Many Americans Don’t Know That The Grand Canyon Is Hiding These Mysterious Secrets

The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque and recognizable sights in the entire United States. But while we’re all familiar with the breathtaking scope and unparalleled beauty of the national landmark, there’s plenty about it that you may not know. And the following obscure details about the Grand Canyon – from supernatural secrets to the curious lack of fish – all reveal an entirely different side to the national park.

20. Nobody can agree how old it is

According to a sensational 2012 study, the Grand Canyon is around 70 million years old. If this is true, the gorge formed some five million years before the dinosaurs went the way of the dodo. However, this finding sits at odds with previous and subsequent analyses that have used diverse dating techniques to determine the canyon’s age.

For a while, researchers believed that the canyon began to take shape around five to six million years ago. A different study then claimed that this monumental event actually took place closer to 17 million years ago. And in 2015 scientists used computer algorithms to date the canyon’s integration – or the formation of the gorge we know today – to between six to 18 million years ago. Any of those estimates would go some way to explaining why no dinosaur fossils have ever been found in the Grand Canyon.

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19. It creates its own weather

While most postcards of the Grand Canyon display scenic, sun-soaked pictures, that part of the world is actually home to a multitude of microclimates. In fact, the terrain itself can even influence the weather, with its alternating elevation resulting in sweeping changes throughout the canyon. And the lower you go, the warmer the temperature – at least, during the day.

However, at night the combination of clear skies and low humidity brings particularly cold conditions. And the different climates aren’t just bound by the Earth’s orbit, but also their location along the canyon. That means the hottest and driest weather station in the area, Phantom Ranch, sits just eight miles from the coldest and wettest. In fact, both stations have recorded record temperatures – albeit with a difference of almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit between these numbers.

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18. It’s not actually the deepest canyon in the world

As the Grand Canyon is a whopping 6,093 feet in depth, it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t want to fall into it. Surprisingly, though, the enormous gorge isn’t actually the world’s deepest. That honor belongs to the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in China.

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At its lowest point, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon plunges to an eye-watering 19,714 feet. That’s more than three times beyond its U.S. counterpart, which also runs 36.5 miles shorter than the enormous Chinese gorge. And while the Yarlung Tsangpo’s depth varies given that it passes through a mountain range, the average measurement overall is still 7,440 feet.

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17. It’s not even the deepest canyon in the United States

For all its fame, the Grand Canyon can’t even claim the crown for the deepest domestic gorge. That title actually belongs to Hells Canyon, which runs across the borders of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. And sitting at the base of the landmark is the Snake River – the 1,078-mile long tributary that first began carving out the canyon some six million years ago.

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Unlike the Grand Canyon, though, Hells Canyon was subject to enormous, landscape-changing events as recently as 15,000 years ago, when Utah’s glacial Lake Bonneville burst its banks. Now, the impressive gorge plummets to a whopping 7,993 feet at its lowest point – or precisely 1,900 feet further than the Grand Canyon.

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16. It’s filled with fossils

There may not be any dinosaur remains to speak of in the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of ancient relics. Scouring the sedimentary rocks glimpsed throughout the gorge will reveal a rich vein of marine fossils, including some that are up to 1.2 billion years old. Terrestrial fossils – including footprints and impressions from a variety of insects and reptiles – can also be found throughout the canyon’s layers.

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Still, if you do happen to spot a piece of prehistory in Grand Canyon National Park, it’s best to leave it where it is. That’s because it’s actually against the law to dig up and remove fossils from the area. Instead, the park’s website advises people to photograph or draw any fossil discoveries and to ask a ranger to assist in identifying them.

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15. It’s home to one of the most remote communities in North America

Deep in the Grand Canyon lies the village of Supai – a tiny settlement that was home to just 208 people as of the 2010 census. The area is occupied by the native Havasupai Tribe, who are also known as the “People of the Blue-Green Water” because of the turquoise color of the mineral-rich creek in the area. Supai is also the capital of the wider Havasupai Indian Reservation, which is located entirely within the Grand Canyon National Park.

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And owing to its sheer lack of accessibility, Supai is notable for being one of the most remote communities in the entire United States. Situated eight miles away from any kind of road, the village can only be reached by foot, on horseback or by helicopter. As a result, Supai is the only place left in the country where mail and food are still delivered by mule.

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14. There’s an interactive map of all the Grand Canyon deaths

In the past 170 years or so, around 770 people have tragically lost their lives at the Grand Canyon. Not all of them have fallen, though. Over the decades, hypothermia, dehydration and even a mid-air collision have all been responsible for racking up the national park’s death toll.

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In fact, in 2001 a pair of Grand Canyon veterans published Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon – a book chronicling the tales of those who never returned from the gorge. Then, 14 years later, a group of cartographers used the book as inspiration for their latest project. The result was a gruesomely macabre interactive map that tracks the precise whereabouts of every single Grand Canyon death.

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13. It houses a record-breaking motel room

If you’re taking a trip to the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of options when it comes to on-site accommodation. But there’s only one location that can boast of being the world’s oldest, darkest, deepest, quietest and largest motel room. Stationed some 22 stories beneath the ground, the space in question is actually America’s largest dry cavern, and it comes in at around 400 feet long and 200 feet wide.

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This 65 million-year-old cave – which is accessible only by elevator – is completely removed from any life forms or light sources. Even so, it’s still fully equipped with all of the amenities you’d expect of a suite that can sleep up to six people – including two queen beds, a living room, a bathroom, a library and a record player. As motel rooms go, it’s utterly unique.

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12. It’s supposedly home to a Hopi god

The Grand Canyon has been the subject of plenty of folklore over the centuries. That’s mostly down to the various tribes that have resided within the gorge, with each group having brought their own beliefs and rituals. And among these indigenous people are the Hopi – workers and hunters who were once thought to have constructed an underground city within the ravine.

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More specifically, the Hopi people believe in Masauwu – a god known as the “spirit of death” and who, as legend has it, dwells within a certain area of the Grand Canyon. Supposedly, the sound of tapping on the rocks is a sign that Masauwu is nearby, while some of those who claim to have heard such a noise have apparently reported feeling nauseous and anxious afterwards.

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11. It’s considered a gateway into the afterlife

However, Masauwu doesn’t provide the only link between the Grand Canyon and Hopi traditions. In addition, members of the tribe believe that Öngtupqa – their term for the gorge – is intertwined with death, as it contains the “Sipapuni,” or “place of emergence.” This is essentially seen as a passage to the afterlife by the Hopi.

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Specifically, the Hopi believe that when they die, their souls are transported to “Maski,” or the “home of our ancestors’ spirits.” And while this sacred place is metaphorically described as “everywhere,” it also has a physical location: the bottom of the Grand Canyon. By all accounts, then, Hopi death customs are inextricably linked to the enormous ravine.

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10. Two airplanes collided over the gorge

As previously mentioned, hundreds of people have lost their lives at the Grand Canyon over the years. However, the single greatest disaster to happen at the gorge actually occurred some 20,000 feet in the air. In 1956 two airplanes collided over the Grand Canyon in one of the worst commercial airline catastrophes in American aviation history.

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One of the planes involved had been given permission to adjust its altitude to avoid bad weather – inadvertently placing the craft directly in the path of another flight. Ultimately, though, the clouds prevented the two pilots from seeing each other until it was too late. And, tragically, every single one of the 128 people aboard the two flights died in the disaster. Parts of the wreckage from the accident can even be seen today in an area nicknamed “Crash Canyon.”

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9. It’s missing nearly a billion years’ worth of rocks

For geologists, there are few greater mysteries in this world than the Great Unconformity. This is essentially a gap in the geological record, with anywhere from 100 million to one billion years’ worth of rocks unaccounted for. And in the Grand Canyon, that dividing line stretches across an eye-watering 950 million years.

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At certain locations within the gorge, you see, expert geologists have recorded examples of 250 million-year-old rocks lying back-to-back with 1.2 billion-year-old rocks. And what happened to the layers in between is anyone’s guess. It may be that no rocks formed in that enormous gap; conversely, while rocks may have formed, they could potentially have later eroded. For now, though, the truth remains unknown.

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8. The Mogollon Monster was first spotted there

Everyone knows about the legendary Bigfoot. But unless you live in Arizona, you’re unlikely to have heard the story of the Mogollon Monster. Much like the more widely known mythical creature, the Mogollon Monster is said to be unusually tall, strong and covered in dark hair. And for the most part, alleged sightings of the beast have occurred along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

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In fact, the very first reported sighting of the Mogollon Monster apparently occurred close to the Grand Canyon. In 1903 I.W. Stevens recounted witnessing a creature sporting knee-length hair and a beard and drinking blood from a pair of cougars. And the monster has since become a part of Arizona folklore, with one campfire story suggesting that the creature was once a Native American man who is now seeking vengeance.

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7. It’s home to an apparently haunted hotel

Situated a mere 20 feet from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, El Tovar Hotel offers great views over the gorge – but what’s inside its walls may prove even more intriguing. Since opening its doors more than a century ago, the hotel has prided itself on offering guests a distinctively supernatural stay. Yes, should you choose to bunk down at El Tovar, you may well feel a touch of the paranormal.

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Over the decades, El Tovar has in fact been the source of dozens of spooky tales. Guests and staff alike have reported stories of a peculiar painting that followed them around the hotel, a ghostly apparition that vanished as quickly as it appeared and a strange presence that visited their bedrooms in the dead of night. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet to rest during an excursion to the Grand Canyon, then, El Tovar may not be your best bet.

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6. Its snakes are pink

Despite the huge number of snakes that slither in and around the Grand Canyon, there’s never been a single death linked to any of the reptiles. What the gorge is notable for, though, is its unique pink rattlesnakes. As the story goes, naturalist Edwin McKee was hiking through the canyon when he came upon a particularly unusually colored specimen.

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Having never seen anything like the snake before, McKee therefore scooped up the creature and carried it out of the canyon. Unfortunately, though, his car’s gearbox had failed, and the expert couldn’t persuade anyone to let him hitchhike with a live snake. So, McKee ended up driving in first gear to the closest ranger station. The snake was then shipped to the San Diego Zoo, where biologists identified it as a brand-new species that had adapted to the area. And McKee had the honor of naming the critter, which he subsequently dubbed the “Grand Canyon Rattlesnake.”

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5. The Paiute Indian tribe calls the canyon “Kaibab”

The Grand Canyon National Park was first established in 1919 – some 37 years after the idea was first floated by future president Benjamin Harrison. And the National Park Service’s initial aim was to assert its authority by securing hassle-free access to the Colorado River and inner canyon. Yet this appeal was ultimately met with resistance from Ralph Cameron – the owner of the only trail that stretched from the Grand Canyon Village to the river.

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When Cameron refused to relinquish his road, however, the National Park Service took matters into its own hands by constructing the inaugural trans-canyon trail. Now, the route comprises the North and South Kaibab Trail, which are named after the Kaibab National Forest. This wooded area in turn derives its name from the Paiute language, which translates “kaibab” as “mountain lying down” – the Native American tribe’s term for the Grand Canyon.

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4. It was the site of an early instant photo business

At the turn of the 20th century, brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb established an “instant” photography business at the Grand Canyon. Given the technology of the time, the photographs weren’t truly instant, of course. But the combination of immense views over the South Rim and a popular hiking trail allowed the brothers to offer the next best thing.

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The savvy entrepreneurs positioned themselves at the top of the Bright Angel Trail, after which they snapped images of any visitors about to set off down the track on muleback. Then, when those same tourists arrived back at the rim, the Kolbs were ready to sell them fully developed prints. And giving travelers the chance to purchase hard evidence of their trip – set against a professionally photographed vista – turned out to be a recipe for success, too.

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3. It contains around 1,000 caves

Squirreled away within the Grand Canyon’s towering cliffs are as many as 1,000 individual caves. However, only a third of these have ever been recorded, with fewer still actually mapped out. So, if you’re traveling to the region any time soon, don’t expect to be able to explore these caverns in person.

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At the moment, only one example is open to visitors: the Cave of the Domes, which lies along the Horseshoe Mesa Trail. All other caves are strictly off-limits to tourists, with only researchers granted access. That’s because these spaces are more than just holes in the rock. They may house a number of important biological systems and specimens, for example, and they can even play a significant role in maintaining the water systems in the gorge.

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2. It’s given birth to a major conspiracy

The April 5, 1909, issue of the Arizona Gazette led with an extraordinary story. Two archaeologists, funded by the Smithsonian Institute, had apparently discovered traces of the ancient Egyptians at the Grand Canyon. And unsurprisingly, the thought that members of the civilization could have crossed oceans sent shockwaves throughout the scientific community.

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Yet the story soon unraveled when the Smithsonian could produce no record of either archaeologist. It was assumed, therefore, that the entire ordeal was fabricated by the Gazette. Nevertheless, some still believe that the Smithsonian was involved in an enormous cover-up – with prominent conspiracy theorist David Icke at the helm of such claims.

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1. Visitors rarely spot fish

Once upon a time, you could find eight different species of fish in the Grand Canyon, with each one being native to the area. However, today just five of those species remain – and two are now listed as endangered. In fact, the only fish still commonly found around the national park is the speckled dace. And even then, examples of this minnow are most frequently seen in tributaries rather than the Colorado River itself.

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Because the Colorado River is so isolated and its environment so variable, the diversity of its fish is lower than any other river system in the entire U.S. In any case, the Grand Canyon’s unique makeup of native fish species is almost as iconic as its stunning scenery. And efforts are currently underway to preserve those that remain, which include the humpback chub and the razorback sucker.

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