Who Discovered the Grand Canyon?

I mostly understand how most videos recommended to me by Youtube are selected by the algorithm. I’m always curious when something is unexpected. The other day, for example, I got “How Amazon Delivers to a Remote Ranch in the Grand Canyon,” it’s basically some propaganda stuff about how you can even get your packages at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The people in the video seem quite nice and competent, loving their job and all, but the music and the editing add a fakery to the story and amplify when one guy celebrates how useful it is to get your Amazon package. Anyways, I start looking into that ranch and all, and ended up digging into the Grand Canyon trying to find out:

Who First Discovered the Grand Canyon?

First, let’s note that we are talking about the original inhabitant of the Canyon. In fact, some of the tribes in the Grand Canyon region--the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Paiute, Havasupai, and Hualapai–have lived there for at least 2,000 years.

1. The Spanish Explorers Saw the Canyon in 1540

The history of the exploration of the Grand Canyon begins with the arrival of the first Europeans in the region. In 1540, soldiers led by García López de Cárdenas, under the command of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, embarked on a journey from Mexico City in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Cíbola. After months of travel, they reached the Hopi Mesas, east of the Grand Canyon, guided by the Hopi people.

Cárdenas set out in search of a rumored “great river” with a small party of men in the hopes of finding a navigable waterway to the Gulf of California. The Hopi led the Spaniards through a misleading trail, taking them to the highest point above the river, so as not to betray their own paths or the true nature of the canyon.

Cárdenas and his group reached the edge of the Grand Canyon, where they could see the Colorado River below, after a twenty-day expedition. They thought the river was barely six feet wide and that the opposing rim was eight to ten miles away. Three infantrymen were sent down to the river by Cárdenas, but they didn’t get very far before recognizing the river was much broader and impassable for transportation.

The group searched for water at the bottom of the canyon for three days. The Hopi were successful in persuading the Spaniards that the region was an impenetrable wasteland, which caused them to abandon further westward exploration.

Francisco Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante, two Spanish priests who explored the area in 1776, crossed the Colorado River, but little of their findings were recorded in writing and disseminated to subsequent generations.

2. When Joseph Christmas Ives had a boating accident

The Grand Canyon area remained largely unexplored until the mid-19th century. One early traveler, Warren Augustus Ferris, is known to have created a map of the Grand Canyon in 1836, but it wasn’t published until 1940 and had little to no impact in its time. A few years later, the U.S. government funded an expedition to explore the Colorado River and assess its potential as a trade route.

In 1857 and 1858, Army First Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the ambitious challenge. He planned to use the Explorer, a fifty-foot-long sternwheel steamboat, to travel the Colorado River from the well-known regions into uncharted territory.

The voyage, however, ran into problems, and the riverboat capsized just below Black Canyon. Ives traveled another thirty kilometers on foot before arriving at the Grand Canyon’s entrance at Diamond Creek.

Joseph Christmas Ives noted the size and majesty of the plateaus and canyons as he highlighted the breathtaking splendor of the canyon in his report. The area, he asserted, could only be accessible from the south and provided no useful resources or chances for research, making it “valueless” in his eyes.

He came to the conclusion that the gorgeous and lonesome course of the Colorado River through the canyon would be preserved “forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

3. The First True Exploration of the Grand Canyon

When geologist John Wesley Powell and his crew set out on a big expedition–with four boats–to map the Colorado River’s path down the canyon in 1869, the real Grand Canyon exploration got underway.

The expedition set out from Green River, Wyoming, and met various difficulties as they traveled up the dangerous Colorado River. The team spent three months surviving and exploring the higher sections of the canyon after one boat was lost at Disaster Falls. Powell’s detailed descriptions of the canyons, rapids, and battle for survival offered insightful details about the area.

Powell’s voyage was a turning point in Grand Canyon exploration despite its challenges. In 1871, he went back for a second voyage, furthering our knowledge of the canyon’s geological characteristics and grabbing the interest of both scientists and explorers.

4. When The Creation of Grand Canyon National Park

Exploration of the Grand Canyon and a growing understanding of its breathtaking beauty and geological importance created a sense of nationalism and a determination to protect this natural wonder for upcoming generations. The Grand Canyon National Park in the State of Arizona was established as a national park on February 26, 1919, thanks to a law passed by Congress.

Several previous classifications, such as a forest reserve and a national monument, acknowledged the canyon’s worth prior to the creation of the national park. The Grand Canyon did not, however, obtain complete protection and designation as a national park until 1919.

Grand Canyon National Park, which now occupies more than 1 million acres in northwest Arizona, protects the most breathtaking portions of the 277-mile-long canyon that the Colorado River formed. Teddy Roosevelt envisioned it as a location that every American should see, and it still draws millions of tourists from all over the world. The Grand Canyon is a symbol of the spirit of discovery and the breathtaking natural beauty that still fascinates people today.

Interested in that type of history? I recently wrote about the discovery of the Northwest Passage, Macchu Pichu, the first person who climb Mount Everest, and the creation of the first National Park. Give it a read!

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