An interpretive walking timeline trail that focuses on Grand Canyon vistas and rocks is being created with the help of scientists at the University of New Mexico, the National Park Service and a $2.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This "Trail of Time" will help visitors explore, ponder and understand the magnitude of geologic time and its stories encoded by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes.

Professors Karl Karlstrom and Laura Crossey in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department in the College of Arts and Sciences are working on the planning and installation of the exhibit along the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The trail would be the world's largest geo-science education exhibit at one of the world's grandest geologic landscapes.

"Until recently, very little geologic information was presented to visitors at the Grand Canyon National Park. Things are changing with the recent opening of a restored geology museum at Yavapai Observation Station," said Karlstrom. "The Grand Canyon National Park has about five million visitors every year, and through the Trail of Time exhibit, we are making a major effort to perhaps catch people at the moment where they are impressed with the scenery and help them understand more about how the landscape was shaped by geologic events".

The intent is to have visitors walk along a 1.3-mile trail in family units, small groups, or classes, with ranger programs and docent tours. Some will take on a different role as visitor-teachers, some as learners, others as questioners.

The Trail will begin at the Yavapai Observation Station. Walking west, each step takes visitors back in time one million years. The carving of the Grand Canyon is completed in the first six steps, the equivalent of six million years. The Trail continues through the formation of Grand Canyon rock layers to the oldest rock in Canyon - recording a geologic history dating back more than 1,800 million years in the process.
As part of the design and evaluation phase, bronze markers will be placed along the Trail this summer. In 2008, Phase 2 of the installation process calls for waysides to be placed. The following year, completion of the "Trail of Time" exhibition is scheduled.

"The whole department is working on undergraduate research supporting and involving students in academic pursuits relative to their degree," said Karlstrom. "We've used classes to help formulate ideas. In Phase 1, we placed 4,500 tick marks along the trail. Students lay on a skateboard and were pulled along the trail to each spot where a marker was placed. The actual markers will be bronze insets into the Trail—we are trying to create an unobtrusive exhibit that does not detract from the beauty of the Grand Canyon "

"It's our hope we will have a geology class in the Freshmen Learning Communities next fall centered around the Trail of Time," said Crossey.

Using a walking guide, visitors will gain an appreciation of the depth and scale of the Grand Canyon, a sense of awe for the magnitude of deep time, a desire and motivation to understand the origin of rocks and landscapes, and a sense of surprise and self-discovery about the Earth and Grand Canyon.

A "Time Accelerator" portion of the Trail will help visitors through a gradual transition along the trail from Yavapai Point to Grandeur Point. They can experience historic time scales that span tens and hundreds of years to archeological time scales encompassing thousands of years to the heartbeat of geologic time spanning millions of years. A web-based Virtual Trail of Time will also provide additional resources for continued intellectual conversation about different rock layers and the evolution of the Grand Canyon region and life on Earth.

"It's like a trail of bread crumbs," said Karlstrom. "The vast majority of visitors can't go down into the canyon. The Trail of Time makes the Grand Canyon more accessible in a spectacular walk along the trail."
An accompanying brochure with a symptomatic balance of accurate information, but not so much information as to saturate visitors, is also being created.

The project began in 1995 when the "Trail of Time" concept was initially written and presented to park officials. Inquiries into planning grants began in 2002. In 2006, the NSF funded the project for $2.1 million over three years.

"All national parks have a segment of geology," said Karlstrom. "The idea might grow and be installed in other national parks."

In addition to the Grand Canyon National Park and the NSF, other academic institutions involved in the project include Arizona State University and the University of Massachusetts.

Media Contact: Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821; e-mail: