Exploring the Natural Wonders of Canyons: Definition, Formation, and Significance

Canyons, those awe-inspiring chasms carved by the relentless forces of nature, have captured the imagination of explorers and adventurers for centuries. These natural wonders, with their steep sides and deep valleys, are formed by the erosive power of rivers over time. But what exactly is a canyon, and how does it come into being? In this captivating exploration of canyons, we delve into their definition, formation, and significance, revealing the secrets of these breathtaking geological marvels. Get ready to embark on a journey through the awe-inspiring world of canyons!

What are Canyons?

Formation of Canyons

Canyons are natural depressions or valleys that are typically deep and narrow, with steep sides. They are often formed by the erosive action of rivers over a long period of time. There are several ways in which canyons can form, depending on the geological conditions and the type of rock present.

One of the most common ways that canyons form is through the process of erosion. This occurs when a river or other body of water cuts down into the land, gradually carving out a pathway through the rock. Over time, the river will continue to erode the rock, creating a deeper and narrower canyon.

Another way that canyons can form is through the process of plate tectonics. When two tectonic plates collide, they can push up against the land, causing it to rise and form a canyon. This is often the case in areas where there are mountain ranges, as the land is pushed up into tall peaks and deep valleys.

Finally, canyons can also form as a result of wind erosion. In dry, desert environments, the wind can pick up loose sediment and carry it away, creating a canyon over time. This type of canyon is often wider and shallower than those formed by rivers or plate tectonics.

Regardless of how they form, canyons are some of the most stunning natural wonders to be found on our planet. They are often home to a diverse range of plant and animal life, and they provide a unique glimpse into the geological history of the area.

Types of Canyons

Canyons are deep valleys or gorges that are often carved into a landscape by a river over a long period of time. There are several types of canyons, each formed in a unique way and exhibiting distinct characteristics.

U-Shaped Canyons
U-shaped canyons are formed by the erosive power of a river that cuts down into a landscape, creating a narrow canyon with steep walls on either side. The Colorado River in the United States is a prime example of a U-shaped canyon, as it has carved the Grand Canyon over millions of years.

V-Shaped Canyons
V-shaped canyons are similar to U-shaped canyons, but they are formed by the headwaters of a river that flow down a mountain. The force of the water cuts away at the landscape, creating a steep-sided canyon with a narrow bottom. The Tetons in Wyoming, USA, are an example of a V-shaped canyon.

Box Canyons
Box canyons are formed when a river cuts through a flat, sedimentary rock layer, creating a box-like canyon with vertical walls on all sides. The walls of the canyon can be quite narrow, and the river may flow only a short distance before coming to a stop. An example of a box canyon is Horsethief Canyon in the Colorado River in Utah, USA.

Alden Canyon
Alden Canyon is a type of canyon that is formed by a stream or river that cuts through a plateau or mesa. The walls of the canyon are typically high and steep, and the river may have carved out a deep, narrow gorge. An example of an Alden Canyon is the Antelope Canyon in Arizona, USA.

Dry Canyons
Dry canyons are formed by the erosive power of wind and water over time. They are often found in arid regions where there is little rainfall, and the wind carries away loose soil and sediment, creating a deep, narrow canyon with steep walls. An example of a dry canyon is Wadi Rum in Jordan.

Each type of canyon is unique and offers a glimpse into the geological history of the landscape. They provide valuable insights into the processes that shape the Earth’s surface over time, and they are often popular tourist destinations due to their natural beauty and geological significance.

The Significance of Canyons

Key takeaway: Canyons are stunning natural wonders formed by the erosive action of rivers, plate tectonics, and wind erosion over time. They are classified into different types, including U-shaped, V-shaped, box, Alden, and dry canyons, each exhibiting distinct characteristics. Canyons support unique ecosystems and provide valuable insights into the Earth’s geological history. They also hold cultural and spiritual significance for many indigenous communities. Efforts should be made to preserve canyons through conservation strategies, education, and sustainable tourism practices to ensure their continued existence for future generations.

Cultural Significance

Canyons have played a significant role in shaping human culture and history. They have been used as sources of inspiration for art, literature, and music, and have been the subject of numerous cultural and spiritual traditions.

Art and Literature

Canyons have been a source of inspiration for artists for centuries. Painters, photographers, and filmmakers have all been drawn to the grandeur and majesty of these natural wonders. The vast scale and intricate details of canyons have provided endless inspiration for artistic expression.

In literature, canyons have been used as settings for adventure stories, exploration narratives, and mythological tales. The stories of pioneers and explorers who braved the treacherous terrain of canyons have become legendary, and continue to captivate readers today.

Spiritual Significance

Canyons have also held significant spiritual and cultural significance for many indigenous communities. For example, the Navajo people have a deep spiritual connection to the canyons of the American Southwest, which they consider sacred places. The canyons are believed to be the dwelling places of powerful spirits, and are regarded as places of great spiritual power and healing.

Similarly, the Hopi people of Arizona consider the Grand Canyon to be a sacred site, and hold it in high esteem as a place of spiritual and cultural significance. They believe that the canyon is a reflection of the universe, and that it holds the secrets of their ancestors.

In conclusion, canyons have played a significant role in shaping human culture and history. They have inspired art and literature, and have held spiritual and cultural significance for many indigenous communities.

Ecological Significance

Canyons, with their deep valleys and steep sides, often support unique and diverse ecosystems. These ecosystems provide vital habitats for a variety of plant and animal species, including many that are endangered or threatened. The ecological significance of canyons can be seen in several ways:

  • Biodiversity: Canyons often harbor a high degree of biodiversity, with many species adapted to the specific environmental conditions found within the canyon. This biodiversity is important for the overall health of ecosystems and the survival of many species.
  • Habitat: Canyons can provide critical habitat for many species, including those that require specific types of vegetation, water sources, or geological features. These habitats are essential for the survival and reproduction of many species, and can help to maintain the balance of ecosystems.
  • Water resources: Canyons often contain important water resources, such as rivers, streams, and springs. These water sources are vital for the survival of many species, and also provide important resources for human use.
  • Ecosystem services: Canyons provide a range of ecosystem services, including soil conservation, water regulation, and carbon sequestration. These services are important for maintaining healthy ecosystems and supporting human well-being.

Overall, the ecological significance of canyons highlights the importance of preserving these natural wonders for the benefit of both wildlife and human communities.

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Geological Significance

Canyons are significant to geology as they provide valuable insights into the Earth’s history and geological processes. Some of the geological significance of canyons include:

  • Erosion and weathering: Canyons are formed through the process of erosion, which is the wearing away of rock by water, wind, or ice. This process exposes layers of rock that would otherwise be hidden, providing valuable information about the Earth’s history and the types of rocks that were present in the past.
  • Plate tectonics: Canyons can also provide evidence of plate tectonics, which is the movement of the Earth’s crust. For example, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, is believed to have formed as a result of the collision and separation of two tectonic plates.
  • Volcanic activity: Some canyons, such as the Colca Canyon in Peru, are formed by volcanic activity, where the movement of magma and ash erodes the rock and creates a canyon. This type of canyon provides valuable information about the history of volcanic activity in the area.

Overall, the geological significance of canyons makes them valuable tools for understanding the Earth’s history and geological processes. By studying canyons, scientists can gain insights into the formation of mountains, the movement of tectonic plates, and the history of volcanic activity.

The Science Behind Canyon Formation

Weathering and Erosion

Weathering and erosion are two fundamental processes that play a crucial role in the formation of canyons. These processes involve the breaking down and transportation of rocks and soil, which eventually lead to the creation of steep-sided valleys.

Weathering is the breakdown of rocks and minerals due to physical and chemical processes. It can occur due to the action of water, wind, or temperature changes. This process results in the formation of cracks and crevices in the rock surface, making it more susceptible to further weathering and erosion.

Erosion, on the other hand, is the movement of weathered materials from one place to another. It can occur through various mechanisms, such as the action of water, wind, or ice. As the weathered materials are transported away, they often accumulate in river channels or other depressions, leading to the formation of valleys and canyons.

In the case of canyons, the erosive power of rivers plays a significant role in their formation. Over time, the constant flow of water wears away the rock and soil, carving out a path through the landscape. The erosion of the river bed and banks causes the river to deepen, resulting in the formation of a steep-sided valley.

It is important to note that weathering and erosion are slow processes that require significant amounts of time to create canyons. These natural wonders often form over millions of years, making them a testament to the power of geological forces.

Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics, a fundamental theory in geology, explains the movement of Earth’s crustal plates, which results in the formation of canyons. The crust of the Earth is divided into several large plates, which are in constant motion. These plates can collide, separate, or slide past each other, leading to various geological processes. One such process is the uplift of mountain ranges, which subsequently leads to the erosion of the land and the formation of canyons.

When two plates collide, the landmass between them is compressed, resulting in the uplift of mountains. This uplift creates a highland area that experiences significant erosion due to wind, water, and other weathering processes. Over time, the eroded material is transported downstream, and as it reaches a more stable area, it accumulates and forms a canyon.

Canyons can also form as a result of the separation of two tectonic plates. When two plates separate, magma from the mantle or lower crust rises to the surface, creating volcanic activity. The volcanic activity can lead to the formation of volcanic cones, which then become extinct, leaving behind a canyon.

Furthermore, the movement of tectonic plates can also cause the ground to drop, leading to the formation of a canyon. This occurs when the crust is stretched, causing it to thin and drop, resulting in a depression. The depression can then collect water, creating a river that erodes the land, ultimately forming a canyon.

In summary, plate tectonics play a significant role in the formation of canyons. The movement of tectonic plates results in the uplift of mountains, which subsequently undergoes erosion, leading to the formation of canyons. Additionally, volcanic activity and the stretching of the crust can also contribute to the formation of these natural wonders.

River Processes

Canyons are awe-inspiring natural formations that have captivated the imagination of people for centuries. The science behind canyon formation is complex and multifaceted, with river processes playing a critical role in their creation. In this section, we will delve into the specifics of how rivers contribute to the formation of canyons, the forces at play, and the resulting geological wonders that they create.


Rivers are powerful forces of nature that can carve deep canyons over time. The process of canyon formation through river processes can be broken down into several key factors:

  1. Erosion: The movement of water in a river can cause the erosion of the riverbed and banks, as well as the underlying rock. The force of the water, combined with the presence of sediment and other materials, can cause the gradual wearing away of the landscape.
  2. Transportation: As the river flows, it transports sediment and other materials, which can be deposited in new locations. This process can create a levee, a raised area of deposited material that can help to divert the river’s flow and create a canyon.
  3. Corrosion: The action of the water on the rock can cause chemical reactions, such as the dissolution of minerals. This process, known as corrosion, can further weaken the rock and contribute to the eventual formation of a canyon.
  4. Tectonic forces: In some cases, tectonic forces can contribute to the formation of canyons. For example, the uplift of a mountain range can cause a river to flow downhill, carving a canyon over time.

By understanding the role of river processes in canyon formation, we can better appreciate the power and beauty of these natural wonders. The intricate interplay of erosion, transportation, corrosion, and tectonic forces can create stunning geological formations that stand as a testament to the might of nature.

The World’s Most Spectacular Canyons

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon, located in Arizona, is one of the most famous and awe-inspiring canyons in the world. Stretching 277 miles long and over a mile deep, it is a natural wonder that attracts millions of visitors each year. The canyon is carved by the Colorado River and is characterized by its stunning rock formations, including layers of red, orange, and pink sandstone.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Grand Canyon is its geological history. It is believed to have formed over millions of years through the erosion of the Colorado River, which carved out the canyon as it cut through layers of rock. The process of erosion continues to shape the canyon today, with the river constantly wearing away at the rock and forming new features.

The Grand Canyon is not only a geological wonder but also holds significant cultural and historical significance. The area was inhabited by various Native American tribes for thousands of years, and their presence can still be seen in the form of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, and other artifacts. In addition, the canyon has been a popular destination for tourists and adventurers for over a century, with many attempting to explore its depths by hiking, rafting, and even skydiving.

Overall, the Grand Canyon is a testament to the power of nature and the beauty of the natural world. Its formation and ongoing evolution provide valuable insights into the geological history of the region, while its cultural and historical significance make it a unique and fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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Fish River Canyon, Namibia

The Fish River Canyon, located in Namibia, is one of the world’s most spectacular canyons. It is the second-largest canyon in the world, stretching over 160 kilometers in length and reaching a depth of 550 meters. The canyon was formed by the erosive forces of the Fish River, which carved its way through the rock over millions of years.

One of the unique features of the Fish River Canyon is its striking geological formations, including towering cliffs, rugged gorges, and towering mountain peaks. The canyon’s walls are made up of a variety of rock formations, including granite, sandstone, and limestone, which provide a stunning backdrop to the river below.

The Fish River Canyon is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including mountain zebras, springboks, and giraffes. The canyon is an important habitat for several endangered species, including the African wild dog and the black rhinoceros.

In addition to its natural beauty and geological significance, the Fish River Canyon also holds cultural and historical importance. The canyon is home to several rock art sites, which provide insight into the lives and beliefs of the Khoisan people who lived in the area thousands of years ago.

The Fish River Canyon is a popular destination for hikers and adventure seekers, with several hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the canyon’s breathtaking scenery. The most popular trail is the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail, which spans 86 kilometers and takes several days to complete. The trail offers stunning views of the canyon’s natural beauty, including its dramatic cliffs, rugged gorges, and lush vegetation.

Overall, the Fish River Canyon is a remarkable natural wonder that showcases the power of erosion and the beauty of geological formations. Its diverse wildlife, cultural significance, and recreational opportunities make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the natural wonders of the world.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil

Iguazu Falls, located in the subtropical rainforest of Argentina and Brazil, is a breathtaking natural wonder that attracts millions of visitors each year. Named after the Iguazu River, which flows through the falls, the Iguazu Falls are made up of 275 individual falls, creating a spectacular sight to behold.

The Iguazu Falls are formed by the collision of the Parana Plateau and the Brazilian Highlands, resulting in a 2.7 km wide, 80 meter deep gorge. The force of the water rushing over the edge of the falls creates a constant mist that surrounds the area, creating a humid and lush environment.

The Iguazu Falls are significant for a number of reasons. They provide a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the power and beauty of nature. The falls also play an important role in the local ecosystem, providing a source of fresh water for the surrounding area and supporting a diverse range of plant and animal life.

Furthermore, the Iguazu Falls are an important cultural and historical site for the indigenous communities that have lived in the area for centuries. The falls are believed to have spiritual significance and are revered by the local Guarani people as a sacred site.

Today, the Iguazu Falls are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are a popular destination for adventure tourism, including hiking, horseback riding, and boat tours. Visitors can also take in the stunning views of the falls from one of several lookout points, including the famous Devil’s Throat, where the water plunges over a 80-meter drop into the gorge below.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Wadi Rum, a protected area in Jordan, is home to some of the most stunning canyons in the world. This desert landscape is characterized by towering sandstone mountains, natural arches, and rock formations that have been carved by the elements over millions of years. The area is also home to several unique species of plants and animals, making it a vital ecosystem in the region.

Wadi Rum’s canyons are a testament to the power of water and wind erosion, which have sculpted the sandstone into dramatic shapes and formations. The most famous of these canyons is the 1.2-kilometer-long Rum Canyon, which is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the area. Visitors can also explore the lesser-known Jebel Barzan Canyon, which features stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.

Wadi Rum’s canyons are not only beautiful, but they also hold significant cultural and historical value. The area was once inhabited by the Nabateans, an ancient Arab tribe known for their architectural achievements, including the famous rock-cut city of Petra. Several ancient inscriptions and carvings can be found in the canyons, providing insight into the Nabatean culture and way of life.

Today, Wadi Rum is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Visitors can explore the canyons on foot or by 4×4 vehicle, camp under the stars in traditional Bedouin tents, and experience the unique culture and history of the region. With its breathtaking scenery and rich cultural heritage, Wadi Rum’s canyons are a must-see destination for anyone interested in natural wonders and adventure travel.

The Importance of Preserving Canyons

Conservation Efforts

Preserving canyons is essential to protect these natural wonders and their unique ecosystems. Conservation efforts involve several strategies to preserve canyons and their surrounding environments. Some of these strategies include:

  1. Designating protected areas: Governments and conservation organizations work together to establish protected areas around canyons. These protected areas help to prevent human activities that may harm the canyon’s ecosystem and preserve the area for future generations.
  2. Education and awareness: Educating the public about the importance of canyons and the threats they face is crucial in raising awareness and promoting conservation efforts. This can be achieved through various means, such as school programs, public talks, and media campaigns.
  3. Research and monitoring: Understanding the ecology and geology of canyons is crucial in developing effective conservation strategies. Researchers study the canyon’s ecosystem, geological features, and the impact of human activities on the area. This information is used to develop conservation plans and monitor the effectiveness of these plans.
  4. Restoration and rehabilitation: Restoration and rehabilitation efforts aim to restore the natural balance of the canyon’s ecosystem. This may involve removing invasive species, reintroducing native species, and restoring habitats.
  5. Collaboration and partnerships: Conservation efforts often require collaboration between different stakeholders, including government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities. Partnerships help to pool resources and expertise, and ensure that conservation efforts are effective and sustainable.

Overall, conservation efforts play a crucial role in preserving canyons and their unique ecosystems. By implementing these strategies, we can ensure that these natural wonders continue to inspire and awe future generations.

Threats to Canyons

Canyons are incredibly valuable natural resources that are facing a variety of threats. Understanding these threats is crucial for preserving these unique geological formations for future generations.

  • Habitat destruction: Human activities such as urbanization, agriculture, and mining can destroy the habitats of plant and animal species that depend on canyons for survival.
  • Pollution: Canyons can become contaminated with pollutants from nearby sources, such as runoff from farms and factories, which can harm the ecosystem and the animals that live there.
  • Climate change: Climate change can have a significant impact on canyons, leading to changes in temperature, precipitation, and water levels, which can affect the ecosystem and the plants and animals that depend on it.
  • Tourism: While canyons can be a popular tourist destination, overcrowding and inappropriate behavior by visitors can have a negative impact on the natural environment.
  • Resource extraction: Canyons may contain valuable resources such as oil, gas, and minerals, which can lead to resource extraction that can damage the canyon’s ecosystem and geological features.
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It is important to address these threats to canyons in order to preserve their natural beauty and unique geological features for future generations to enjoy.

The Benefits of Preserving Canyons

  • Ecological Benefits:
    • Preservation of biodiversity
    • Maintaining ecosystem services
    • Habitat for plant and animal species
  • Cultural and Historical Benefits:
    • Cultural significance for indigenous communities
    • Preservation of archaeological and historical sites
    • Importance in local and national histories
  • Recreational and Economic Benefits:
    • Tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities
    • Boosting local economies
    • Supporting sustainable industries

The Enduring Appeal of Canyons

Canyons have been a source of fascination for humans for centuries. Their rugged beauty, dramatic landscapes, and unique geological features have captured the imagination of people from all walks of life. From explorers and adventurers to artists and poets, canyons have inspired countless individuals to explore and appreciate the natural world.

One of the enduring appeals of canyons is their sheer scale and grandeur. Many canyons are several miles wide and hundreds of miles long, with steep cliffs and towering rock formations that stretch up to the sky. These awe-inspiring landscapes have inspired countless artists and photographers to capture their beauty on canvas and film.

Another appeal of canyons is their unique geological features. Many canyons are formed by the erosive power of rivers over millions of years, carving deep valleys and gorges into the landscape. These features provide a unique window into the geological history of the Earth, allowing scientists to study the processes that shape our planet over time.

In addition to their natural beauty and geological significance, canyons also play an important role in local ecosystems. Many canyons provide vital habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species, from towering trees and flowering shrubs to soaring birds of prey and small mammals.

Overall, the enduring appeal of canyons lies in their ability to inspire wonder and awe in those who visit them. Whether viewed as works of art, scientific wonders, or natural habitats, canyons have a unique power to captivate the human imagination and inspire us to appreciate the beauty and complexity of our planet.

Future Explorations and Discoveries

The preservation of canyons is crucial not only for their aesthetic and recreational value but also for the potential scientific discoveries that can be made in these unique geological formations. Some of the future explorations and discoveries that can be made in canyons include:

  • Studying the geological history of the earth: Canyons provide a window into the geological history of the earth, offering insights into the processes that have shaped the planet over millions of years. By studying the layers of rock exposed in canyons, scientists can learn about past climates, geological events, and the evolution of life on earth.
  • Uncovering new species: Canyons are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are unique to the region. Future explorations in canyons may lead to the discovery of new species, providing valuable insights into the biodiversity of the planet.
  • Understanding the hydrological cycle: Canyons often have a significant impact on the water cycle, with rivers and streams carving through the landscape and creating a unique ecosystem. By studying the hydrological cycle in canyons, scientists can gain a better understanding of how water moves through the environment and how it affects the ecosystem.
  • Assessing the impact of human activity: Canyons are often located in areas that are subject to human activity, such as mining, logging, and agriculture. By studying the impact of human activity on canyons, scientists can develop strategies to mitigate the negative effects of human activity on the environment.

Overall, the future explorations and discoveries that can be made in canyons are vast and varied, offering valuable insights into the natural world and the processes that shape it. By preserving these unique geological formations, we can ensure that future generations can continue to explore and learn from these natural wonders.

The Responsibility to Protect and Preserve Canyons for Future Generations

The canyons are not only breathtaking natural wonders but also hold significant ecological, cultural, and recreational values. Therefore, it is the responsibility of present generations to protect and preserve these canyons for future generations to come. This can be achieved through various means such as education, awareness, conservation efforts, and sustainable tourism practices.

Education is a key factor in promoting the importance of preserving canyons. By providing educational programs and workshops, people can be informed about the ecological and cultural significance of canyons and the impact of human activities on these natural wonders. This can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of canyons, and a willingness to protect them.

Awareness campaigns can also play a crucial role in preserving canyons. By highlighting the importance of canyons and the threats they face, people can be motivated to take action to protect them. This can include supporting conservation efforts, participating in sustainable tourism practices, and advocating for policies that promote the protection of canyons.

Conservation efforts are essential in preserving canyons. This can include protecting the land around canyons from development, limiting the impact of human activities such as hiking and camping, and restoring the natural habitat of canyons. These efforts can help maintain the ecological balance of canyons and ensure their continued existence for future generations.

Sustainable tourism practices can also play a role in preserving canyons. By promoting responsible tourism practices, such as avoiding impact on the natural environment, respecting local cultures, and supporting local communities, tourists can help protect canyons while still enjoying their natural beauty. This can also contribute to the local economy and promote the conservation of canyons.

In conclusion, the responsibility to protect and preserve canyons for future generations is a shared one. By promoting education, awareness, conservation efforts, and sustainable tourism practices, we can ensure the continued existence of these natural wonders for generations to come.

FAQs

1. What is a canyon?

A canyon is a deep, narrow valley with steep sides, often with a river flowing through it. Canyons are formed by the erosive action of water over a long period of time, usually by a river cutting through rock layers.

2. How are canyons formed?

Canyons are formed by the erosive action of water, usually a river, cutting through rock layers over a long period of time. The river’s flow and the amount of sediment it carries depend on the size of the river and the amount of rainfall in the area. As the river cuts down into the rock, it creates a canyon.

3. What is the significance of canyons?

Canyons are significant because they provide insight into the geological history of an area. They can also be a source of hydroelectric power and a home to unique plant and animal species. In addition, canyons are often popular tourist destinations and are enjoyed by hikers, campers, and nature enthusiasts.

4. What are some famous canyons?

Some famous canyons include the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, Africa, and the Colca Canyon in Peru, South America.

5. How do canyons differ from valleys?

A valley is a low-lying area between hills or mountains, often with a river flowing through it. A canyon is a specific type of valley that is deep and narrow, with steep sides, and is often carved by a river. The difference between a valley and a canyon is one of degree: a canyon is simply a very deep and narrow valley.

How a Canyon is formed