A magnificent hole in the ground
Arizona's Grand Canyon lives up to its name
Spanish explorer Garcia Lopez de Cardenas -- part of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition seeking legendary cities of gold in what is now Arizona -- was the first European to see the Grand Canyon. As he gazed out over the gaping, jagged red hole, he estimated the river below was but six feet across. Rocks he saw could surely be no taller than a man, he thought.
His native companions told him otherwise, and after three days trying to find a passage down to the faraway river, the Spanish Conquistadors admitted they were right and gave up hope of crossing. Spanish missionaries made a few more journeys in the canyon's neighborhood, but being more concerned with souls to save (and there weren't many in the inhospitable land) than beauty, they too soon gave up.
American trappers and explorers made more inroads -- including Major John Wesley Powell's treacherous trip by boat down the length of the canyon, a trip that lasted for three long summer months in 1869. The area has since been trapped and mined and grazed and wandered -- and after 33 years of trying, the federal government finally established the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919.
Millions of years of erosion created the Grand Canyon, the Colorado and its tributaries slowly etching their way through billion-plus year-old rocks to create broad stripes and leave a record of the canyon's geologic history in its cliff walls. The canyon is known simply as "grand" -- but known worldwide.