Run the Grand Canyon: 5K

Travel the full 446-kilometre length of the Grand Canyon in a 5K walk, jog, or run. You'll journey through its fascinating cultural history, right up to the present day where its ecological legacy is being left behind.


Scene summaries may contain spoilers
Welcome to the Grand Canyon in Northwest Arizona. You're starting at its eastern mouth: Lee's Ferry, where the Paria River joins the Colorado, and the easy water makes it a good crossing place. Head west, up onto the north rim of the canyon.
You're at Marion Point on the north rim, 1.6 kilometres above the Colorado River. The north rim is 305m higher than the south rim, and gets snow in winter. At its widest, the Grand Canyon is 29km across. This is the start of the Canyon's most difficult hike; the Nankoweap Trail.
You've reached the end of the 18km Nankoweap Trail. Imagine yourself 900 years ago, and you can see doors cut into the walls of the canyon. These are the granaries of the Pueblo people, and there are even older Native American buildings, like the Tusayan ruins on the south rim. The Puebloan people were living in the Grand Canyon since at least 1200 BCE, and Native American people have lived in and around the Grand Canyon continuously since this time. They're at the forefront of the conservation fight for the Grand Canyon.
You've reached the bottom of the Canyon. Cross the river and head up the south canyon wall. The oldest rocks in the canyon are 2 billion year-old Vishnu Schist with an unconformity between the schist and the rocks sitting on top of it. A schist is a metamorphic rock and has been altered by heat and pressure. An unconformity means there is a gap of time where no new rocks formed. Here, that is a period of 500 million years. Other than the Vishnu Schist, the rocks are sedimentary, mostly shoreline or marine in origin, meaning that there was a sea here for extended periods of time.
You've reached the top of the south rim, near Lipan Point. The easiest rim-to-rim hike is on the South Kaibab Trail, but even that is a difficult 34km hike. The other option to travel from one rim to the other, is a 354km drive that uses one of the bridges which span the canyon. The south rim is more popular and has the historic Visitor's Centre. It also doesn't get as much snow so can be open to visitors year round.
You're now running around Moran Point, in the year 1540 CE. In the distance you can see a small group of Spanish soldiers and their Hopi guides. These were the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon. They're trying to climb down the canyon to get water but it's too steep, and their guides don't feel like telling them the easy way down. In 1848, the Grand Canyon officially became part of the United States with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but no-one consulted with the Native Americans about this.
You're near Hopi Point on the south rim, and the year is now 1891 CE. 300m below is the "Orphan Mine" built to exploit silver and copper deposits. 55 years years later the mine was discovered to be rich in Uranium. There are many uranium mines within 5 miles of the Grand Canyon, despite a recent moratorium. Uranium mining has poisoned much of the water used by the nearby Navajo Nation. Navajo researcher Maria Welch found high levels of uranium contamination in her people, linked to high levels of cancer and kidney failure. The Grand Canyon is a unique place and any threat to its ecological balance is worrying.
You're heading west from Hopi Point. If you look up you can see the largest bird in North America; the California Condor, which has a wingspan of nearly 3m. In 1987 there were only 9 of these birds left in the wild. They were taken into captivity for a breeding program which brought them back from the brink of extinction. The Grand Canyon has a lot of biodiversity with a delicate balance, and several species that are found nowhere else. So much diversity makes this a place that is worth protecting.
You've passed Mohave Point, and now we're going down 1.6km to the Colorado River. The river floods from snowmelt in spring, and varies in temperature from around freezing to very warm in summer. The fish that live here need to be hardy. There are five species of fish native to the Grand Canyon, but there used to be more. Three species became extinct as recently as the 1960s because humans introduced non-native fish and build dams along the river. There are two nearby dams: the Glen Canyon dam, and the Hoover Dam, which both change how the river flows.
We've reached the rapids! There are many rapids along the Canyon's length, but Lava Falls is the most difficult. See the elderly woman on one of the bright orange rafts? It's 1989, and that's Georgie White-Clark. She was the first woman to swim part of the Colorado river, 91km through the western part of the canyon and out to Lake Mead. After she died, the rapid at mile 24 was named after her.
You've reached the Grand Wash Cliffs, the official end of the Grand Canyon. This is where the Colorado River runs into Lake Mead, which was artificially crated with the construction of the Hoover Dam. You've finished running the Grand Canyon. You've earned a break!


Cast listings may contain spoilers
Alex Acks
Matt Wieteska
Sound Designer
Mark Pittam