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Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It is a huge canyon, approximately ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. Located on the western side of Kauai, Waimea is Hawaiian for "reddish water". This is in reference to the erosion of the canyon's red soil. The canyon was formed by a deep incision of the Waimea River arising from the extreme rainfall on the island's central peak; Mount Waialeale is one of the wettest places on earth.

The canyon has a unique geological history. It was formed not only by the steady process of erosion, but also by a catastrophic collapse of the volcano that created the island of Kauai. Like all the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the top of an enormous volcano rising from the ocean floor. With lava flows dated to about 5-6 million years ago, this island is the oldest of the large Hawaiian Islands. When Kauai was still erupting, a portion of the island collapsed. This collapse formed a depression, which then filled with lava flows. Lavas of the canyon provide evidence for massive faulting and collapse in the early history of the island. The west side of the canyon is all thin, while the east side is very thick, flat-lying lavas. The two sides are separated by an enormous fault along which a large part of the island moved downwards in a big collapse.

Rainwater from the slopes of Mount Waialeale has eroded Waimea Canyon along one edge of the collapse. The cliffs on the west side of the canyon are composed of thin lava flows that ran down the surface of the volcano. On the other side of the canyon, the cliff walls are built from thick lava flows that pooled in the depression. Over time, the exposed basalt has weathered from its original black to bright red. Waimea Canyon State Park includes 1,866 acres and is a popular tourist attraction on the island. It provides a wilderness area with many hiking trails.

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