How Many Empire State Buildings Can You Fit in the Grand Canyon?

This week is finals week for the winter quarter, and so today’s Trivia Tuesday will be lightning-round style.

The Grand Canyon, located in Arizona, is 277 miles long. The Colorado River, which cuts through the canyon, is 1,450 miles long. This means the canyon stretches across nearly 20% of the river’s length.

The Grand Canyon is on average 10 miles wide. The canyon reaches a maximum width of about 18 miles at several points. The narrowest point, in a region called Marble Canyon (even though there is no marble here; the original discoverers liked the name and thought the polished limestone resembled marble), only expanses 600 feet.  There are narrower points of what is officially the Grand Canyon, like the 228 ft. gap Robbie Knievel cleared, but these are not within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park. Knievel, son of Evel Knievel, would have had to more than double his personal record jump on the Hualipai Indian Reservation to successfully sail across the canyon within the park borders.

Others have also attempted to clear the width of the Grand Canyon in intriguing ways. Just last year, Nik Wallenda stretched a 2-inch steel cable a quarter mile above and across the Grand Canyon and tight-rope walked the entire length, untethered and without a safety net. He had to kneel on the wire twice: once, to avoid losing balance from high winds, and again, when the steel cable dangerously swayed. The event was broadcasted live by Discovery Channel. Wallenda comes from a long line of acrobats; he is a 7th generation member of the “Flying Wallendas”. His journey across the Grand Canyon was not his first death-defying feat. He is also the only person to successfully tight-rope across Niagara Falls.

The Grand Canyon can be up to 1 mile deep. The canyon width is described by distance between the North Rim and South Rim. On the North Rim, the highest point is Imperial Point, which rises to 8,803 ft. Navajo Point, at an elevation of 7,498 ft., overlooks the South Rim. Comparatively, the lowest point in the Grand Canyon is in Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon floor, with an elevation of 2,400 ft.

The estimated volume is 5.45 trillion cubic yards. This equates to about 1.7 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools or nearly 4 million Empire State Buildings! It would cost nearly $60 trillion to fill the Grand Canyon with dirt. The entire US national debt would only fill one-third of the Grand Canyon with dirt.

The Grand Canyon, not immune to the whimsical tastes of fate, averages 12 deaths per year. With about 4.5 million visitors per year (or less than 3 deaths per million visitors), this falls well below the accidental injury death rate (391 per million people) and even the homicide rate (48 per million people). Of course, this comparison is assuming that each visitor is unique, which is likely not the case. Even if the rate was doubled, it still would not be significant in comparison.

The Grand Canyon was the site of a mid-air collision of two commercial planes in 1956. The collision occurred between a Douglas DC-7 Mainliner carrying 53 passengers and 5 crew members and a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation carrying 64 passengers and 6 crew members. Both planes were aware their flight paths would cross along the Painted Desert Line, which stretched above the Grand Canyon, but it was expected that a course change would not be necessary. The crash occurred at such high elevations and in a remote area that no credible eyewitnesses could be found. In addition, airspace above this region was not controlled. The aircrafts were not under any radar surveillance, and there were no black boxes aboard the aircraft.  The investigation had difficulty pinpointing a cause of the accident, citing technical issues (omitting human factors, like how the airlines allowed pilots to descend to give passengers a better view of the canyon). The crash killed all 128 on board both flights. This devastating accident led to stricter flight controls in the future.

The canyon is formed as the result of the Colorado Plateau uplifting while the Colorado River simultaneously cut through the rock. The river continues its erosion processes today and has cut across and revealed almost 2 billion years of Earth’s geological history.

The Grand Canyon was inhabited by Native Americans who lived within its caves and built settlements along the canyon floor. Some tribes living further away viewed the canyon as a holy ground and would take pilgrimages to the sacred site.

Arizona is notorious for its extreme heat, but the Grand Canyon actually experiences both sides of the weather spectrum. Temperatures can rise above 100oF and fall below 0oF. It is not uncommon for visitors to see snow on the Grand Canyon rim during the cold months.

Do you have any Grand Canyon facts of your own? Share them below!


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