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The History of the People of The Grand Canyon

The West Rim Drive follows the canyon for eight miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest. The West Rim Drive is closed to private automobiles from 11 Apr through 12 Oct. At that time of year the park runs a free shuttle bus to provide transportation to overlooks on the West Rim Drive.

Hiking Info---The Bright Angel Trail---Takes you to the Bottom

This drainage following trail pursues an ancient Havasupi Indian route. Camping (permit required), water, and shade at Indian Gardens, 4.5 miles below the rim.  

Trail Length    9.70 miles

Start Elevation  6782.00 feet    Ending Elevation   2519.00 feet   Vertical Drop   4263 feet    Ave. Grade  14.00%

The very beginnings of the Canyon are here at Marble Canyon, near the north entrance of the National Park

About the Grand Canyon People

 The Paiutes call it Kaibab, or "Mountain Lying down." John Wesley Powell dubbed it the "Grand Canyon" in 1872. No matter what name it is known by, Grand Canyon is as awe-inspiring today as it must have been to the first people to stumble upon it.

Native Americans
More than 11,000 years ago, paleo-hunters wandered the Southwest chasing big game. They left few signs of their passage. In time, these mysterious travelers were followed by hunter-gatherers of the Desert Archaic culture, who inhabited the Grand Canyon region until about 1000 b.c. Evidence of their presence at the Canyon was found in 1932. Small animal hunting fetishes made from willow twigs were discovered secreted away in hard-to-reach crannies in the Redwall Limestone cliffs of the Inner Gorge. Radiocarbon dating has revealed the figurines to be approximately 4,000 years old.

Hunting and gathering predominated until the introduction of agriculture allowed family groups to settle in one place, supplementing game and native plants with cultivated corn. By a.d. 500, a new culture, known as the ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) could be found at Grand Canyon. They inhabited dark, smoky, semi subterranean pit houses, hunted deer, rabbits, and bighorn sheep, and made fine baskets, leading archaeologists to name them ancestral Puebloan Basket makers. The Basket makers lived peacefully alongside the Cohonina people, who shared many similar cultural traits.

About 2,000 ancestral Puebloan sites have been found within park boundaries, the most impressive of which is Tusayan Pueblo, which was constructed in a.d. 1185 and occupied by about 30 people. By the time Tusayan Pueblo was built, the ancestral Puebloans were reaching the apex of their culture. The Spanish word pueblo, meaning "town," referred to the apartment-style masonry compounds the ancestral Puebloans now excelled in building. Communal living had led to many new breakthroughs, such as irrigation farming of corn, squash, and bean crops, elaborate ceremonial rituals in underground chambers called kivas, beautiful black-on-white and corrugated utilitarian pottery, and extensive trade with other cultures in the Southwest, in Mesoamerica, and along the Pacific Coast.

It was too good to last. Eventually, a prolonged drought exhausted natural resources, and perhaps internal strife and overpopulation led the Cohonina and the ancestral Puebloans to systematically abandon their homes in the late 1200s. The ancestral Puebloans moved to more reliable water sources beside the Rio Grande and the Little Colorado drainages, where their descendants - the Hopi and the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico - continue many of the traditions of their ancestors.

Native Newcomers
About 150 years later, a new hunter-gatherer tribe, the Cerbat, moved into Grand Canyon in the 1300s. Descendants of these people make up the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes, who occupy reservations in the western Canyon. At the same time, small bands of hunter-gatherer Southern Paiutes began venturing to the Grand Canyon's North Rim. The Southern Paiutes worked closely with the Mormons, who colonized southern Utah and the Arizona Strip in the 1850s.

The last Native Americans to arrive at the Grand Canyon were the Navajo, or the Dine, Athabascan people related to the Apache, who moved here from the northwest around a.d. 1400. The Navajo were hunter-gatherers who learned agriculture from the Pueblos and later obtained horses and sheep from Spanish settlers. Their adaptability allowed them to dominate this region. After centuries of sporadic intertribal conflict, as well as clashes with new Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo arrivals, the Navajo are today the largest, strongest Native American tribe in the United States. Their huge reservation abuts the eastern section of the Canyon.

The Spanish
In 1540, a Spanish nobleman called Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led the first expedition of Europeans from Mexico into the Southwest in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola that were reputed to contain great riches. While Coronado continued to modern-day New Mexico, he dispatched Garcia Lopez de Cárdenas and several men northward. With the help of Hopi guides from the nearby mesas, Cárdenas became the first European to see the Grand Canyon, but the single-minded Spaniards left frustrated - unable to cross the impassable void. Coronado and his men returned to Mexico empty-handed, where their lack of success on behalf of the Spanish Crown led to their court-martial. Not until the late 1500s would the Spanish return - this time as colonists.

By 1776, the Spanish were headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and attempting to convert the natives to Christianity and extract tribute from them for Spain. In that year, two Franciscan friars, Francisco Atanasia Dominguez and Sylvestre Velez de Escalante, left Santa Fe in search of an overland route to Monterey, California. Their punishing journey took them through the Rockies, the Arizona Strip, and up into Utah, before they gave up and returned to Santa Fe, crossing the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. They missed seeing the Grand Canyon, but their trailblazing journey through hostile, unexplored territory would not be forgotten.

America's Westward Expansion
When the Santa Fe Trail linking Missouri to New Mexico opened to east-west trade in 1821, intrepid fur trappers, traders, and fortune hunters traveled through the region en route to California. In 1848, much of the Southwest was ceded to the United States following the U.S. war with Mexico, leading the government to dispatch army surveyors to chart the unknown southwestern territory. In 1857, a U.S. Army Survey party led by Lieutenant Joseph Ives explored the Grand Canyon region. In his 1858 report, Ives was pessimistic: "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." But Ives was soon to be proved wrong.

John Wesley Powell
In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a fearless, one-armed Civil War veteran, and his nine companions became the first men to journey 1,000 miles on the Colorado River going through the Grand Canyon. Equipped with four flimsy wooden boats and meager rations, Powell and his party braved dangerous rapids, searing heat, sinking morale, and the loss of three men to complete their remarkable feat. Powell's notes about the trip, and a second in 1871-1872, provided invaluable information about one of the last unexplored parts of the region. Like John Muir, Powell was one of a distinctive 19th-century breed. A self-taught Renaissance man, he traveled extensively, advocated wise use of water in the West, and defended Native American rights. He went on to found the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology and to negotiate Native American peace treaties with the government.

Fred Harvey Company
In the early 1900s, the Fred Harvey Company undertook to provide the finest visitor services of any national park. The elegant El Tovar Hotel, designed by Charles Whittlesey, opened in 1905. The forerunner of "rustic architecture," its style was later promoted by architects like Gilbert Stanley Underwood and the National Park Service as a means of surreptitiously blending buildings into park environments. In 1902, Fred Harvey Company hired Mary Jane Colter as company architect. Colter remained with the company until 1948, during which time she was responsible for many of the distinctive buildings at the Grand Canyon. Fred Harvey Company, with its long tradition of fine hospitality and its famous "Harvey Girls," became the principal concessionaire at the South Rim in 1920.  Fred Harvey was recently taken over by AMFAC, and is being managed by this concessionaire.