 1849–1850
United States 1850–1853
1860 Colorado Territory map
Utah Territory evolution 1850–1868
Confederate Arizona (outlined in blue)
Split of Arizona and New Mexico territories, in 1866, after small portion ceded to Nevada
The second transcontinental railroad: the "Santa Fe Route" – 1891.
Sandia Peak Ski Area, New Mexico
Map of the Southwestern United States as defined by the Learning Center of the American Southwest
The Wigwam. A dwelling used by various Native American tribes among the Southwestern US.
Fanciful drawing by Marguerite Martyn in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of October 21, 1906, headed "Passing of the Country Store in the Southwest"
A Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia)
The High Plains in Eastern New Mexico, but also located in Eastern Colorado and West Texas
Desert bighorn sheep
Sonoran Desert terrain near Tucson
Chihuahuan Desert terrain near Carlsbad
Monument Canyon, some of the high desert lands found in Colorado
Grand Canyon from the South Rim
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Little Finland in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada
Runningback Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders NFL team
T. J. McFarland pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks professional baseball team.
1. Phoenix (also the largest MSA)
2. El Paso (5th largest MSA)
3. Las Vegas (2nd largest MSA)
4. Albuquerque (also the 4th largest MSA)
5. Tucson (3rd largest MSA)

The geography of the region is mainly made up of four features: the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, and the Colorado Plateau; although there are other geographical features as well, such as a portion of the Great Basin Desert.

The most dramatic example is the Grand Canyon.

Glen Canyon Dam

Concrete arch-gravity dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona, United States, near the town of Page.

Concrete arch-gravity dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona, United States, near the town of Page.

Panorama of Glen Canyon Dam showing Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam and Carl Hayden Visitor Center.
A boater on the river in Glen Canyon before damming, circa 1898.
Map showing locations of major dams in the Colorado River Basin, with Glen Canyon near the center of the basin.
Echo Park, looking south with the Yampa River (left) joining the Green River. The USBR proposed damming the Green a short distance downstream, behind the large cliff (Steamboat Rock) at right.
Near Music Temple in Glen Canyon during the 1870s
Glen Canyon damsite from the air in November 1957, prior to construction of the Glen Canyon Bridge
Architectural plans for the Glen Canyon Dam and ancillary structures
Glen Canyon Dam under construction, 1962
Lake Powell filling underway, 1965
Glen Canyon Dam releasing floodwater in 1984, testing repairs of the spillways which were heavily damaged in 1983.
The right spillway gates during 1983 flood, showing flashboards that were installed to increase the water level
Low water levels on Lake Powell in April 2006, seen from Hole in the Rock. The water is 107 ft below the top of the "bathtub ring" along the reservoir shore.
An aerial view of Glen Canyon Dam from upstream, showing the spillways to lower left and right, the Glen Canyon Bridge and the electric switchyard to the right of the bridge.
Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell
Francis turbine runner on display
A generator being repaired with rotor removed
View of the power plant and grass lawn
Inside the turbine hall at the Glen Canyon Power Plant
View of the Colorado immediately downstream of Glen Canyon Dam (right). The green, clear water is caused by the dam trapping sediment, which would naturally cause the river to have a reddish-brown color.
The Colorado River is now much calmer and colder than before the dam was built.
River outlet works are open during high flow experiment in December 2012.
Map of Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon NRA

The dam is named for Glen Canyon, a series of deep sandstone gorges now flooded by the reservoir; Lake Powell is named for John Wesley Powell, who in 1869 led the first expedition to traverse the Colorado River's Grand Canyon by boat.

Because the dam site lay in a remote, rugged area of the Colorado Plateau – more than 30 mi from the closest paved road, U.S. Route 89 – a new road had to be constructed, branching off from US 89 north of Flagstaff, Arizona, and running through the dam site to its terminus at Kanab, Utah.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

Ancestral Puebloans

Ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.

Ancient Native American culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Horseshoe Tower in the snow, Hovenweep National Monument
Map of Ancestral Pueblo and neighboring cultures
Major Ancestral Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area
Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the Chacoan Great Houses, stands at the foot of Chaco Canyon's northern rim.
Multistory dwellings at Bandelier: Rock wall foundations and beam holes and "cavates" carved into volcanic tuff remain from upper floors.
Mancos Pitcher with Black on White Geometric Designs, Ancestral Pueblo, 900–1300 AD, Brooklyn Museum
Casa Rinconada, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Doorways, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Prehistoric roads and great houses in the San Juan Basin
Plan of entire Spruce Tree House from above, cut from laser scan data collected by a CyArk/National Park Service partnership
Laser scan section of the four-story Square Tower House, data collected by a CyArk/National Park Service partnership
Section view of Kiva A in Mesa Verde's Fire Temple, cut from laser scan data collected by a CyArk/National Park Service partnership. Since Fire Temple was at least partially built to conform to the dimensions of its cliff alcove, it is neither round in form nor truly subterranean like other structures defined as kivas.
Chaco Culture bowl, 11th to 13th centuries, Pueblo Alto, Chaco Canyon
Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Dark Canyon Wilderness, Utah
Pecos Glazeware bowl, Pecos National Historical Park
Boy in doorway, Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

They had a complex network linking hundreds of communities and population centers across the Colorado Plateau.

In the Southwest, mountain ranges, rivers, and most obviously, the Grand Canyon, can be significant barriers for human communities, likely reducing the frequency of contact with other groups.

Little Colorado River

Tributary of the Colorado River in the U.S. state of Arizona, providing the principal drainage from the Painted Desert region.

Tributary of the Colorado River in the U.S. state of Arizona, providing the principal drainage from the Painted Desert region.

The Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River, seen at peak flow in April
The Little Colorado River in its canyon
Navajo Indians crossing the Little Colorado River, ca.1900
The Little Colorado River (right)'s confluence with the Colorado River (center). Note that the Little Colorado is a light brown color caused by recent cloudbursts, while the Colorado is an emerald green. When Powell and his crew arrived here in 1869, it was this color of the river that they saw, while the Colorado's green color is caused by Glen Canyon Dam trapping sediment.
The St. Josieph Bridge a.k.a. the Lost Pratt Pony Truss Bridge built in 1912 over the Little Colorado River in Joseph City, Arizona
Aerial view toward Springerville, Arizona, and the region of the source of the Little Colorado River. Some farm land in the river bottom land is visible at the bottom.

The lower 57.2 mi is known as the Little Colorado River Gorge and forms one of the largest arms of the Grand Canyon, at over 3000 ft deep where it joins the Colorado near Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park.

From Cameron, the Little Colorado River carves an extremely steep and narrow gorge into the Colorado Plateau, eventually achieving a maximum depth of about 3200 ft. The depth of the canyon is such that groundwater is forced to the surface, forming numerous springs that restore a perennial river flow.

The Grand Canyon from Navajo Point. The Colorado River is to the right and the North Rim is visible at all in the distance. The view shows nearly every sedimentary layer described in this article.

Geology of the Grand Canyon area

The geology of the Grand Canyon area includes one of the most complete and studied sequences of rock on Earth.

The geology of the Grand Canyon area includes one of the most complete and studied sequences of rock on Earth.

The Grand Canyon from Navajo Point. The Colorado River is to the right and the North Rim is visible at all in the distance. The view shows nearly every sedimentary layer described in this article.
figure 1
Stones from each of the strata in an exhibit in Heritage Square in Flagstaff
The Vishnu Basement Rocks were deposited as volcanic rocks and sediments but were later metamorphosed and intruded by igneous rock.
The Cardenas Basalt was laid on top of the rest of the Grand Canyon Supergroup
Sixtymile Formation is the last rock unit in the Chuar Group
Tonto Group is most easily seen as the broad Tonto Platform just above the Colorado River
Temple Butte Formation was deposited on the eroded surface of the Muav Limestone. It in turn was buried by Redwall Limestone
Supai Group with a stranded log from a pre-Glen Canyon Dam flood
Lizard-like animals left their footprints in Coconino Sandstone
Fossils, such as this brachiopod and fragments of crinoids, are common in the Toroweap and Kaibab formations
Reddish Moenkopi outcrop below volcanic rubble on Red Butte
Uplift of the Colorado Plateaus forced rivers to cut down faster.
The Colorado River had cut down to nearly the current depth of the Grand Canyon by 1.2 million years ago.
Vulcan's Throne volcano above Lava Falls. Lava flows, such as this heavily eroded remnant, once dammed the Colorado River.
Historic rockfall on the north rim.
Glen Canyon Dam has greatly reduced the amount of sediment transported by the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Trail of Time – Folded Vishnu schist basement rock.

The nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers exposed in the Grand Canyon and in the Grand Canyon National Park area range in age from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old.

In total, the Colorado Plateau was uplifted an estimated 2 mi. The adjacent Basin and Range Province to the west started to form about 18 million years ago as the result of crustal stretching.

Painting of the Domínguez–Escalante expedition displayed in the Utah State Capitol building

Domínguez–Escalante expedition

Spanish journey of exploration conducted in 1776 by two Franciscan priests, Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, to find an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to their Roman Catholic mission in Monterey, on the coast of modern day central California.

Spanish journey of exploration conducted in 1776 by two Franciscan priests, Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, to find an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to their Roman Catholic mission in Monterey, on the coast of modern day central California.

Painting of the Domínguez–Escalante expedition displayed in the Utah State Capitol building
Colorado Plateau
The route of the Domínguez–Escalante expedition of 1776 across the Colorado Plateau
Escalante Pueblo, Dolores, Colorado
Paradox Valley and Dolores River, western Colorado
Grand Mesa, western Colorado
Comanche camp
Map of Yampa Plateau, White River, and Green River in northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah
Uinta National Forest, north central Utah
Utah Lake and Utah Valley
1777 map of western part of the expedition's route through Utah and Arizona. This map was probably drawn by Miera, but is significantly different from the subsequent maps he drew of the area explored.
Paria Canyon
Glen Canyon
Old Spanish Trail (trade route), the route from Santa Fe to Salt Lake Valley was documented for future travelers during the Domínguez–Escalante expedition

These Spanish colonists were the first European men to travel through much of the Colorado Plateau into Utah, and back through Arizona to New Mexico.

The expedition wanted to travel south to the Colorado River but learned from eight Native American men that although they were not far from the Colorado River it was unapproachable, surrounded by a great, deep canyon (the Grand Canyon). Out of provisions, they sacrificed one of the horses for food and the next day sought water. Miera was ill, unable to eat and nearly unable to speak. Near Diamond Butte, they came upon five Native Americans, called Yubuincariris, who showed them to an area of good water and took a few men back to their village to trade for some food, wild sheep, prickly pear and grass seeds. The Native Americans also shared information about other neighboring tribes. Although they knew nothing of Monterey, they had heard of the travels of Father Garces.