The geology of the Grand Canyon area exposes one of the most complete sequences of rock anywhere, representing a period of nearly 2 billion years of the Earth's history in that part of North America. The major sedimentary rock layers exposed in the Grand Canyon and in the Grand Canyon National Park area range in age from 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old. Most were deposited in warm, shallow seas and near ancient, long-gone sea shores. Both marine and terrestrial sediments are represented, including fossilized sand dunes from an extinct desert.
Uplift of the region started about 75 million years ago in the Laramide orogeny, a mountain-building event that is largely responsible for creating the Rocky Mountains to the east. Accelerated uplift started 17 million years ago when the Colorado Plateaus (on which the area is located) were being formed. In total these layers were uplifted an estimated 10,000 feet (3000 m) which enabled the ancestral Colorado River to cut its channel into the four plateaus that constitute this area.
The canyon, created by the Colorado River is 277 miles (446 km) long, ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29 km) and attains a depth of more than a mile (1.6 km). Nearly two billion years of the Earth's history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.
Wetter climates brought upon by ice ages starting 2 million years ago greatly increased excavation of the Grand Canyon, which was nearly as deep as it is now by 1.2 million years ago. Also about 2 million years ago volcanic activity started to deposit ash and lava over the area. At least 13 large lava flows dammed the Colorado River, forming huge lakes that were up to 2000 feet (600 m) deep and 100 miles (160 km) long. The nearly 40 identified rock layers and 14 major unconformities (gaps in the geologic record) of the Grand Canyon form one of the most studied sequences of rock in the world.