It is a gash in the world that the mind can barely grasp a palette of colors beyond the subtlety of any human eye it's rocky architecture a mystery that defies our best science the grand canyon is the history book of the world cracked open each layer a page going back up to 1.8.
Billion years and yet it is a thriving living place with new life struggling on this weathered stage conflicts nearly lost returning the canyon demands sure feet and hard heads rewards cutthroat thievery exalts the winged.
And the acrobatic and requires nerves of steel to navigate there is nothing quite as humbling in the world as grand canyon national park by the 1860s explorers had taken the measure of america from sea.
To shining sea but one giant slice of territory remained largely uncharted and what a slice it was what we now call the grand canyon the native paiute tribe called kaibab the mountain lying down many considered the river sacred a death sentence to mere mortals.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world the canyon simply beggars the imagination but not all are daunted by the sheer heights the nimble bighorn sheep are completely at home here while in more accessible places.
Competition with livestock for food and water and diseases caused a dramatic decline in numbers the near insurmountability of the canyon has protected these sheep through the ages bachelor males hang out and get along well for the most part but with the attentions of the females at stake.
The rams get well rammy it's all quite ritualized they fence with stiff legs as though they were sabers their signature headgear is a potent symbol of rank among the rams a truly great rack can weigh 30 pounds some shots are clearly below the belt.
and then just when it looks like things are settling down bang rearing up to gain more momentum they collide.
Their heads have double struts of bones to cushion their brains still that's gotta hurt they can keep these bouts up on and off for 24 hours at a time exhausted they make their way up to the rim best to beware up here though a shy but fierce predator lurks in the.
Heights the incredibly evasive mountain lion makes a rare daytime appearance also known as the cougar the puma the ghost cat and the catamount the mountain lion is the fourth largest cat in the world after lions tigers and jaguars rarely glimpsed it is the feline phantom.
Of the rim the grand canyon comes with a lot of statistics many of which defy belief it's a mile straight down on average it's just 600 feet across at its narrowest point and 18 miles across at its widest.
Between the remote north rim and the crowded south rim five million visitors come to grand canyon national park every year but the place is so geologically challenging that few make it past the lookouts from the top it seems impossible that the colorado river a trickle from up.
Here cut out this magnificent place but for a long time many people thought this was true now evidence suggests that the river has been at work here for a relatively short time other forces of erosion have been eating away many separate canyons here for millions of years.
It was only five million years ago that the colorado actually linked them all up creating one spectacular sinuous path of nearly 300 miles or so some think it's a heated debate in the evening the desert temperatures can drop like a rock tossed from the rim now is when the night stalker emerges.
The mountain lion it's hungry heat lighting up on infrared as it scans for prey mule deer oblivious grays in the dark a dash across the nighttime terrain and the mountain lion has pulled down her dinner she's a picky eater often consuming the choices cuts of meat before dragging it.
Off to hide some mountain lions simply abandoned the vast majority of the carcass leaving it to scavengers day breaks over the lovely forested south rim of the canyon lighting up a dead pine that would seem to have little purpose.
But this pine is the central bank and trust of the acorn woodpecker and every inch is studded with neatly arranged holes the woodpecker's safe deposit boxes finding the absolutely perfect little vault for every acorn can be quite the puzzle each hole has been drilled to fit a.
Certain nut shape keeping the treasure house secure requires a bonding of the birds a breeding collective of several males and females along with their extended family who make deposits and stand guard they can be little gymnasts when threats come from above.
Simply skittering to the underside of the bank branches this is just a false alarm though a raven the jokester of the canyon there are far more serious threats from below squirrels know exactly how the.
Woodpecker banks work and are always casing the joint and who could blame him just look at all those acorns this squirrel believes in sharing the wealth but he'd better eat fast and stuff those cheeks the woodpecker bank tellers hit the.
Alarm and the security guards swing into action the bank is secured again but it won't be long before the habitual thief tries another stick up.
The sun rises over the colorado plateau the high plain cleaved by the grand canyon many animals that live here can never see the other side for that you need wings and as the sun bakes the red rock walls warming air rises and it uplifts one of.
The rarest birds in the world a symbol of perhaps the longest and most desperate fight ever to save a species the california condor with its nearly 10-foot wingspan is the largest bird in the americas and by all odds should not exist there were just 22 of them left in the wild in 1982.
Biologists took the desperate step of trapping every one of them and breeding them in captivity in 1992 they started releasing them each clearly numbered into the wild and for the first time in nearly 70 years the condor flew above the canyon.
Today more than 70 of these majestic birds can be seen in and around the national park the north side of the canyon might as well be a different world parts could be mistaken for the great plains complete with the thunder of bison but these bison aren't native.
Technically they're not even bison as the animals were going extinct across the plains in the early 1900s a businessman imported a herd to arizona and crossbred them with cattle hoping to create a super race of meat on the hoof they thrived and spread but only reached grand canyon national park during the late 1990s.
Several hundred now roam the north rim enough the park service is worried about their presence here the mighty beasts are trampling the ancient grasslands not that the swainson's hawk mines the giant shaggy creatures flush a virtual plague of grasshoppers with each step.
And the hawks are thrilled to be the cleanup crew under foot a prairie dog has much bigger worries than bison kit foxes love rodents especially young prairie dogs and this growing rambunctious family needs plenty to eat.
Even in the heat of high summer they're hyperactively burning calories which their parents are going to have to replace while the young kids romp the parents will hunt bad news for the prairie dogs.
The prairie dogs notice immediately and give a be on the lookout call these animals actually have extensive vocabularies for different predators four-legged winged slithering and degrees of danger when the fox is too close for comfort it's time to get the youngsters.
Underground but burrows are often no match for the clever kit fox as the kit fox plans her attack anxious prairie dogs watch helplessly from nearby burrows and the kit fox easily traps and kills a youngster.
A responsible mother she brings the majority home to her own babies after the fox is gone a very strange thing happens a hopping yip fest among the prairie dogs is this a crazy kind of survivor's guilt a celebration that they're still alive or a big thank you sent up to the.
Prairie dog gods recent research suggests that it's a test of their emergency broadcast system maybe theirs needs a tune-up as the morning passes the sun turns up the heat in the canyon and more birds join the swirling.
Stairway to heaven clever ravens steal even more lift by drafting in the slipstream of the much larger california condor the grand canyon is full of cheaters turkey vultures feed almost exclusively on the dead.
So living things on the ground pay no attention to them but zone-tailed hawks have evolved flying styles and silhouettes that perfectly mimic the vultures and they want living flesh an unsuspecting lizard just keeps.
Basking in the open and by the time the hawk shows its true colors it's too late these hawks usually have two chicks but the larger will sometimes kill the smaller raptor families like royalty need an air and despair.
For hundreds of years after its discovery by europeans few imagined that the canyon and its river could be crossed but man will always try to make the impossible possible and in the 19th century expeditions were exploring the inner canyon soon the first steep mountain.
Switchbacks were carved into the canyon walls even today mules packed high with supplies are the best way to get to the bottom and the taste of the old west lives on it's said that from top to bottom you.
Vertically encounter environments as diverse as you would hiking from mexico to canada the bighorns of course wonder what all the fuss is about this is their home and their playground and their testing ground.
It looks like a dangerous place for rowdy youngsters to work out their aggressions but this audacious agility is by far their best defense against predators and within weeks even the newborns can safely navigate from rim to river but near the bottom it's best to step.
Even more carefully some rattlesnakes down here are pink evolving to match the crimson canyon the colorado is still carving the canyon to this day ice loosens rock wind scours it away rain and the river take it downstream still it is only deepening by the.
Thickness of a sheet of paper every year that's how slowly geologic time moves in the slower parts of the river peace reigns in stifling heat temperatures can reach 120 degrees to survive the high summer heat down here.
It's best to have wings violet green swallows swoop down from their high cliff face nests to drink and get a dunking in winter they'll migrate to mexico some as far as nicaragua many birds use the winding colorado itself as a kind of map on their way.
South today adventurers get to use the colorado river as their highway much to the befuddlement of the real natives the bighorns can go for days without water but still drink when they can they are among the few mammals that can handle the heat down here people sign up for a lottery to take the.
River route these days the waiting list used to be up to 20 years but the colorado insists on reminding us that it is not an amusement park people die here all the time whether you have the commercial guides.
Take you down the grand canyon's iconic rapids or have the experience to get yourself down you're in for a wild ride many people have drowned riding these rapids though the heat is actually more dangerous.
you have to wonder what the osprey thinks of the tourists but they're more intent on prey in the water incredibly their eyes are so keen they can spot fish in the murky river.
Its wingspan can reach six feet and its talons are designed specifically for catching and carrying big slippery fish the osprey is such a successful bird of prey that it is found on every continent except antarctica but even this deadly raptor cannot escape the canyon's great trickster.
Ravens can't fish so they plot and they hatch devious plans some of the smartest birds in the world these glossy outlaws often let someone else do the hard work he's quick to spot the osprey and his food and even quicker to ruin the bird's meal.
though smaller the ravens the bigger bully ravens are famous for their sense of humor you get the feeling he's tormenting the osprey as much for the fun of it as out.
Of hunger the end result is the same the osprey's fish is his humans have used the canyon for millennia there are archaeological artifacts that date back at least 10 000 years evidence of ancient peoples traveling.
Through the canyon a little over one thousand years ago the ancestral pueblo indians became more settled in the canyon growing corn and other crops to protect their food supplies they built granaries high in the cliffs they left the canyon as a permanent home.
After about 250 years but they continued to return to the canyon to trade to gather resources and for other cultural purposes beavers have long staked their claim along the colorado river system they don't build dams though the river is too wide or too fast flowing instead they dig along the banks and.
Build their lodges in the calm side streams one of the largest tributaries into the canyon is the little colorado which joins the big river inside the park at their famous junction the little colorado pours its chalky blue waters into the big colorado's rust colored ones.
in summer the arid arrogance of the grand canyon meets its maker the only force that can humble its vastness wild weather brooding skies snuff out the sunlit fire of the canyon walls.
As the monsoon season breaks over arizona during the monsoon season in the grand canyon three inches of rain can fall in a few hours unleashing the nightmare of flash floods this beaver seems to have learned how to.
Navigate these canyons but slot canyons can become death traps for human hikers the heightened erosion can cause powerful mud flows and perilous rock falls only the beavers seem to take the monsoon in stride and the skies above the canyon quickly.
Clear again at nightfall a secretive mountain lion returns to a mule deer carcass which is a good thing given that she has a cub to feed make that two they're just starting to eat meat but take to it with gusto.
and look there are actually three they'll eat their fill and be long gone by dawn between the rains sunlight floods a canyon that is now even more radiant if such a thing is possible.
condors as scavengers are often thought of as filthy creatures but these endangered birds spend a lot of time cleaning their feathers drawing them in the sun and showing off their tag numbers the ever observant raven surveys the canyon to see if he can steal someone's.
Meal rather than find his own but this steakhouse may be a little too trendy even for him dozens of the huge voracious california condors are squabbling over the carcass of a calf each year more of these rare birds are released into the wild the carrion has been staked out here for.
Them by biologists hoping to stir their natural hungers ravens simply can't resist the urge to investigate and annoy hmm every single condor is precious numbered and closely monitored by scientists ravens quickly bored by the condors soon.
Turn to top gun aerial antics to amuse themselves uh of the four-legged creatures of the south rim only one has the potential to fly or nearly the pronghorn.
The only faster land animal in the world is the cheetah but here there's only one thing that would make them move in this heat the mountain lion the mountain lion is a powerful animal capable of hitting 50 miles per hour in a sprint but the amazing pronghorn can hit over.
60 and sustain it the cat could never run down a healthy adult but newborns are a different story no matter how sprightly the cat's only chance is surprise and now that it's been seen the pronghorns barely break out of a.
Contemptuous trot getting away from the cat the mountain lion is far less dangerous to a pronghorn than a hole in the ground that could snap a leg and there are lots of holes in the ground the south rim is home to countless.
Prairie dog towns with hundreds of entrances and exits sadly prairie dogs have been relentlessly exterminated outside parks to make way for farms and developments maybe two percent of their old numbers remain and even the ones on protected lands are terribly vulnerable.
To bubonic plague of all things yes the black death that killed off half the people in medieval europe is alive and well in the united states it strikes an average of seven people each year most of them in the southwest but these little pop-up critters.
Emerging from prairie dog holes aren't rodents they're baby burrowing owls the only owl in north america that nests underground once common in the americas their numbers too are declining with the parents return they leave the borrowed boroughs and.
Beg both male and female have been providing their youngsters with chunks of reptiles mice and smaller birds that litter the ground but one of the babies is not interested in eating he looks a little bit queasy actually the parent seems to know that.
Something's about to come up all better a lovely ball of indigestible bones and feathers prairie dogs don't mind sharing their burrow systems with the owls but some neighbors are not welcome like the american badger pound for pound one of the most ferocious predators in.
The world badgers are killers after about six weeks the cubs are already developing a taste for meat the neighborhood watch immediately notices that the badger is in hunting mode and the alarm goes out across the community.
They scuttle for the safety of their underground lairs but almost nothing can stop a hungry badger the badger seems to have trapped a prairie dog as her ravenous young look on the prairie dogs have many escape routes but the badger is a powerful digger and.
Has been known to block their emergency exits badgers help maintain the grand canyon's natural equilibrium by keeping rodent populations down it's late summer and across the canyon the northern rim is getting very noisy.
it's the time of the bison rut there's a lot of huffing and puffing savoring and slathering checking the female's readiness adolescents engage in teenage shoving matches testing each other learning the secrets.
Of the joust then the larger males start locking horns the real master one of the older larger bulls is unimpressed he watches from the sidelines but the day is coming when one of these youngsters will challenge him in the bowl ring things get more and.
More intense but they seem to know they're not ready to take on the master the herd decides to move on the old bull has no need of manners meanwhile the rest of the bison head for the woods as the sun falls the days grow chillier.
The mists cling longer to the canyon now everybody's sensing a change in the atmosphere with their young already stronger and benefiting from a bountiful summer mule deer are feeling uppity and the coyote the park's top dog seems.
To know it at times like these sometimes the prey start feeling a little predatory their message is clear we're strong well fed and ready for winter you and your canine kind better think twice about coming after us.
but winter changes everything mountain lion cubs born in the spring are now perfectly capable of hunting for themselves and this one is even unwilling to share with his long-suffering mother tensions at this dinner table run high.
Don't they always with a surly adolescent around once weaned mountain lions are fiercely solitary males generally keep to their own territories.
Now he's a killer in his own right and she gives him his due the mists off the pacific now often change to snow a dusting on the south rim sometimes blizzards in the north as ever it is the raven living by his.
Wits who seems to find humor in every season and every situation unimpressed by the greatness of his surroundings unhumbled by the world's greatest gorge the heart-stopping immensity and the transcendent beauty of grand canyon national park.