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  Doin’ the Canyon Shuffle
  BQR ~ summer 1996

o, you’ve run the Río, eh? (Maybe even forgotten how many times by now?) And surely, having run The Canyon is a singular badge of honor, yes?
Think again.
There are other Grand Canyons out there; lots of ‘em. And Río Colorados? Miles and miles of ‘em! Time to face up to it: you’ve only just started if you really want to say you’ve run the “Colorado,” rowed “Grand Canyon,” motored “The Canyon”—done “The Ditch.”
If you want to say you’ve run all the Río Colorados, you’ll have to haul your gear to Argentina (20 Río Colorados there), Bolivia (12), Brazil (2), Chile (16), Colombia (6), Costa Rica (5), Cuba (6), Dominican Republic (3), Ecuador (1), Guatemala (5), Honduras (9), Mexico (besides what’s left of The Colorado, two others), Panama (3), Peru (5), and Venezuela (6). And don’t forget the U.S.A.’s own “other” Colorado River, in Texas. At least they’re all in this hemisphere.
If you want to lump together the namesakes—Red River—you’ll have to add to your travel list Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Not to mention jaunts to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Whew!
Oh yeah, Haiti has something called Ravine Colorado that might be worth checking out, too.
Mind you, some of these “Ríos” might be just stinking little streams, tough to get your boats down through. But a name’s a name, and a challenge is a challenge. If you want to say you’ve “done it,” then go do it all!
If you’re just looking to have done the “Grand Canyon,” there’s lots to ponder there, too. Some sound like great places to visit, but be warned that running them might be a bit tricky. Some have giant waterfalls and miles of uninterrupted rapids; others, not enough water to float a beer can. But hell, anything’s possible. Here’s a checklist, mostly from the Geographic Names Information System, a neat and even useful web site on the Internet, managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (to get started, go to http://www-nmd.usgs.gov/www/gnis/index.html):

Grand Canyon (Arizona, of course)
Grand Canyon (Northwest Arctic Co., Alaska)
Grand Canyon (Santa Catalina Island, Los Angeles Co., California)
Grand Canyon (near Pasadena, Los Angeles Co., California)
Grand Canyon (Marin Co., California)
Grand Canyon (Jackson Co., Illinois)
Grand Canyon (Warren Co., Missouri)
Grand Canyon (Clallam Co., Washington)
Grand Canyon (Lincoln Co., Wyoming)
Grand Canyon (Crook Co., Wyoming-Lawrence Co., South Dakota)
Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (Tioga Co.)
Grand Canyon of the Snake River (Wallowa Co., Oregon)
Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River (Tuolumne Co., California)
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (Yellowstone National Park, Park Co., Wyoming)
Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii; a.k.a. Miniature Grand Canyon)
Little Grand Canyon (Emery County, Utah)
Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon (Providence Canyon State Park, Stewart Co., Georgia)

We’ve added a couple of places that show up only on postcards and tourist literature; after all, a name’s a name. But you run into trouble with some Spanish names, like Agua Grande Canyon and Llano Grande Canyon (both in California), which translate so that the other thing is grand, not the canyon.
Richard D. Fisher put together a nice, colorful book called Earth’s Mystical Grand Canyons (Sunracer Publications, 1995). In it he writes about fantastic gorges and “canyoneering” opportunities in Tibet, China, Mexico, Boliva, and the U.S.A. It’s mostly about the canyons he dubiously says usurp Arizona’s Grand Canyon as “the deepest”—but that’s another argument. Stay tuned; we’ll be back.

Finding Grand Canyons elsewhere is a bit trickier. The Defense Mapping Agency (not quite so sinister as it sounds, really) keeps track of geographic names outside of the U.S.A. Their web site ( lets you find lots of Grande “cañadas,” “cañadóns,” “caños,” and such—even a town named Gran Cañón in Guatemala—but nothing like the Gran Cañón we’re looking for. Some of the Cañadón Grande’s are listed as ravines and gorges, but most of them are under the catch-all category of “stream.” And it seems like there are a million streams named Quebrada Grande, but that could mean anything from “Big Brook” to “Grand Ravine.” Where do you draw the line?
We won’t stretch a point. Still, even the remarkable computerized databases that let you cruise the world from your chair are not infallible. A look at the hard-copy volumes of the foreign gazetteers put out by the Defense Mapping Agency revealed several bona fide Grand Canyons, omitted from the electronic versions:

Grand Canyon (Fraser River, British Columbia)
Grand Canyon (Nechako River, British Columbia)
Grand Canyon of the Liard (British Columbia)
Grand Canyon of the Stikine (British Columbia)
Grand Cañon du Verdon (France)

In Antarctica, there’s a place called “Grand Chasms,” but since it’s a crevasse field it might be a bit rough on boats.
Oh yes, there’s also “The Other Grand Canyon.” This could be a bit difficult to run since it’s a submarine chasm—Monterey Canyon, offshore from California. It’s also said to be even deeper than The Canyon, but we’ll just take their word for it. You say the name is just a gimmick to sell the magazine it appeared in (Earth, December 1995)? Sure thing—it’s “canyon envy,” especially when they claim it’s bigger than ours.
We’re a little confused, though. We all have heard the tired-out line, “There is only one Grand Canyon; there is only one Colorado River.” It’s in a few hundred books; we’d guess it’s in every Grand Canyon video—one Canyon, one River. Each of us has believed that with all our heart and all our soul. To learn of all the other ríos and cañons out there, red and grand—well, it shakes the faith.
But, have you ever noticed that all of these canyons are named after The Grand Canyon? If they haven’t stolen the name outright, it’s “The Grand Canyon of something.” Even if a canyon hasn’t been named after “The Grand Canyon,” Arizona’s canyon is the unit of measurement: “deeper than,” “wider than,” “longer than”—even “littler” for cryin’ out loud—but somehow never “grander than.” Still doubt it’s canyon envy? Hmph!
And just for old time’s sake, what about “Big Cañon,” the Canyon’s name before Powell got a hold of it? They’re a dime a dozen. “Big Canyon” shows up at least once each in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.
Well now, you think you’ve run The Canyon? Sorry. There are ten watercourses officially called “The Canyon”; they’re in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas.
Okay, okay. Some river runners like the euphemism, The Ditch. Surely such a mundane description isn’t an official name? Wrong again. “The Ditch” is listed for two canals in Alaska, a gut (whatever the hell that is) in Alabama, a tidewater channel in Delaware, and two more canals in Maryland. In North Carolina there’s a bar (a physiographic feature, not a drinking establishment) called The Ditch. (But we’ll bet that many of us have been in bars that were—or should have been—named The Ditch.) And Texas boasts two streams called The Ditch.
If you call the Canyon the “Big Ditch,” you’ll add to your itinerary Big Ditches in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware (including a placed called THE Big Ditch), Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Not to be outdone, though, North Carolina and New Jersey each have a “Great Ditch.” But are they greater or grander than Colorado’s “Grand Ditch”?
So the next time you sit down with buddies and friends (whether you’re on the ramp or in some dark place called The Ditch), and you smugly bring up all those stories about trouble and travail on the Río, be honest and ‘fess up—you’re only just talking about God’s Own Grand Canyon.
Then tell ‘em how you’ll go do them all...

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