Grand Canyon National Park
Flora & Fauna
Because the Grand Canyon ranges from 1,200 feet at the canyon's western bottom to more than 9,100 feet on the North Rim, it supports a variety of plant and animal life indigenous to both desert and mountain environments.Â
Because the Grand Canyon ranges from 1,200 feet at the canyon's western bottom to more than 9,100 feet on the North Rim, it supports a variety of plant and animal life indigenous to both desert and mountain environments.
The 6,000-foot elevation difference within the canyon allows a range of wildlife to live there that would normally be found only by traversing the United States from Mexico (lowest) to Canada (highest). Although naturalists today also include overlapping zones (called ecotones), as well as other environmental variables in their observations, life zones are still our best tool for categorizing wildlife.
A dense pygmy forest of piÃ±on pine and Utah juniper trees, interspersed with shrubby cliff rose, and sagebrush, is found at about 6,500 feet. Poor soil and inadequate rainfall account for their slow, stunted growth but long lives.
A slight gain in elevation and rainfall allows swaying ponderosa pine to grow among the piÃ±on-juniper association, along with Gambel oak. Ponderosa pines grow best in drainage areas where soil and water are most plentiful. Distinctive Gambel oak likes warm exposures and may often be found sheltering in the lee of a ponderosa.
Baby white asters, yellow sunflowers, golden western wallflowers, orange globemallow, and other wildflowers blanket the rim roads between summer and fall, when warm temperatures arrive.
The increasing desert aridity of the Upper Sonoran Zone (3,500-7,000 feet) allows only the hardiest of shrubs to gain a foothold. Here, though, an array of desert plants and animals may be found that have developed ways of dealing with the conditions. The cliff rose's gnarled branches yield creamy-white flowers early in the year, while the fernbush is a late bloomer, waiting until August to blossom.
Cacti are more commonly found lower down the Canyon, where they flower in spring and bear vividly colored fruit in late summer. Engelmann's prickly pear, beavertail cactus, grizzly bear cactus, and whipple cholla are found on the Tonto Platform and below.
Below the Redwall Limestone, down at the river in the Lower Sonoran Zone (below 3,500 feet), there is an interesting contrast where desert abuts riparian environment.
Daggerlike yucca, whose threads were used for sandal-making by the Ancestral Puebloans, may be found among dry rock, while thirsty pink-tinged tamarisk vies with statuesque Fremont cottonwood for a place on the beaches.
On the South Rim, you'll encounter the large tassel-eared Abert squirrel. On the north rim, you may see a Kaibab squirrel, which lives only in the ponderosa pine forests of the North Kaibab Plateau and on nearby Mount Trumbull. This rare species has a distinct charcoal-gray body, a white tail and a tuft of fur on the top of each ear.
Desert bighorn sheep are shy, sure-footed creatures that are able to move at will around the seemingly inaccessible ledges and outcroppings of the Canyon between river and rim. They pick among the cracks in the rock in search of forage that prospers in soil pockets.
Other residents include coyotes, ringtail cat, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, wild turkeys, and numerous smaller animals and birds with their necessary habitats.
Ten types of hawks and eagles have been seen in the park, but the one most visible is the red-tailed hawk, which patrols the airways, buoyed along by air currents. The cliffs of the Grand Canyon are also home to the magnificent golden eagle, a powerful predator that can carry away infant bighorn sheep, as well as most rodents.
The many species of desert lizards living here are able to tolerate higher temperatures than snakes but are frequently unable to bear sizzling temperatures in the inner gorge. The large chuckwalla is the largest and most distinctive of them. You may also come across a short-horned lizard or a banded western collared lizard.