Grand Canyon

Historical facts about the Grand Canyon

  1. THE OLDEST HUMAN ARTIFACTS FOUND IN THE GRAND CANYON ARE 12,000 YEARS OLD

The oldest man-made objects found in the Grand Canyon are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period.  Hundreds of split-twig figurines have been discovered in the canyon walls, shaped like deer and bighorn sheep.  Anthropologists believe that prehistoric hunters used these in religious rituals.

  1. THE HOPI TRIBE CONSIDERS THE GRAND CANYON A GATEWAY TO THE AFTERLIFE

Referred to as Öngtupqa in the Hopi language, the Grand Canyon carries great spiritual significance for the Native American tribe that has long inhabited the region.  Upon death, a Hopi is believed to pass westward through the sipapuni, or “place of emergence” – a dome of mineral deposits that sit upstream from the Colorado River’s union with the Little Colorado River inside the canyon – on his or her journey into the afterlife.

  1. THE FIRST EUROPEANS SAW THE GRAND CANYON IN 1540

In the late summer of 1540, soldiers from the Spanish expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado became the first Europeans to see Grand Canyon.  After journeying for six months, Coronado’s army arrived at the Hopi mesas, east of the Grand Canyon.  From there, Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, guided by Hopi Indians, led a small party of men to find a reported “great river.”  After 20 days, they reached the south rim of the Grand Canyon, emerging from the forest to stand on the edge of the vast crater.  Three soldiers went down to explore the canyon’s depths.  The trek didn’t last very long.  The soldiers were overcome by thirst, possibly because the Hopi intentionally safeguarded their valued Colorado River from the travelers’ reach.

  1. SUBSEQUENT EUROPEAN VISITORS TOOK THEIR TIME RETURNING TO THE GRAND CANYON

After this initial contact didn’t reveal any great riches in the area, the Spanish had no urgency to return.   Europeans didn’t make their second visit until 1776, when Spanish priests Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante happened upon the canyon while attempting to find a route from Santa Fe to their Catholic mission in Monterey, California.  In the same year, another Spanish missionary, Francisco Garcés, took in the canyon during a mostly unsuccessful attempt to convert the local Havasupai to Christianity.

  1. EXPLORERS OF EUROPEAN DESCENT DIDN’T NAVIGATE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON UNTIL 1869

In 1869, seven years after losing his right arm during the Battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War, John Wesley Powell led nine men – including a printer for the Rocky Mountain News, an 18-year-old mule driver and bullwhacker, and Powell’s brother – on a thousand-mile mission down the Colorado River and its tributaries and through the Grand Canyon.  Only six team members would complete this expedition, but Powell returned in 1871 with congressional backing and an 11-man team that included scientists.  That second trip produced the first maps of the Colorado River.  John Wesley Powell wrote vivid accounts of his Colorado River expeditions.  His first-hand experiences made him an advocate for natural resources’ wise use, particularly the limited water resources in the Southwest.

  1. TEDDY ROOSEVELT USED A LOOPHOLE TO PROTECT THE GRAND CANYON

Roosevelt needed just one visit to the Grand Canyon in 1903 before deciding that “the marvel should be protected.” Unfortunately, it was beyond his authority to designate an area as a national park without congressional approval.  To sidestep what he predicted would be an uncooperative Congress, Roosevelt took the long way around.  In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison had established a forest preserve in the area.  So Roosevelt was able to add considerably more protection in 1906 by using a presidential proclamation to designate the area as the Grand Canyon Game Preserve.  Two years later, he declared the area a national monument.  The area was safe, but even then, Roosevelt couldn’t get the green light to create the Grand Canyon National Park – formal approval didn’t come until 1919 when Woodrow Wilson was President.

  1. THE FIRST AUTOMOBILE TO REACH THE GRAND CANYON’S SOUTH RIM WAS IN 1902. IT TOOK FIVE DAYS FROM FLAGSTAFF
  2. IN 1909, THE CANYON WAS THE SITE OF A GIANT HOAX

The Arizona Gazette reported that two affiliate archaeologists of the Smithsonian had discovered traces of an ancient Tibetan or Egyptian civilization in an underground tunnel in the canyon.  The Smithsonian denied this entire story, claiming that they did not know the archaeologists.  Despite lack of evidence, the belief that the Smithsonian found and covered a treasure’s cave of wonder remains persistent among conspiracy theorists.

  1. THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION EXISTS BECAUSE OF THE GRAND CANYON

In the 1950s, commercial airplanes often took detours over the park to give passengers a look at the marvel.  In 1956, however, two of these planes tragically collided.  It was the deadliest crash in American commercial aviation history.  Within a few years, the United States Congress created the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to increase air safety.

  1. GRAND CANYON RECEIVES CLOSE TO 5 MILLION VISITORS EACH YEAR

The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.  An estimated 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon a year, making it the second most popular national park, following just behind the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.  It’s a far cry from the 44,173 visitors in 1919 when the park was created.