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Where Is the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the United States’ fifty-nine national parks. All are special wilderness areas that are protected by the US government. President Franklin Roosevelt said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks.” Why? Because the parks belong to all the people of our country. They are not private property.
Back when the United States was a young country with limitless open space, not many people saw a need to set aside land for parks.
Even if there had been big parks, few people could have visited them. The majority of Americans worked six days a week. Not many had the time or money to travel more than a few miles from their home.
The first public park in the United States was the Boston Common, in Massachusetts, which was established in 1634. It was both a park and a common grazing area for cows.
In the 1830s, Americans began building cemeteries that were more than places to bury the dead. They had winding roads, ponds, landscaped hills, beautiful statues, and fancy mausoleums. (Mausoleums are like little houses with the dead buried inside them.)
People went to these beautiful cemeteries to have picnics and stroll around the grounds admiring the views. Cemeteries became popular as a kind of public park.
The idea of parks protected by the government began in the mid 1800s. The population was growing. More cities were sprouting all over the country, taking over large areas of land. A small but important group of people realized that the United States had great natural treasures that needed to be preserved for all Americans forever.
For instance, Yosemite, an area in northern California, was known for its special trees. They were called giant sequoias. Some were over three thousand years old. They grew up to three hundred feet high with amazingly thick trunks. A group of Americans wanted to protect Yosemite’s giant sequoia groves from logging and development. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln made Yosemite a California state park.
The first area to be named a national park was Yellowstone in Wyoming. (Parts of the park are also in Montana and Idaho.)
Yellowstone is a special place because it is home to most of the world’s geysers. A geyser is an underground spring of boiling-hot water that erupts through the surface of the earth. Yellowstone’s most famous geyser is called Old Faithful. In fact, it is the most famous geyser in the world. Every ninety-one minutes, Old Faithful erupts, spraying water 125 feet into the air. Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872 under a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant.
The president who did the most for national parks was Theodore Roosevelt. He was in office from 1901 to 1909 and is often called the “conservation president.” He wanted to conserve—keep and protect—the beauty of nature in the United States.
President Roosevelt grew up in New York City, but he was a real outdoorsman. As a young man, he became a cattle rancher out west in North Dakota. All his life he loved to hunt and camp out under the stars. He wanted Americans and visitors from other countries to enjoy the beauty of the United States in its most unspoiled form.
More than a century ago Roosevelt saw how dangerous industry could be to natural resources such as water and forests. He said, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
In 1903 he visited the Grand Canyon. Here’s his description: “In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.” By that, he meant there was no place else like it. Roosevelt said, “You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”
In the summer of 1913, Roosevelt returned to the Grand Canyon with his sons Archie and Quentin. During their vacation, they rode horses along the rim of the canyon and hunted cougars. Roosevelt wrote about his trip, calling the Grand Canyon “the most wonderful scenery in the world.” He said, “Very wealthy men can have private game preserves of their own. But the average man . . . can enjoy wild nature, only if . . . there are big parks or reserves provided for the use of all our people.”
In 1919, Grand Canyon became a national park.
Chapter 1: Birth of a Canyon
Every year five million people from all over the world travel to northern Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Driving north to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix, Sedona, or Flagstaff, the road gradually climbs to the top of what is called the Colorado Plateau. (A plateau is a large elevated flat area of land.)
There are plenty of signs for the Grand Canyon. All the hotels, restaurants, and stores for tourists announce that you are getting closer. The first sight of the canyon itself doesn’t come until visitors arrive at the South Rim. Even then their view of the canyon is masked by trees and bushes. They must pull off the road at Mather Point Overlook, leave their cars, and walk a short distance to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Then—WOW! Suddenly they look down. People cannot help but gasp in surprise at what they see.
The Grand Canyon twists and turns for 270 miles. It is eighteen miles across at its widest point. This massive canyon was formed by the constant erosion of the Colorado River for the last six million years.
The river has cut through thousands of different layers of rock, so that now the canyon is over a mile deep. The “youngest” rock, near the top, is 250 million years old. The oldest—at the bottom—was formed two billion years ago.
As visitors gaze into the depths of the Grand Canyon, the shifting rays of the sun light up rock formations, smaller side canyons, and amazing colored layers of rock. Some are bright orange, some are golden brown, some are pink and white. Late in the day when the sun begins to set, the landscape turns violet, then darkens to purple before it disappears into the darkness.
At first glance, the Grand Canyon seems empty, but it is teeming with wildlife and countless varieties of plants. The scale is so huge that a boulder larger than a three-story building looks like a small rock to visitors at the rim. Even the mighty Colorado River seems tiny when seen from a mile above.
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