Monday, July 25, 2011

The Story of Grand Canyon

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The known history of the Grand Canyon area stretches back 10,500 years, when the first evidence of human presence in the area is found. Native Americans have inhabited the Grand Canyon and the area now covered by Grand Canyon National Park for at least the last 4,000 of those years. Anasazi, first as the Basketmaker culture and later as the more familiar Puebloans, developed from the Desert Culture as they became less nomadic and more dependent on agriculture. A similar culture, the Cohonina, also lived in the canyon area. Drought in the late 13th century likely caused both groups to move on. Other peoples followed, including the Paiute, Cerbat, and the Navajo, only to be later forced onto reservations by the United States Government.

In September 1540, under direction by conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas led a party of Spanish soldiers with Hopi guides to the Grand Canyon. More than 200 years passed before two Spanish priests became the second party of non-Native Americans to see the canyon. U.S. Army Major John Wesley Powell led the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition through the canyon on the Colorado River. This and later study by geologists uncovered the geology of the Grand Canyon area and helped to advance that science. In the late 19th century, the promise of mineral resources—mainly copper and asbestos—renewed interest in the region. The first pioneer settlements along the rim came in the 1880s.

Early residents soon realized that tourism was destined to be more profitable than mining, and by the turn of the 20th century the Grand Canyon was a well-known tourist destination. Most visitors made the grueling trip from nearby towns to the South Rim by stagecoach. In 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway was opened from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim, and the development of formal tourist facilities, especially at Grand Canyon Village, increased dramatically. The Fred Harvey Company developed many facilities at the Grand Canyon, including the luxury El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim in 1905 and Phantom Ranch in the Inner Gorge in 1922. Although first afforded federal protection in 1893 as a forest reserve and later as a U.S. National Monument, the Grand Canyon did not achieve U.S. National Park status until 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service. Today, Grand Canyon National Park receives about five million visitors each year, a far cry from the annual visitation of 44,173 in 1919.



Current archaeological evidence suggests that humans inhabited the Grand Canyon area as far back as 4,000 years ago[1] and at least were passers-through for 6,500 years before that. Radiocarbon dating of artifacts found in limestone caves in the inner canyon indicate ages of 3,000 to 4,000 years. In the 1930s split-twig animal figurines were found in the Redwall Limestone cliffs of the Inner Gorge that were dated in this range. These animal figurines are a few inches (7 to 8 cm) in height and made primarily from twigs of willow or cottonwood. This and other evidence suggests that these inner canyon dwellers were part of Desert Culture; a group of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer Native Americans.

The Basketmaker Anasazi (also called the Histatsinom, meaning "people who lived long ago") evolved from the Desert Culture sometime around 500 BCE. This group inhabited the rim and inner canyon and survived by hunting and gathering along with some limited agriculture. Noted for their basketmaking skills (hence their name), they lived in small communal bands inside caves and circular mud structures called pithouses. Further refinement of agriculture and technology led to a more sedentary and stable lifestyle for the Anasazi starting around 500 CE. Contemporary with the flourishing of Anasazi culture, another group, called the Cohonina lived west of the current site of Grand Canyon Village.

Anasazi in the Grand Canyon area started to use stone in addition to mud and poles to erect above-ground houses sometime around 800 CE. Thus the Pueblo period of Anasazi culture was initiated. In summer, the Puebloans migrated from the hot inner canyon to the cooler high plateaus and reversed the journey for winter. Large graineries and multi-room pueblos survive from this period. There are around 2,000 known Anasazi archaeological sites in park boundaries. The most accessible site is Tusayan Pueblo, which was constructed sometime around 1185 and housed 30 or so people.


Large numbers of dated archaeological sites indicate that the Anasazi and the Cohonina flourished until about 1200 CE. Something happened a hundred years after that, however, that forced both of these cultures to move away. Several lines of evidence led to a theory that climate change caused a severe drought in the region from 1276 to 1299, forcing these agriculture-dependent cultures to move on. Many Anasazi relocated to the Rio Grande and the Little Colorado River drainages, where their descendants, the Hopi and the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, now live.

For approximately one hundred years the canyon area was uninhabited by humans. Paiute from the east and Cerbat from the west were the first humans to reestablish settlements in and around the Grand Canyon. The Paiute settled the plateaus north of the Colorado River and the Cerbat built their communities south of the river, on the Coconino Plateau. The Navajo, or the Diné, arrived in the area later.

All three cultures were stable until the United States Army moved them to Indian reservations in 1882 as part of the removal efforts that ended the Indian Wars. The Havasupai and Hualapai are descended from the Cerbat and still live in the immediate area. The village of Supai in the western part of the current park is likely one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in the contiguous United States. Adjacent to the eastern part of the park is the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States.


The first Europeans reached the Grand Canyon in September 1540. It was a group of about 13 Spanish soldiers led by García López de Cárdenas, dispatched from the army of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on its quest to find the fabulous Seven Cities of Cibola. The group was led by Hopi guides and, assuming they took the most likely route, must have reached the canyon at the South Rim, probably between today's Desert View and Moran Point.

The report indicates that they greatly misjudged the proportions of the gorge. On the one hand, they estimated that the canyon was about three to four leagues wide (13–16 km, 8–10 mi), which is quite accurate. At the same time, however, they believed that the river, which they could see from above, was only 2 m (6 ft) wide (in reality it is about a hundred times wider). Being in dire need of water, and wanting to cross the giant obstacle, the soldiers started searching for a way down to the canyon floor that would be passable for them along with their horses. After three full days, they still hadn't been successful, and it is speculated that the Hopi, who probably knew a way down to the canyon floor, were reluctant to lead them there.

As a last resort, Cárdenas finally commanded the three lightest and most agile men of his group to climb down by themselves (their names are given as Pablo de Melgosa, Juan Galeras, and an unknown, third soldier). After several hours, the men returned, reporting that they had only made one third of the distance down to the river, and that "what seemed easy from above was not so". Furthermore, they claimed that some of the boulders which they had seen from the rim, and estimated to be about as tall as a man, were in fact bigger than the Great Tower of Seville (which then was the tallest building in the world, measuring 82 metres, or 270 feet). Cárdenas finally had to give up and returned to the main army. His report of an impassable barrier forestalled further visitation to the area for two hundred years.

Only in 1776 did two Spanish Priests, Fathers Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante travel along the North Rim again, together with a group of Spanish soldiers, exploring southern Utah in search of a route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Monterey, California. Also in 1776, Fray Francisco Garces, a Franciscan missionary, spent a week near Havasupai, unsuccessfully attempting to convert a band of Native Americans. He described the canyon as "profound".

James Ohio Pattie and a group of American trappers and mountain men were probably the next Europeans to reach the canyon in 1826. There is little in terms of documentation to support this, however.
The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ceded the Grand Canyon region to the United States. Jules Marcou of the Pacific Railroad Survey made the first geologic observations of the canyon and surrounding area in 1856.
Jacob Hamblin (a Mormon missionary) was sent by Brigham Young in the 1850s to locate easy river crossing sites in the canyon. Building good relations with local Native Americans and white settlers, he discovered Lee's Ferry in 1858 and Pierce Ferry (later operated by, and named for, Harrison Pierce)—the only two sites suitable for ferry operation.

In 1857 Edward Fitzgerald Beale led an expedition to survey a wagon road from Fort Defiance, Arizona to the Colorado River. On September 19 near present day National Canyon they came upon what May Humphreys Stacey described in his journal as "...a wonderful canyon four thousand feet deep. Everyone (in the party) admitted that he never before saw anything to match or equal this astonishing natural curiosity."

A U.S. War Department expedition led by Lt. Joseph Ives was launched in 1857 to investigate the area's potential for natural resources, to find railroad routes to the west coast, and assess the feasibility of an up-river navigation route from the Gulf of California. The group traveled in a stern wheeler steamboat named Explorer. After two months and 350 miles (560 km) of difficult navigation, his party reached Black Canyon some two months after George Johnson. In the process, the Explorer struck a rock and was abandoned. The group later traveled eastwards along the South
A man of his time, Ives discounted his own impressions on the beauty of the canyon and declared it and the surrounding area as "altogether valueless", remarking that his expedition would be "the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality". Attached to Ives' expedition was geologist John Strong Newberry who had a very different impression of the canyon. After returning, Newberry convinced fellow geologist John Wesley Powell that a boat run through the Grand Canyon to complete the survey would be worth the risk.[14][note 1] Powell was a major in the United States Army and was a veteran of the American Civil War, a conflict that cost him his right forearm in the Battle of Shiloh.

More than a decade after the Ives Expedition and with help from the Smithsonian Institution, Powell led the first of the Powell Expeditions to explore the region and document its scientific offerings. On May 24, 1869, the group of nine men set out from Green River Station in Wyoming down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. This first expedition was poorly funded and consequently no photographer or graphic artist was included. While in the Canyon of Lodore one of the group's four boats capsized, spilling most of their food and much of their scientific equipment into the river. This shortened the expedition to one hundred days. Tired of being constantly cold, wet and hungry and not knowing they had already passed the worst rapids, three of Powell's men climbed out of the canyon in what is now called Separation Canyon. Once out of the canyon, all three were reportedly killed by Shivwits band Paiutes who thought they were miners that recently molested and killed a female Shivwit. All those who stayed with Powell survived and that group successfully ran most of the canyon.

Two years later a much better-funded Powell-led party returned with redesigned boats and a chain of several supply stations along their route. This time, photographer E.O. Beaman and 17-year-old artist Frederick Dellenbaugh were included. Beaman left the group in January 1872 over a dispute with Powell and his replacement, James Fennemore, quit August that same year due to poor health, leaving boatman John K. Hillers as the official photographer (nearly one ton of photographic equipment was needed on site to process each shot). Famed painter Thomas Moran joined the expedition in the summer of 1873, after the river voyage and thus only viewed the canyon from the rim. His 1873 painting "Chasm of the Colorado" was bought by the United States Congress in 1874 and hung in the lobby of the Senate.

The Powell expeditions systematically cataloged rock formations, plants, animals, and archaeological sites. Photographs and illustrations from the Powell expeditions greatly popularized the canyonland region of the southwest United States, especially the Grand Canyon (appreciating this, Powell added increasing resources to that aspect of his expeditions). Powell later used these photographs and illustrations in his lecture tours, making him a national figure. Rights to reproduce 650 of the expeditions' 1,400 stereographs were sold to help fund future Powell projects. In 1881 he became the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Geologist Clarence Dutton followed up on Powell's work in 1880–1881 with the first in-depth geological survey of the newly formed U.S. Geological Survey. Painters Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes accompanied Dutton, who was busy drafting detailed descriptions of the area's geology. The report that resulted from the team's effort was titled A Tertiary History of The Grand Canyon District, with Atlas and was published in 1882. This and later study by geologists uncovered the geology of the Grand Canyon area and helped to advance that science. Both the Powell and Dutton expeditions helped to increase interest in the canyon and surrounding region.

The Brown-Stanton expedition was started in 1889 to survey the route for a "water-level" railroad line through the canyons of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. The proposed Denver, Colorado Canyon, and Pacific Railway was to carry coal from mines in Colorado. Expedition leader Frank M. Brown, his chief engineer Robert Brewster Stanton, and 14 other men set out in six boats from Green River, Utah, on May 25, 1889. Brown and two others drowned near the head of Marble Canyon. The expedition was restarted by Stanton from Dirty Devil River (a tributary of Glen Canyon) on November 25 and traveled through the Grand Canyon. The expedition reached the Gulf of California on April 26, 1890 but the railroad was never built.

Prospectors in the 1870s and 1880s staked mining claims in the canyon. They hoped that previously discovered deposits of asbestos, copper, lead, and zinc would be profitable to mine. Access to and from this remote region and problems getting ore out of the canyon and its rock made the whole exercise not worth the effort. Most moved on, and some stayed to seek profit in the tourist trade. Their activities did improve pre-existing Indian trails, such as Bright Angel Trail.

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