From the Grand Canyon to Mars

Grand Canyon (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

If the Grand Canyon were an animal, it would probably be a mountain lion that waits patiently for its prey to arrive before ambushing it with overwhelming force.

That’s what it feels to visit the South Rim. There’s a long drive from Flagstaff through high plains and lightly forested areas as mountains tower in the distance. The scenery isn’t much different from most of Northern Arizona. After paying the fee at the entrance gate, you drive threw a forest where deer are quietly feeding. Find a parking space, walk down the trail, and…

BOOM!

There is it. The Grand Canyon in all its glory, stretched out as far as you can see, the walls in various shades of browns and reds, a small section of the Colorado River visible through a gap in the rocks many miles away, a sheer drop just on the other side of the railing you lean on as you brace yourself against the wind and snap pictures.

Grand Canyon (Credit: Douglas Messier)

It’s awesome. Overwhelming. Jaw dropping. Breath taking. You’re speechless as you try to take it all in. The sheer scale of the thing…like nothing you’ve ever seen before. How far is it to the bottom? How far to the North Rim. There’s no way to tell; all the normal visual clues you use to judge distance are mission.

You know that it took millions of years of erosion to produce this wonder. There’s all sorts of science behind it But, you also think, anyone who doubts the existence of God needs only come here. It would make even the heartiest atheists question your lack of fath.

Grand Canyon (Credit: Douglas Messier)

You would cover 446 km (277 miles) if you could travel through the Grand Canyon from one end to another. The canyon is up to 29 km (18 miles) wide and a reaches a depth of depth up to1.86 km (6,093 ft).

As impressive as the Grand Canyon it is puny compared to Valles Marineris on the planet Mars. At more than 4,000 km (2,500 mi) long and 200 km (120 miles) wide, it would stretch from one end of the United States to the other. It is a staggering 7 km (4.3 miles) deep.

Valles Mariiners (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS)

You passed an airfield with a line of helicopters on the way in. You would love to take a ride through the canyon, if you had the time and money. But, not on this trip. Nor do you have time to hike down to the bottom.

There is a NASA helicopter named Ingenuity that is now flying around Mars along with the Perseverance rover. They are exploring a crater that eons ago might have held a lake.

In the future, a larger helicopter will make its way through Valles Marineris, giving human their first closeup look at a canyon that has only been seen from orbit. Astronauts will follow, every bit as gob smacked at the view as anyone who visits the Grand Canyon for the first time.