In addition to delivering some of the world’s best whitewater, a Colorado River rafting expedition gives visitors the chance to explore the geological history of North America. According to geologists, nowhere else on the planet is there a better location to examine this history than in the Grand Canyon.
The many strata of sedimentary rock visible to the naked eye is the most accessible cross section of the earth’s crust in the world, giving geologists relatively easy access to many of the Earth’s major events and yielding tremendous clues about the secrets surrounding the origins of the planet.
The Grand Canyon, one of the seven Wonders of the World and one of the most visited locations on the planet, is a continuing source of study for geologists. With forty identified layers of rock within the walls of the Grand Canyon is the evidence of nearly two billion years of physical evolution.
In other words, it represents a treasure trove of data for scientists investigating the processes by which the earth came to take on its current shape. These layers also include fourteen unconformities or gaps in the geological record which, for scientists, are epochal puzzles that need to be solved.
Most experts agree that the course of the mighty Colorado River was and is the primary reason the Grand Canyon was formed and looks the way it does. Through the extremely slow process of erosion, the combined effects of water, ice and wind have steadily etched out this enormous gorge.
However, other natural phenomena such as continental drift, volcanic activity, climate change and extreme weather almost certainly played a role in the canyon’s formation as well.
Although there is discussion in the scientific community about the details, few write off erosion as the major force that created the canyon. Most geologists and theorists concur that water alone could not have caused the depth of the canyon in such a relatively short period of geologic time, so many suspect that events such as those that created the lift that shaped the Rocky Mountains must have been responsible for giving the Colorado River the steep sloped access required to erode the land and rock away.
There were quite possibly other variables at work as well, such as flash floods, which still occur frequently in desert regions. Flash floods everywhere cause severe erosion, and certainly could have played a part in carving out one of the biggest and most breathtaking canyons on the planet.
Although many travelers never see all the strata and history that geologists study, those who hire River Rafting companies to guide them on Grand Canyon rafting trips can not only experience the adventure of the white water, but also have the opportunity to see and touch rock formations half as old as the world itself.
Commercial rafting companies are very mindful of the amazing geographical area they work in. Most employ educated guides who not only maneuver their guests down the river with expertise, but share their expertise in the canyon’s geological, archeological and natural history. Visitors take a trip through the ages, bearing witness to the physical evidence each has left behind.
The Vishnu Group, for instance, an exposed metamorphic rock formation located in the inner gorge area of the canyon, dates back nearly 2 billion years, while the Unkar Group features the canyon’s most ancient exposed layer containing fossilized organisms.
A great many other geological wonders await those who venture down the river to enjoy unparalleled scenic beauty while learning about the canyon’s formation and evolution. Trips of varying duration are available, giving guests as much time as they desire to fully experience the majesty of this natural wonder of the world while learning how it came into being.
In addition to exhilarating rides through rapids, lazy floats over calm waters and the plethora of history to absorb, visitors experience preservation in action. Colorado River guides share the importance of leaving the Grand Canyon in a better state than when it’s entered.
Not only do expeditions pack out all of their waste and use the most environmentally friendly methods to cook, clean and camp, most river rafting businesses contribute to a variety of Grand Canyon preservation funds or organizations.
Many, in reality, belong to such organizations and are dedicated to active stewardship of the land so that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the same awe-inspiring landscape as is currently available.