About the Site
Grand Canyon National Park  



Grand Canyon Village

West Rim

East Rim

Desert View

Colorado River


Plants & Trees


Other Features


The Grand Canyon is one of the earth's true natural wonders and without question one of the national park system's most famous parks. Grand Canyon National Park features a mile deep canyon carved into the Colorado Plateau by the inexorable action of the Colorado River.

The park is one of three national parks located in Arizona (the other two being Petrified Forest and Saguaro). Located in the northern part of the state, it stretches 290 miles along the canyon and the Colorado River and contains a total of 1,218,375 acres (1900 square miles). Elevations range from 110 feet at the bottom of the canyon in the west end of the park to 9165 on the north rim. One of the most popular of America's national parks, over 5 million people visit the park annually.

Park History

Despite the climate and formidable geological features the Grand Canyon area shows evidence of habitation as far back as 2000 B.C. These ancient people pursued a hunter/gatherer existence. At about 500 B.C. a new group of people--the Anasazi ("ancient ones" in Navajo)--appeared on the scene. In 600-700 A.D. the Coconino people also settled the area, but climatic conditions or other factors caused both groups to abandon the area around 1150. One hundred fifty years later the Cerbat people, ancestors of the modern Havasupai Indians, moved into the area, while the Paiutes simultaneously moved to the north rim.

The first whites to see the canyon were members of a battalion of Spanish explorers in 1540. Led by Cardenas and guided by Hopi Indians, these soldiers were searching for fabled golden cities. Cardenas probably reached the canyon somewhere between Moran Point and Desert View. Peering down into the canyon, members of the party were fooled by the immense scale of the geological features. They vastly underestimated the size and scale of the canyon--they thought the river was no more than 6 feet across! Not finding the passage the gold they sought, the party left, and it wasn't for more than 200 years, until 1776, that another Spaniard, missionary and priest Francisco Tomás Garcés, again gazed upon, and this time traveled in, the canyon. Garcés was the first to call the dark silt-heavy river "Colorado" (red).

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

The first American to visit the area may have been James Ohio Pattie in 1826, although there is some question about whether this visit actually occurred. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo granted sovereignty over Arizona and the canyon to the United States. In 1857 a survey party lead by Lt. Joseph Ives sailed up the Colorado to its furthest navigable point and ascended beyond into the canyon on foot. Missionary Joseph Hamblin made a number of visits to the area between 1858 and 1864.

Through the 1870's and 1880's the canyon saw some mining activities. There was also cattle grazing on the Kaibab Plateau north of the rim during this period which unfortunately had devastating effects on the grasslands there which persist to this day. The arrival of the railroad in Flagstaff brought increased tourist interest and activity. In 1858 F. W. von Egloffstein made the first drawings of the canyon, and the work of renowned wilderness artist Thomas Moran, who accompanied a U.S. Geological Survey expedition led by Charles Dutton in 1880-81,also drew attention to the scenic wonders of the area. Henry Holmes, who also traveled with Dutton, made drawings which were less "romantic" than Moran's paintings but more precise and technically accurate.

In the early 1880's the first tourist facilities--a log cabin in the what is now Grand Canyon Village--were built by John Hance. In 1884 the first hotel was built--at the bottom of the canyon. By 1905 Grand Canyon village had begun to grow and the El Tovar hotel had been designed and built.

Efforts to preserve the canyon began before the turn of the century. Senator Benjamin Harrison introduced the first bill to make the Grand Canyon a national park in 1882. Unsuccessful, he introduced similar bills again in 1883 and 1886. Later, as president of the United States, Harrison made portions of the canyon a forest reserve in 1893.

One of the prime factors in preserving the magnificent canyon was president and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt first visited the park area in 1903 and was very impressed. His oft-quoted statements include the following:

"Leave it as it is.You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do it to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American...should see."

In 1908 Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon area a national monument under the powers granted to the president by the Antiquities Act. Further unsuccessful bills to make the area a national park were introduced in 1910 and 1911. Finally, in 1917 Representative Carl Hayden and Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst sponsored a bill which would ultimately prove successful.

On February 26, 1919, Woodrow Wilson signed the bill which made the canyon a national park. In 1927 more land including Kaibab forest land on the north rim was added to the park. In 1932 President Herbert Hoover protected additional land in the area as a new Grand Canyon National Monument. Another national monument, Marble Canyon, was created upriver in 1969. In 1975 President Gerald Ford signed a bill which effectively doubled the size of the park, incorporating sections from the Grand Canyon National Monument, Marble Canyon, and the Kaibab National Forest.

The battle to conserve the canyon has never really stopped. In addition to the 1965 Glen Canyon Dam upriver there were plans in the 1960's to dam the river in the canyon itself. The Sierra Club's successful battle against this plan cost it its tax exempt status.

Grand Canyon Village Area

A developed area experienced by most visitors to the Grand Canyon on the south rim is Grand Canyon Village. This area contains spectacular views of the canyon, trails which descend all the way to the Colorado River or run along the edge of the south rim, and visitor's facilities including historic inns, museums, visitor's centers, and restaurants.

The view below from the rim looks into the canyon from the rim near the El Tovar Hotel. A section of the Bright Angel Trail, running across the Tonto Platform, can be seen in the bottom center of the picture. Lower and drier, the Tonto Platform is covered by desert scrub and some trees along the creek.

The massive canyon is the handiwork of the Colorado River. The river has has spent some 10 million years cutting this trench, although by 1.2 million years ago the river had cut within about 50 feet of the canyon's present depth. The river runs 277 miles through the park and drops 2215 feet.

An additional view of the canyon from the Lookout Studio is shown below.

The Grand Canyon is the most phenomenal feat of erosion in geological history. The deep gouge reveals 2 billion years of the earth's history thorough horizontal bands of sedimentary rock.

In the picture below from the village area the plateau on the left is Maricopa Point, discussed in greater length below. Below Maricopa is the formation known as the Battleship, and across the Canyon Cheops Pyramid is visible.

One of the major points of interest for visitors in the village area is Yavapai Point, shown in the picture below. Wotan's Throne can also be seen in the background in this shot.

Below is a picture from Kachina Point as the light late in the day creates fantastic shapes of the formations.

There is a considerable difference between the north and south rims of the canyon. The north rim is about 1000 feet higher, and it also is much wetter, getting about 28 inches of rain each year--and 128 inches, versus 65, of snow annually respectively. The south rim receives less that 16 inches of rain a year. The increased amount of precipitation also results in greater erosion on the north rim, some of which can be seen in this picture.

The layers of rock exposed by the erosive action of the river provide an unparalleled view of the earth's geologic history.

Some rocks near the bottom of the canyon are 2 billion years old, half the age of the earth.

The walls of the canyon as well as spires and other formations often have a characteristic stair step pattern. This is formed as a result of the varying hardness of the rocks layers and the longer period that the upper layers have been exposed, weathered, and eroded.

There are wide variety of interesting buildings in the Grand Canyon Village area. include Lookout Studio, pictured on the edge of the rim below. Lookout Studio, along with many other park buildings, was designed by Mary Jane Colter. Built in 1914, it was designed to provide a convenient place to view and photograph the canyon. This building currently houses a visitor's information center. As can be seen in the picture, it is relatively unobtrusive, built of native stone, and meant to resemble a primitive native structure, similar to some of the Indian ruins in the area. As can be seen in this picture the building looks like part of the canyon wall from a distance.

Mary Colter, who grew up in Wisconsin, developed a tremendous interest in Indian art as a girl and later studied art and architecture in college. She worked for many years, beginning in 1902, as an architect and interior designer for the Fred Harvey Company, concessionaire in Grand Canyon and purveyor of food and accommodation services to travelers on the Santa Fe Railroad. She was influenced by the American movement towards native forms of architecture and away from traditional designs inspired by and imported from Europe. As a result, her buildings fit beautifully into the canyon area and detract very minimally from the natural wonders, as she intended.

A stone stairway (seen above) leads from the Lookout Studio building to an overlook below it. The view from that overlook is shown below. In the center of the picture Bright Angel Trail and Indian Gardens on the Tonto Platform 3000 feet below the rim can be seen. The Tonto Platform "shelf" was formed by the erosion of software Bright Angel Shale leaving the harder Tapeats Sandstone beneath. Far off in the distance, on the horizon, the main visitor's area on the north rim can be seen. The total drop to the bottom of the canyon here is 6000 feet, and the north rim is about 13 miles away.

One of the historic structures in the village area is the Kolb Studio, established by the Ellsworth and Emory Kolb. Ellsworth Kolb came to the canyon in 1901 and his brother Emory arrived a year later.The two set up photographic facilities, including in 1906 a darkroom down in the canyon at Indian Gardens where waster was available. Initially they took pictures of tourists on mules as they began their trip down into the canyon on Bright Angel Trail. After photographing the tourists at the top one of the brothers would hurry down 3000 feet to Indian Gardens, develop the pictures, and return to the top before the tourists returned. After starting with pictures of the tourists, the brothers developed the business further with pictures of the canyon itself.

In 1911 the pair duplicated the journey of John Wesley Powerll (discussed later), setting out from Green River, Wyoming and floating down the Colorado River all the way through the Grand Canyon, taking movies and still photographs along the way. In becoming the 26th and 27th people to float the canyon, their journey covered 1200 miles and lasted 3 months, crossing 365 major rapids. Their lectures, films and other activities did much to bring the wonders of the canyon to public awareness. The brothers eventually split up, and a toss of the coin gave the studio to Emery, while Ellsworth moved to Los Angeles. Emory remained for many years and made his final trip through the rapids in 1974 at age 93. He died 2 years later and is buried near the canyon.

The Kolb Studio itself was established in 1903. This building served as both a photographic studio and home for the Kolb Brothers. It was expanded in 1915, and again in 1925. It currently houses a book shop and interpretive center.

Another historic structure on the south rim is Bucky O'Neill Cabin, pictured below. O'Neill was an early day sheriff who was killed in Cuba as a member of Theodore Roosevelt's famous Rough Riders. He built this cabin along the rim because he liked the view!

Hopi House, pictured below, is another of Mary Jane Colter's buildings in the Grand Canyon area. It was modeled after a building in the Hopi village of Oraibi and constructed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1905. As with many of Colter's designs it pays homage to the native inhabitants of the southwest,Currently, 4 Indian nations--Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, and Paiute--occupy lands in the park area.

The building is made of stone and wood native to the area, with adobe-like walls inside made of rough plaster. It was built about the same time as the nearby El Tovar Hotel, opening slightly before it. It actually housed Indians in early years and has featured a shop specializing in Indian arts and crafts.

The village looks big when the visitor is walking around its facilities, but it pales into insignificance beside even a small portion of the rim. The picture below, taken from the Maricopa point area, looks back toward the southeast at the village area. The El Tovar Hotel and many other village buildings are visible along the edge of the rim.

Perhaps the most historic of the buildings in Grand Canyon Village is the El Tovar Hotel. This structure, built of pine logs (from Oregon) and rock, was constructed in 1905 at a cost of $250,000. It was designed by Charles Whittlesey for the Santa Fe Railroad. It was designed to combine the best features of Swiss Chateaus and Rhine River castles. The front of this famous building is shown below.

The hotel was named after Pedro El Tovar, an officer in Coronado's army of exploration in 1540. Since being built the hotel has been run by the Fred Harvey company. In early years it was regarded as one of the most luxurious hotels in the country. It hosted such luminaries as George Bernaard Shaw, Guglielmo Marconi, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Another view of the hotel, looking back from to the rim, is shown below.

One of the developments which brought many more visitors to the south rim of the canyon was the construction of a Santa Fe Railroad spur line from Williams, Arizona. The first train--Locomotive 282--arrived on September 18, 1901, and trains continue to run to the canyon from 1901 to 1968. After a break of over 20 years service resumed in 1989. A trip from Williams to Grand Canyon village cost $3.95 in 1901. Below is a picture of the station where tourists arrive after a trip from Williams, Arizona. The El Tovar Hotel is shown above the station to its left.

The Grand Canyon Village area provides a beautiful setting to watch the sun go down behind the canyon's rim.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

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