The Grand Canyon. Enormous, iconic, breathtaking. 2019 marks Grand Canyon National Park’s 100th anniversary. But how did it get to be such a beloved destination?
Archeological artifacts suggest that people lived in and around the canyon some 12,000 years ago. Today, it’s still
considered a sacred place to 11 native American tribes, despite being moved on to reservations in the 1800’s.
The United States didn’t really explore the area until the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo seated over 500,000 square
miles of land to the US, including the Grand Canyon. So, in 1857 the US government sent an expedition led by Lieutenant Joseph Ives to explore the Colorado River.
While Ives admired the scenery in his report he wrote, “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, “party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”
History proved Ives wrong, but throughout the late 1800’s companies struggled to make the area profitable. And few were considering this harsh landscape as a tourist destination. Even so, President Benjamin Harrison saw the need to protect this inspiring place, and created the Grand Canyon National Forest Reserve in 1893.
The Grand Canyon’s popularity grew tremendously after that. In 1901, a new rail line ran directly to the Grand Canyon Village where most tourists, to this day, start their visit. A comfortable train ride, and the brand new El Tovar hotel enticed the elite class to visit the Grand Canyon.
Including President Theodore Roosevelt, during his 1903 visit he emphasized the importance of preserving the Grand Canyon in a speech, “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it; not a bit. “The ages have been at work on
it, and man can only mark it.”
And, in 1908 Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument. During this time, more visitors made use of the traditional Native American walking trails like, the Bright Angel Trail, for mule rides and hiking.
And more people meant more lodging. Architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter was hired to design many of the parks most iconic buildings. Her ground breaking work earned the nickname Grand Canyon’s architect.
And finally three years after the National Park Service was created on February 26th, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park into law, making it the nation’s 17th national park.
Over 37,000 people visited the newly enshrined park in its first year. Today, the park has hosted more than 211 million guests. But all this momentum led to some growing pains.
Commercial flights, which were gaining popularity in the 1950’s, would treat passengers to a view of the Grand Canyon while en route to their destination. This led to disaster in June of 1956 when two commercial planes crashed over the Grand Canyon, killing all 128 people on board.
It was the deadliest aviation disaster of the time, and motivated congress to regulate the then largely uncontrolled skies. The 21st century has brought its own set of challenges. Helicopter tours have increased so much, that a part of the canyon has been nicknamed helicopter alley.
And development companies are proposing new retail and lodging, which might interrupt the natural beauty of the canyon. But, conservationists and Native Americans are fighting to preserve the natural integrity of the park, just like they have in the past, for future generations to enjoy.
Through it all, the Grand Canyon has solidified itself in the hearts and minds of Americans. And to this day, it’s
one of the most visited national parks in the country.
Source: National Geographic Channel on Youtube