The other day I was on a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Spokane International Airport, traveling at an altitude of about 34,000 feet (10363 m). Knowing the plane would pass over Grand Canyon National Park I had my camera ready. Although the skies were filled with clouds most of the way, they were clear when it mattered and I was not disappointed with the view. At 277 miles (446 km) in length, 18 miles (29 km) in width, and 6000 feet (1829 m) in maximum depth, it is hard to miss this massive natural wonder when traveling north out of Arizona.
I have seen the Grand Canyon a few times, always from the eastern reaches of the South Rim between Desert View and Grand Canyon Village. Based upon the flight path and topographic features, I could tell this flyover instead featured the central part of the canyon. This section is unreachable by car so it was kind of cool to see something from the air that I may never see up close. The first views included Great Thumb Mesa in the foreground, with SB Canyon mid-field and Tuckup Canyon in the distance:
Moving north we followed Kanab Canyon. In the foreground below you can see the snow-covered North Rim decorated by green pines and junipers. Just below that is the steep, resistant brown rim of the Kaibab and Toroweap limestones, followed by the bright white Coconino Sandstone. Just below that is the soft Hermit Shale, the alternating sandstones, limestones, and shales of the Supai Group, the steep Redwall and Muav Limestones, and the soft sloping Bright Angel Shale. Together this small section of the Grand Canyon represents sediment deposition throughout the Paleozoic Period from about 540 to 250 million years ago. Along its entire vertical range from the Colorado River to the rim, the Grand Canyon exposes rocks from two billion years of earth history.
When President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908, he called it “the one great sight which every American should see.” At that time he probably could not imagine Americans would one day see it from an altitude of 34,000 feet. Or that it would become one of America’s most-loved national parks.