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Digging deeper into the Grand Canyon

Those visiting the Grand Canyon, with its million-year-old rock formations, colorful layers and breath-taking views, may come back with a little extra knowledge thanks to local efforts. Michael Williams, a Geosciences professor at the University of Massachusetts, has developed a new “Trail of Time” walking exhibit that will allow visitors to get a real sense of the enormity of the geological time period over which the Canyon has been created by the Colorado River in Arizona.

The idea originally arose from Williams and Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico in 1995. While presenting research at the Canyon, they realized there were no displays for guests to view about the origins of the landmark.

“There was no way for the public to understand why the Canyon is there,” said Williams.

Despite five-to-six million people visiting the canyon each year, less than one percent actually enter its deep core. Williams says the goal of the new walking trail is to give people a sense of the age of the Earth and the Grand Canyon without having to walk into the abyss itself.

It is located on the most visited South Rim of the Canyon and is 4.6 kilometers (almost three miles) long. It represents the Earth’s entire 4.6-billion-year history.

“The idea is for people to get a feel for time,” said Williams.

Brass markers will be placed every meter on the previously existing paved trail to indicate significant moments in time. Forty five touchable rock samples from the canyon along with signs and maps will give tourists better knowledge about the historical landmark.

The trail begins at the Canyon’s museum, which displays geological processes, provides pictures of cutting processes, and offers general information to the public about the area. It is located at the main entrance of the park, convenient for visitors.

Guests will first embark on the “miracle meter,” which represents present time back to one million years ago. Within one step, all of human history is symbolized.

Covered in bronze, the trepidbonus meter will have various timelines carved in it to show different periods of time, such as human history, which is only several millimeters long. Other occurrences like climate change and glacial ages will also be present. Because these events happen so quickly in geological terms, they are only a fraction of the miracle meter.

Another trail, called the “million-year trail” was designed to illustrate how large the measure paras online kasino of a million actually is. It will have meter distances, each one approximately 50 meters long. Represented by one year, followed by 10 years, then 100, 10,000, 100,000, and ending with one million, every segment will have displays about Earth processes that happened on that time scale.

 Other features of the trail will include new telescopes that allow visitors to few the same type of rock they are touching at certain points. At 250 meters, people will reach the Kaibab Limestone, which is approximately 250 million years old. Upon reaching the location, there will be a large sample to feel and examine as well as a viewing tube to see the rock in its location in the canyon. It won’t be the exact place the sample was collected from, but it will show the formation of the enormous hole over time.

 As the Earth time progresses on the trail, the telescopes will show deeper rock units that were deposited during those times, giving people a better understanding of the Grand Canyon’s formation.

Williams hopes that the trail will not only give people a sense of appreciation for the length of time, but also get people more interested in science.

 “Science is very approachable,” he said. “Everyone likes picking up rocks and looking at them. There’s real scientific data of the creation of the Earth [here].”

The Trail of Time is funded by an approximately $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Informal Science Education Program, and is scheduled to officially open to the public in August 2010.

Jessica Sacco can be reached at

2 Responses to “Digging deeper into the Grand Canyon”
  1. sightseer says:

    Isn’t sightseeing educational too? Seeing the Grand Canyon is no exception. What a great awesome place to go see. I recommend it to anyone!

  2. Peter Takesian says:

    Jessica: Awesome article. Many times, while going to Vega$, I have flown over the Canyon, but never made the trip. Nevertheless, I can see it in person if I am in the vicinity of Amherst

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