Grand Canyon History
Before setting out on your journey, take some time to look up some Grand Canyon facts to enrich your experience.
We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore.
Native Americans at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a sacred place for many Native American tribes in the Southwest. In some Native American origin stories (like the Hopi), the Grand Canyon is the birthplace of mankind where the first humans emerged from Sipapu, the underworld, and separated into many different tribes that spread and populated Earth.
It is documented that people have been living in the Grand Canyon for at least the last 4,000 years, but archaeologists have discovered evidence of human activity in the Grand Canyon location that date back as far as 10,500 years ago! Hikers in the canyon today may see evidence of ancient peoples in petroglyphs carved into a cliff or boulder, or in granaries used to store food. Undoubtedly, there are still many undiscovered historical treasures within the canyon’s walls. The Havasupai people still live within the walls of the Grand Canyon, carrying on many aspects of their traditional way of life below the rim.
Read more about the Havasupai People
Modern Grand Canyon History
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.