The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park is known for its overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Over time, the elements have scoured and carved the dramatically splendid Grand Canyon, known as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The distance from the South Rim to the North Rim varies from half a mile to eighteen miles, and the canyon has a maximum depth of 6,000 feet. This great range in elevation allows for a variety of climate, flora, and fauna; of the seven life zones on the North American continent, four can be experienced within Grand Canyon.
The first documented expedition of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon was accomplished by Major John Wesley Powell in 1869. Powell, a Civil War veteran with only one arm, and nine companions became the first men to journey 1,000 miles on the river, part of it through Grand Canyon. They braved rapids, heat, plummeting morale, and the loss of three men. Powell’s account of this expedition, Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries, made him a national hero as well as brought the canyon to the attention of the country. The Paiutes called the plateau that the canyon cuts through ”Kaibab” or “Mountain Lying Down,” but it was Powell who first consistently used and published the name “Grand Canyon” in the 1870’s.
The Colorado River, meaning “red” in Spanish, was named in 1776 by a Spanish missionary, Padre Francisco Tomás Garcés. It was a description of the brown, muddy river at the time. However, since the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964 the river is now clear, clean, and cold.
The river begins as a tiny stream in Rocky Mountain National Park, eventually flowing into Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam. Below the dam it begins its journey through Marble Canyon by joining with the Paria River. At the confluence of the Little Colorado River does the Colorado finally enter Grand Canyon National Park, flowing 217 miles until it reaches Lake Mead Recreation Area.
One of the most colorful characters in Grand Canyon history was Captain John Hance. Born in 1840, he served in both the Confederate and Union armies and is thought to be the first non-Native American resident of the Grand Canyon. Arriving in 1883 he first attempted mining asbestos, but failed due to the expense of removing it from the canyon. He soon started giving tours, opening the first tourist trail in the Canyon in the late nineteenth century. He’s credited with carving a number of trails which often followed old American Indian paths.
John Hance loved the canyon and remained until his death in 1919. In his memory there’s a Hance Trail, Hance Creek, Hance Canyon, Hance Spring, Hance Mine, Hance Rapid, and a Hance’s Cove. He was famous throughout Arizona for his tall tales. In one, he stated that the Colorado River got so muddy that the only way to quench his thirst was to cut a piece of water off and chew it.