In 1540, the first foreign explorers to see the Grand Canyon were the Spanish conquistadors searching for legendary cities made of gold. In about 1760, Spanish priests visited the tribes of the canyon, documenting these encounters for the first time.
In 1869, legendary explorer, one-armed civil war veteran, and U.S. Army Major John Wesley Powell led the first rafting expedition through the entire length of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. Powell recruited nine men, also veterans and mountain men, but with no whitewater experience whatsoever. This expedition was an extremely brave endeavor as it consisted of MANY unknowns without much opportunity to abandon the quest once begun. They set out on the expedition with heavy wooden boats, unsuitable for these conditions. Over their three months one boat was lost in the rapids, and only six of the ten men completed the journey. Powell writes in his journal, “We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.”
In 1901, the Santa Fe Railroad to Grand Canyon Village was finished and the first automobile was driven to the South rim in 1902. You can still ride the Grand Canyon Railway today. By 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the area a National Monument until it was reclassified to a National Park in 1919. It became America’s 17th National Park, and a World Heritage Site in 1979. Today, the park is 1.2 million acres and home to 7 endangered species, including the California Condor.