Plants and Animals

Water pockets on the Esplanade

Home is the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon is a home- home for many species of plants and animals, some common, some found nowhere else. Standing in the rim forests, it is easy to look down at the canyon and think of it as totally barren. Most of the canyon is a desert, it's true, but that desert actually teems with life, much of it especially adapted to survive the harsh climate. And because the Grand Canyon encompasses a wide range of elevations, home can be a burrow under a rock in the scorching hot Granite Gorge, or a nest high in a Douglas fir on the lofty Kaibab Plateau.

Water, the Key to Life

As everywhere else on our planet, the key to survival is water. And there is water in the Grand Canyon, aside from the obvious abundance of the Colorado River itself.


Moisture that falls on the high plateaus surrounding the canyon mostly soaks deep into the ground, traveling downward through the porous layers of sandstone and limestone until it reaches impervious layers of shale. Unable to sink deeper, the groundwater forms a massive water table several thousand feet below the surface of the plateau. All this groundwater has carved channels through the Redwall Limestone. Some of these underground rivers suddenly and dramatically express themselves as huge springs bursting out of caves in the Redwall Limestone at places such as Roaring Springs, Thunder Spring, Tapeats Spring, and Deer Spring. Other springs aren't so dramatic, but even the smallest seep spring is an oasis for life.

Permanent Streams

Because of the springs, there are a surprising number of permanent creeks in the Grand Canyon, especially on the north side of the river- Nankoweap Creek, Kwagunt Creek, Lava Creek, Clear Creek, and Bright Angel Creek, to name a few.

Water Pockets

Water pockets form where large expanses of bare sandstone collect rain and snow-melt into shallow pools on the bare rock. Over time, the water's chemical action dissolves the calcite cement holding the sand grains together, and when the pockets are dry, wind carries the loose sand away, deepening the pocket. Some water pockets are huge, holding hundreds of gallons of water and lasting well into the summer or even all year. Others dry up within hours or days of the rainfall. Water pockets are an essential source of water for wildlife, and hikers also depend on them in many parts of the Grand Canyon.

Desert River

Unlike rivers in gentler regions, the Colorado River is only a boon to the life actually living in the water, and on the river's immediate banks. Confined by steep canyon walls, the river can't spread out during floods, which would normally deposit rich soil over a valley bottom. Even the river's groundwater is kept from spreading out by the rock channel.

Life Zones and Plant Communities

Plants of the Grand Canyon

Animals of the Grand Canyon