Friday, August 30, 2019

100 Years and Counting: Grand Canyon National Park

File:ENTERING THE GRAND CANYON - NARA - 544313.jpgMy father instilled in me a love and fascination with our national parks. When I was a child, he took us up camping on Mt. Rainier nearly every weekend. At least once a summer saw us in the Olympics. I’ve since toured Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Yosemite, and the Redwoods, and I currently live forty-five minutes from the gates of Mt. Rainier.

But nothing prepared me for the Grand Canyon.

My family visited for the first time in 2016. The craggy cliffs fading into the distance, the sheer drops, the silence! It is an amazing place, and one I feel fortunate to be writing about in A Distance Too Grand, out in October.

People have stood in awe of the canyon for eons. The earliest human inhabitant of the area has been dated to 12,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age. Native Americans found ways to live among the rugged cliffs and thundering rapids. Missionaries, the U.S. military, prospectors, and lumberman made brief forays into the depths. Army lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives, in his report of his exploration partway into the canyon in 1858, called the area “altogether valueless.” He predicted that his would be the last party of Anglo-Americans to visit this “profitless locality,” which would be “forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

I’m glad not everyone agreed.

Additional explorers, such as John Wesley Powell, lauded the majesty of the canyon. In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison protected the area as a forest reserve. In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt added federal game preserve protections. But it wasn’t until February 1919 that President Woodrow Wilson would make the canyon and its branches a national park. About 44,000 people went to visit it that year.

Today, the park boasts more than five million visitors a year. That’s quite a party. Happy birthday, Grand Canyon National Park!

P.S.—Marissa and I will be off next week, partying ourselves. We will be celebrating Labor Day and the end of summer. Look for new posts the week of September 9th.

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