How was the Grand Canyon created?

The Grand Canyon | Image: National Park Service

The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the most stunning natural landmarks anywhere on our planet. But how did it form? Many people know that the Colorado River shaped this vast temple of rock, situated in Arizona, but where did all that water come from?

Scientists have two conflicting views. The first is the one that seems more obvious – the early Colorado extended simply by erosion, and gradually wound its way to the Colorado Plateau, where the Grand Canyon (click here for a virtual tour) is located. But in recent years a more controversial theory has arisen: that the Colorado was actually fed by a massive lake, Lake Bidahochi, which overspilled to form the Colorado.

There are several problems with this new theory – for a start, Lake Bidahochi no longer exists so scientists can only speculate its existence, with their evidence being remains of green sediment found around the area where they believe it used to be.The Grand Canyon | Image: National Park ServiceBut there is also evidence to support the Bidahochi argument: that same green sediment was found in the Grand Canyon as well, and it is more likely that this would have originated from a lake than from a sediment-carrying river.

Ultimately, it is not of immense importance to know how the Colorado River began, because we know that it was definitely this amazing river that shaped the Grand Canyon – indeed it is still shaping it today. But it’s still an interesting question, and one that is sure to get even more complicated as more research is done over the next few years.

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51 Responses

  1. as a geologist and a photographer, i think your blog is great! You are definitely going on my blog roll!
    I think its great what you try to make people aware of

  2. [...] How was the Grand Canyon created? « exploring our world [...]

  3. Thanks for your compliments Allison – I really appreciate it. It’s always good to know that people are enjoying my blog. (The photos on your blog are really beautiful – you’re on my blogroll too now! :) )

  4. Hey Richard,
    Nice article on the Grand Canyon. I’ve been down it twice and it is fascinating. I wasn’t aware of the Lake theory – very interesting. We can send rovers to Mars and space probes to the planets but sometimes the most alien and interesting things are in out own back yard!

  5. Thanks hyatuke1957. Your comment reminds me of the fact that we know more about the surface of the Moon than about our deepest oceans.

    It’s nice to know that we’ve still got plenty to find out about our planet.

  6. The lake theory is better than you may think… Let me give you some modern evidence.

    On the night (yep, just one night) of September 21st, 1999, in Taiwan, an earthquake and Taiwan’s largest natural lake [briefly at least] carved out Taiwan’s Grand Canyon. Much smaller in size than the one in the US, but a great case study into how it was probably formed.

    Source:
    http://www.chinapost.com.tw/travel/taiwan%20central/taichung/2008/01/24/140421/Taiwan's-'Grand.htm

  7. hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  8. Here’s a much more interesting theory of how the Grand Canyon was formed. Lightning bolts. Not like the lightning seen now but much much bigger lightning. Saturn has lightning 10,000 times stronger than our Earth’s current lightning. At one time in the universe it is possible that massive discharges occurred that traveled from planet to planet. Lightning does create channels that can be scaled up and look very similar. I think the evidence presented by the Grand Canyon shows both water erosion features and electrical arcing features. http://www.holoscience.com/views/view_mars.htm
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/Xplore/login.jsp?url=/iel5/27/27801/01240057.pdf?tp=&isnumber=27801&arnumber=1240057

  9. My belief is the Grand Canyon and all Canyon’s in the lower United States and Mexico were created by Tsunami’s caused by Metororites, like the one in the Yucataun Pennisula 65million years ago sent waves guessing from about 1000 to 3000 foot high and washing in and back out washed the land away. Maybe others have possibly have hit in the Gulf of Mexico also. I have flown in helicopter over and driven over these lower states and canyons. This is my theory maybe someone can think about this and agree.

    • The “Tsunami” idea is reminiscent of the Biblical Flood scenario. It has fewer problems, but enough to eliminate it as a possibility. REALLY big waves might widen a fault to create a long straight slot, but not a crooked canyon. They would also wash out an enormous amount of sediment and obkiterate the landforms. There is also no mechanism for meteorites to generate waves capable of reaching Arizona.

    • i greatly disagree God created all things and not millinons and billion years ago like ur saying. read the bible and youll find ur anwsers there not from scientists.

  10. It is impossible for Colorado River to carve all the meanders of Grand Canyon. I had been there a few times and as amateur geologist I saw these carved structures resembling what happens when a large amound of water suddenly discharges through softer rocks. If just Colorado River had to do this then we would rather see “snake like” canyon as similar to structures found just below Powell Lake. On my web page you will see photos of them. Vast amount of material washed from Canyon if carried by Colorado river, slow current would generate a huge delta at the plains below, which is not the case. Forces carving the Canyon were way too powerfull to let sediment stay. The silt was carried far away. Tsunami theory is interesting, but it would make a mark closer to shore too. We do not see that unfortunately. On the other hand, we know that when glaciation was retreating, it left huge glacial lakes (seas) behind a fragile, ice dam. It is well known and proven that these lakes emptied within days (?) creating monstrous torrent of devastating water stream. Similar features are found in Washington State.

  11. Hi there. I was looking up how the Colorado River had shaped the Grand Canyon because i had just hied it over winter break with my dad and my english teacher who is also my school’s newspaper leader, wanted an article and this info was super helpful! Thanks so much!

  12. Anyone wanting to witness a natural spillover may have a chance if North Dakota doesn’t come up with some form of controlled overflow for Devils Lake.
    Google Tolna Coulee overflow.

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