Superlatives fascinate us, if the Guinness Book of World Records is any indication. We want to know the biggest, the smallest, the widest, the most… And, we certainly want to know the deepest. One of Idaho’s claims to fame is having the deepest canyon in North America. Hells Canyon, when measured from the top of He Devil Mountain to the splashing Snake River is 7,993 feet. At least, that’s the number given most often.
But, is that the deepest? Some folks claim that Kings Canyon in California is actually the deepest, at 8,200 feet. At a glance, Kings Canyon looks like the easy winner. But how does one measure a canyon? When you think of a canyon, your mind probably goes to Grand Canyon with its sheer cliffs and brilliant colors. Now THAT’S a canyon! Yet, Grand Canyon, at its deepest is only about 6,000 feet. There’s no real issue about measuring the Grand Canyon. You might be able to use a plumb bob in spots and more than a mile of string, dropping it straight down. You couldn’t do that at Hells Canyon, because the point you measure from is the highest point in the Seven Devils Range, which is more than five miles from the river, as the eagle flies.
In California, Spanish Mountain is 8,200 feet above the confluence of the Middle and South forks of the King River, which is just less than 5 miles away. A plumb bob wouldn’t work there, either.
Now, I know they don’t use a string and a weight to determine the difference in elevation between a river and the top of a peak. I use the plumb bob image just to make a point. That point is a question. What is a canyon? Does a gorge count as a gorge if only one side has high cliffs? If an asymmetrical canyon is okay with you, then Kings Canyon is probably your favorite for the deepest gorge. The mountains across from Spanish Mountain are about 2,200 feet above the river.
Meanwhile, back in Idaho, the mountains on the Oregon side of the Snake are more than a mile above the river. That seems a little more gorge-like to me.
Hells Canyon wins the internet, with most sites listing it as the deepest. Wikipedia calls it the deepest in North America at 7,933 feet, while mentioning in passing on the Kings Canyon page that it is “one of the deepest in North America” at 8,200 feet.
To muddy the canyon waters a bit further, some sites claim that Copper Canyon in Mexico is the deepest in North America, though with no substantiation.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
#deepestgorge #deepestcanyon #hellscanyon