Grand Canyon As a National Monument

Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is.
You cannot improve on it.
But what you can do is keep it for your children,
your children’s children, and all who come after you,
as the one great sight which every American should see.

President Theodore Roosevelt
On the Grand Canyon; 1908

The Grand Canyon—one of the world’s natural wonders—is one of the most astonishingly beautiful places on Earth. On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument.

It took many years for the place to become a national park. People were talking about it as far back as the 1880s, but Arizona—where the Grand Canyon is located—didn’t join the Union of States until February 14, 1912. Congressional bills, to make the famous canyon a national park, had failed before 1919.

Finally, in 1919—three months after the end of World War One—Congress passed a bill to make the Grand Canyon a national park. President Woodrow Wilson made the law official when he signed the bill on February 26, 1919.

The Grand Canyon, which looks even more spectacular from the air, is huge. It is:

  • 277 miles long
  • 18 miles across (at its widest point)
  • Between 4,000 to 6,000 feet deep

The Canyon has two public viewing areas:

  • The South Rim, at about 7,000 feet above sea level, is the most accessible.
  • The North Rim, at about 8,000 feet above sea level, is harder to explore (especially in winter when bad weather shuts-down access roads).

To make the trek, from rim to rim, the distance is:

  • 220 miles (by car); or
  • 21 miles (by foot, using the Kaibab Trails).

The Grand Canyon has its own weather patterns. The U.S. National Park Service tells us why:

The Grand Canyon itself influences weather. Tremendous changes in elevation cause large gradients in temperature and precipitation.

The coolest, wettest weather station in the region (Bright Angel Ranger Station on the North Rim) is less than eight miles from the hottest and one of the driest stations (Phantom Ranch). The coldest temperature recorded was –22° F on the North Rim on February 1, 1985. The warmest was 120° F at Phantom Ranch on several dates.

The North Rim is also the wettest location, with an average of 25.8” of moisture a year (45.03” in 1978). Lees Ferry is the driest, averaging only 6.1” of yearly precipitation (and only 2.7” in 1955).

Areas in the canyon which can be really warm (or even hot) in the daytime become freezing cold at night:

Deep canyons and rough terrain strongly influence solar heating and air circulation. Consequently, many different microclimates are found throughout the canyon.

In general, temperature increases 5.5° F with each 1,000 feet loss in elevation. The highest temperatures are found at the lowest elevations inside the canyon.

Low relative humidity and generally clear skies mean that most of the sun’s energy is available for daytime heating. These same conditions lead to rapid heat loss at night. Consequently, daily temperature swings are large.

During the dry early summer, average monthly highs are more than 30 degrees warmer than average lows at all stations except Pearce Ferry. Individual days may show even greater swings.

In the winter, precipitation which starts as snow (at the rims) turns into rain (before it reaches the canyon floor):

Winter precipitation usually falls as snow on the rims, but melts to rain before reaching the canyon floor.

The North Rim receives the heaviest snowfall, averaging 142” per year, with a record snowfall of 272.8” (almost 23 feet) in 1978. The South Rim averages 58” of snow, and Phantom Ranch less than 1”. Moisture for these winter storms generally comes from the North Pacific.

Late spring and early summer are the driest times of the year, with relative humidity often falling below 10% during the day.

By mid-summer, heating over the Southwestern deserts draws moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean/Gulf of California. The relative contributions from each ocean are debated.

Moisture generally approaches the Grand Canyon region from the south or southeast to produce the late summer “monsoon” season. Days often begin clear, but clouds build by mid-morning. Strong ground-level heating creates updrafts of warm air, which climb tens of thousands of feet producing powerful thunderstorms whenever there is sufficient atmospheric moisture.

At times rain falling from these thunderheads evaporates before it can reach the ground, appearing as veil-like virga trailing from the cloud base. Lightning from these dry thunderstorms can ignite forest fires.

Other thunderstorms produce localized but intense downpours, triggering flash floods in canyon tributaries. Such floods can arrive in the canyon bottom without warning. The rushing floodwaters may be the first indication of heavy rains at rim level.

The Colorado River, known for its beautiful colors, has a lot to do with the Grand Canyon. Not only does it cut through the Canyon today, the Colorado started cutting into the Colorado Plateau—to form the Grand Canyon—millions of years ago. The USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) tells us how that happened:

As the land rose, the streams responded by cutting ever deeper stream channels. The most well-known of these streams, the Colorado River, began to carve the Grand Canyon less than 6 million years ago. The forces of erosion have exposed the vivid kaleidoscope of rock layers that make the Colorado Plateau a mecca for rock lovers.

The photo, at the top of this page, depicts the Grand Canyon as it appears from Pima Point.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 31, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Jan 09, 2019

Media Credits

In-text images:


“Colorado River and Phantom Ranch from South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park,” as it appeared on October 24, 2004. Photo by James (also known as “Notary137." Online via Wikimedia Commons. Released into the public domain by the photographer.


Snow-covered Grand Canyon by Pescaiolo on February 23, 2008. Released by photographer into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Diagram, depicting the stratigraphy of the Grand Canyon, from the U.S. National Park Service (also online via Wikimedia Commons). Public Domain.


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"Grand Canyon As a National Monument" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 31, 2016. Jun 01, 2020.
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