The Grand Canyon is easily one of the most recognizable land formations in the world and is certainly one of America’s natural wonders. This piece of landscape has shaped the lives and activities of countless generations, and has stood before a wide array of people as an icon to the power and beauty of nature. The history of this majestic piece of landscape is as equally diverse and has played an important role in the lives of Native Americans as well as early settlers and contemporary society.
The formation of the Grand Canyon began long before the presence of human beings on this planet and is the result of wear by weather, wind and water alike. Carved from layers of rock that took billions of years to produce, the Grand Canyon has been shaped into deep gorges and winding curves by the power and force of the Colorado River. Its depth reaches down a mile, and at points it can span fifteen miles across as it meanders from just south of Utah through Arizona towards its border with California. The immense size and grandeur of this rift in the landscape makes it one of the few natural landmarks that are visible from space.
For many of us the thought of the Grand Canyon creates visions of a National Park, but it was not until 1919 that this area was formally dedicated for that purpose, and even then, the area that is designated as a National Park does not encompass the entire canyon itself. The best place to begin a history of the Grand Canyon is with a visit back to what is known as the Pleistocene Era, roughly 9,500 BC to 6,500 BC. Archaeologists have found evidence that shows early humans making use of the canyonduring this time and it appears evident that early occupants of this area were hunters who most likely made use of the abundance of large mammals such as mammoths, giant sloths and other large game.
As time wore on and the climate of the Earth changed, these early humans were forced to make changes in their way of life and the species that they hunted for sustenance. Rather than living in permanent settlements or villages these people were semi-nomadic and would venture between the different levels of the canyon depending on the seasons and the availability of food sources. They would harvest a variety of fruits and seeds and also hunted deer and bighorn sheep which resided in the canyon. Remnants of this society, in the form of pictographs, can still be found in the Grand Canyon today. Visitors today can also find petroglyphs, also known as rock art, in caves, or on the canyon walls.
The Grand Canyon evolved slowly over the course of time and when early settlers arrived to the area it appeared much as it had for the generations of Native Americans who had occupied it in the past. The United States first acquired the Grand Canyon region in 1848, as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought to end the Mexican-American War. With this acquisition a flood of new arrivals entered the region and began to establish settlements for the purposes of logging, mining and ranching. These new opportunities created demands for improved transportation in the area for the purpose of trading goods and new roads were built as well as rail service to the area was established. These new avenues quickly opened up a market for tourism and people flocked from other areas to view the splendor and beauty of the region.
As progress in the area was made, the federal government began to increase its management of the area and its natural resources. The newly established US Forest Service instituted regulations in an effort to preserve the area and protect it from uncontrolled development. As the twentieth century has progressed the government has allowed continued development in the area, but this has not been without conflict as miners, ranchers and other industries look to make use of the abundance of natural resources the Grand Canyon offers. In addition to the previously mentioned history of the Grand Canyon there are a number of less known facts that are as equally intriguing.
It is a fact that no fossilized bones or teeth have ever been found in the Grand Canyon. Geologists have discovered countless footprints that belonged to reptiles and amphibians with the canyon but there has not been a single trace of a fossil showing their bones or teeth.
Another amazing fact is that five of the seven types of life zones and three of the four types of deserts, found in North America are present within the Grand Canyon. The types of life zones, also known as biomes, present in the canyon are Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Canadian and Hudsonian. If you were traveling from Mexico to Canada then you would be able to see the same five life zones as you would observe in the Grand Canyon.
The amazing Grand Canyon Skywalk Bridge, that offers unprecedented views of the Grand Canyon, can hold up to 822 visitors at one time, with each person weighing 200 lbs. That is a weight capacity of just over 82 tons. That means 100 elephants could safely stand on the bridge and get an amazing view of the canyon below. The actual allowed capacity of occupants at one time, however, is only 120 people.
The first known person, other than the Native Americans, to observe the Grand Canyon was a Spanish explorer by the name of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who was leading an expedition in 1540 when he came upon the canyon. The next reported expedition to view the Grand Canyon came three hundred years later.
It is hard to believe that anyone still inhabits the canyon but the Havasupai Indians, one of the smallest and most isolated tribes of Native Americans, still reside at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Though their numbers are small, only 547 people, they have remained true to their traditions and are still preserving their culture.
The fact that the Grand Canyon offers so many things to so many people is a tribute to the majesty of this natural wonder of the world. The history of the Grand Canyon reminds us that all things have the ability to affect us in different ways.