What Are Canyons

Antelope Canyon is located just outside Page, Arizona.

Canyons are like grooves formed in the Earth from water erosion. The most famous of the world’s canyons is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This is an example of a slot canyon after millions of years of being worn down by the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon is not the only awe-inspiring canyon on Earth. The Colca Canyon in Peru is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon though less steep. Antelope Canyon in Arizona is the most photographed sandstone canyon in the world.


Layers of rock eroded by saturating water.

Canyons are formed by the process of water erosion. This occurs when water flows over or within stone. Water falls as precipitation onto a landscape and from that point on, it will flow toward the nearest ocean forming streams and rivers. As a river flows across a landscape it wears down some types of stone and is blocked by other types of stone. This wearing process is dependent upon how fast the current is going, the gradient or steepness of the landscape and what type of stone the bedrock is made of.

Box Canyon

A three-sided, steep-walled box canyon.

Box canyons form when water emerges from a rock face, according to National Geographic. When the water meets an impermeable layer of stone it seeps into the surrounding permeable layers until it saturates the area. This saturation weakens the stone and it collapses, breaking away in layers. This forms a wide, three-sided canyon. Box Canyon in Florence, Arizona, is a prime example of where the water eroded the soft volcanic bedrock to form this type of geologic feature.

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Slot Canyon

A slot canyon is formed by rushing water. This occurs mainly on mountains where there is a steep landscape causing water to flow rapidly. The rushing water cuts down into the rock wearing a deep, narrow trench characterized by a “V” shape. Zion National Park in Utah features a breathtaking display of what this type of erosion can do. A hairline fracture in a piece of stone can become a rock climber’s paradise after a few thousand years of flowing water breaking it open.

Submarine Canyon

A river that erodes the landscape above the ocean surface also can erode the landscape beneath it.

A submarine canyon is as it sounds. This is a canyon that forms at the bottom of the ocean. Just as the other types of canyons, it is flowing water that creates this feature. Usually, submarine canyons form when a river continuously empties into the ocean at one place. These types of submarine canyons are often extensions of land canyons formed by the same river. Other submarine canyons form from deep ocean currents that gouge grooves along the sea floor.