Exploring Our World

What Do We Know About the Grand Canyon?


The Grand Canyon is a mile deep, 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. This canyon is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The Colorado River flows through the bottom of the canyon.


What Formed the Grand Canyon?

There are three basic hypotheses concerning the forming of the Grand Canyon:

Hypothesis # 1

It was carved out very slowly by the Colorado River running through it.

"Over millions of years, the Colorado River has carved out the Grand Canyon from solid rock." Prentice Hall General Science 1992 p.174 

"The Colorado River" has cut through layer upon layer of rock over millions of years." Prentice Hall Biology 1998, p. 279 


If the Colorado River slowly carved out the Grand Canyon over millions of years, it should be consistent with the known scientific facts, not violating natural laws, and consistent with what we actually have observed about canyon formation.  

 Some Facts to Consider about the Grand Canyon:

The Colorado River enters the canyon at about 2,800 feet of elevation. The top of the canyon is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet. The river flows downhill through the bottom of the canyon. There is no evidence that where the river enters the canyon it was ever much higher than it is today. Gravity would seem to be an obstacle that would not permit rivers to flow uphill. Moving on to our second hypothesis.

Hypothesis # 2

Plate tectonics may have been involved, as continents might have drifted, slammed into one another, and caused uplifts that formed the Grand Canyon. The canyon was formed first, and now the Colorado River runs through the bottom of it.

Unfortunately, there have not been any methods devised as to how we might test this hypothesis; so, we move on to the third possible hypothesis.

Hypothesis # 3

It was carved out in a short amount of time, through devastating flooding.


There should be evidence of a different kind, indicating a shorter amount of time could have been involved. Are there other possibilities?


Could this be a more sensible answer? 

There is geological evidence that at one time there were two lakes that have been named: Grand Lake, and Hopi Lake that covered parts of what is now Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. This area contained about 30,000 square miles of lakes. That is about 3 times the size of Lake Michigan today.  

It looks as though those 2 great lakes emptied out in a location approximately where the Grand Canyon is today.

The Colorado River runs through the area where Grand Lake used to be. The San Juan River runs through the area where the southern branch of Grand Lake used to be. The Little Colorado River runs through the area where Hopi Lake used to be. What did form the Grand Canyon? Was it a little water over a long, long time flowing uphill perhaps? Or could it have been formed by 30,000 square miles of lakes emptying out flowing downhill in a fairly short amount of time?

Is There Evidence of Quickly Forming Canyons?

In the 1800s this canyon near Lumpkin, Georgia was said to have been rolling hills.

In 1980, Mt. St. Helens in the state of Washington had three volcanic eruptions in less than a two-year period. The last eruption carved out a canyon about 1/40 the size of the Grand Canyon in about 6 minutes. Today you can see three separate finely stratified layers that were formed by those three eruptions.

Lake Canyon Gorge formed in Comal County, Texas in 3 days caused by a flood in 2002. It is an average of 23 feet deep.


Could massive flooding have been involved?

Those who believe a large flood was involved offer this explanation:  As the waters of a massive flood were emptying out in that area, the two great lakes: Grand Lake and Hopi Lake were formed, but when they reached a certain limit, they burst through soft mud and emptied out, carving out the Grand Canyon, which was also soft mud at the time. The soft mud later collapsed at the exit point not leaving clear evidence that this is what happened.


Whatever caused the formation of the Grand Canyon, it was probably not a river flowing uphill, carving out the rock formations in front of it, until it was finally able to flow downhill. That would seem like a reasonable assumption. Of course, there are those that believe this flooding was global in extent, and although this would seem to be a fit for the evidence, at this time it is not accepted by the majority of scientists, for possibly philosophical reasons. The ironic thing though, it seems as though a river flowing uphill has not as yet been completely discounted by those same scientists. Why is that still in our textbooks?