I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.
Today, we take you to one of the most popular and beautiful places in the United States. It is the Grand Canyon in the southwestern state of Arizona.
(MUSIC: "Canyon Lullaby")
The canyons of America's Southwest are deep, ancient openings in the earth. They look as if they formed as the earth split apart. But the canyons did not split. They were cut by rivers.
The rivers carried dirt and pieces of stone that slowly ate away at the surrounding rock. For millions of years, the rivers turned and pushed. They cut deeper and deeper into the earth. They left a pathway of great rocky openings in the earth that extend for hundreds of kilometers.
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the largest and most beautiful of all canyons. It extends 450 kilometers.
The surrounding area does not make you suspect the existence of such a great opening in the earth. You come upon the canyon suddenly, when you reach its edge. Then you are looking at a land like nothing else in the world.
Walls of rock fall away sharply at your feet. In some places, the canyon walls are more than a kilometer deep. Far below is the dark, turning line of the Colorado River.
On the other side, sunshine lights up the naked rock walls in red, orange, and gold. The bright colors are the result of minerals in the rocks. Their appearance changes endlessly -- with the light, the time of year, and the weather. At sunset, when the sun has moved across the sky, the canyon walls give up their fiery reds and golds. They take on quieter colors of blue, purple, and green.
Hundreds of rocky points rise from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Some are very tall. Yet all are below the level of an observer on the edge, looking over.
Looking at the Grand Canyon is like looking back in time. Forty million years ago, the Colorado River began cutting through the area. At the same time, the surrounding land was pushed up by forces deep within the Earth. Rain, snow, ice, wind, and plant roots rubbed away at the top of the new canyon. Below, the flowing river continued to uncover more and more levels of ancient rock.
Some of Earth's oldest rocks are seen here. There are many levels of granite, schist, limestone, and sandstone.
The Grand Canyon has several weather environments. The top is often much different from the bottom. On some winter days, for example, you may find cold winds and snow at the top. But at the bottom, you may find warm winds and flowers.
Several kinds of plants and animals are found in the canyon and nowhere else on Earth. Because the canyon's environments are so different, these species did not spread beyond the canyon, or even far within it.Native American Indians occupied the Grand Canyon 3,000 years ago. Evidence of their existence has been found in more than 2,500 places so far. Bones, hair, feathers, even the remains of plants have been found in deep, dry caves high in the rock walls.
The Hopi, the Paiute, the Navajo and other Native American tribes have all been in the area for at least seven centuries. However, much of what we know today about the Grand Canyon was recorded by John Wesley Powell. In 1869, he became the first white American to explore much of the canyon.
John Wesley Powell and his group traveled in four boats. They knew very little about getting over the rapid, rocky waters of the Colorado River. In many areas of fast-flowing water, a boat could be turned over by a wave as high as a house.
Soon after starting, Powell's group lost some of its food and equipment. Then three members of the group left. As they walked up and out of the canyon, they were killed by Indians. The rest of the group was lucky to survive. Starving and tired, they reached the end of the canyon. They had traveled on the Colorado River for more than three months. John Wesley Powell's reports and maps from the trip made him famous. They also greatly increased interest in the Grand Canyon. But visitors did not begin to go to there in large numbers until 1901. That was when a railroad reached the area.Today, the Grand Canyon is known as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. About five million people visit the canyon each year. Most visitors walk along paths part way down into the canyon. It takes several hours to walk to the bottom. It takes two times as long to get back up. Some visitors ride mules to the bottom and back. The mules are strong animals that look like horses. They are known for their ability to walk slowly and safely on the paths.
America's National Park Service is responsible for protecting the Grand Canyon from the effects of so many visitors. All waste material must be carried out of the canyon. All rocks, historical objects, plants, and wildlife must be left untouched. As the National Park Service tells visitors: "Take only photographs. Leave only footprints. "
There are several other ways to visit the Grand Canyon. Hundreds of thousands of people see the canyon by air each year. They pay a helicopter or airplane pilot to fly them above and around the canyon.
About 20,000 people a year see the Grand Canyon from the Colorado River itself. They ride boats over the rapid, rocky water. These trips last from one week to three weeks.
Visitors can see the Grand Canyon in still another way. A huge glass walkway, called the Skywalk, extends 21 meters from the edge of the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk is suspended more than 1,200 meters above the bottom of the canyon. It is shaped like a giant horseshoe. Visitors pay 25 dollars each to walk beyond the canyon walls, surrounded by the canyon, while standing at the edge of the glass bridge.
The Hualapai Indian Tribe built the Skywalk at a cost of more than 40 million dollars. The tribe owns almost 400,000 hectares of land in the canyon. The Hualapai built the Skywalk to gain money by getting more people to visit its reservation. The tribe says the area, called Grand Canyon West, will include a large visitors' center, restaurants, and possibly hotels in the future.
Some people say the Skywalk is an engineering wonder. However, other people have criticized the Skywalk and future development. They say it harms a national treasure and reduces the enjoyment of nature in the Grand Canyon.Many writers have tried to describe the wonder of the Grand Canyon. They use words like mysterious, overpowering, strange. Yet writers recognize that it is impossible to put human meaning in such a place. The Grand Canyon exists in its own space and time.
Some visitors say they feel so small when measured against the canyon's great size. One writer who has spent a lot of time in the Grand Canyon finds it a peaceful place. He says the almost overpowering silence and deepness of the Grand Canyon shakes people -- at least briefly -- out of their self-importance. He says it makes us remember our place in the natural world.
We close our program with music from a record called "Canyon Lullaby" written by Paul Winter. Mr. Winter said it was his first attempt to translate the spirit of the canyon into sound.This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. You can find scripts and download audio at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English