The Grand Canyon is among the earth’s greatest on-going geological spectacles. Its vastness is stunning, and the evidence it reveals about the earth’s history is invaluable. The 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mile) deep gorge ranges in width from 500 m to 30 km (0.3 mile to 18.6 miles). It twists and turns 445 km (276.5 miles) and was formed during 6 million years of geologic activity and erosion by the Colorado River on the upraised earth’s crust. The buttes, spires, mesas and temples in the canyon are in fact mountains looked down upon from the rims. Horizontal strata exposed in the canyon retrace geological history over 2 billion years and represent the four major geologic eras.
Widely known for its exceptional natural beauty and considered one of the world's most visually powerful landscapes, the Grand Canyon is celebrated for its plunging depths; temple-like buttes; and vast, multihued, labyrinthine topography. Scenic wonders within park boundaries include high plateaus, plains, deserts, forests, cinder cones, lava flows, streams, waterfalls, and one of America’s great whitewater rivers.
Within park boundaries, the geologic record spans all four eras of the earth's evolutionary history, from the Precambrian to the Cenozoic. The Precambrian and Paleozoic portions of this record are particularly well exposed in canyon walls and include a rich fossil assemblage. Numerous caves shelter fossils and animal remains that extend the paleontological record into the Pleistocene.
Grand Canyon is an exceptional example of biological environments at different elevations that evolved as the river cut deeper portraying five of North America’s seven life zones within canyon walls. Flora and fauna species overlap in many of the zones and are found throughout the canyon.
The park’s diverse topography has resulted in equally diverse ecosystems. The five life zones within the canyon are represented in a remarkably small geographic area. Grand Canyon National Park is an ecological refuge, with relatively undisturbed remnants of dwindling ecosystems (such as boreal forest and desert riparian communities), and numerous endemic, rare or endangered plant and animal species.