Some 145 years ago on March 1, 1872, then-president Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill creating the nation’s first national park – Yellowstone. However, it wasn’t until decades later, in 1916, that the National Park Service (NPS) was created to manage and protect the large – and growing – number of parks throughout the U.S. The battle to protect the Grand Canyon was instrumental to the development of the NPS.
While national parks play a prominent role in protecting natural landscapes and unique environments, they play an equally important role in protecting the diverse histor(ies) of our nation – dating back to the Paleo-Indian tribes who first set foot in North America some 12,000 years ago.
The iconic Grand Canyon is a prime example of a park preserving both nature and history. As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon has become a worldwide symbol for the grandeur of the American West. The park – designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site – is over 1.2 million acres in the northwest part of Arizona. The canyon itself is a geological marvel, averaging a depth of 4,000 feet for roughly 277 miles. Moreover, the park provides a wealth of biological diversity with three different desert types and five distinct ‘life zones’ – each home to several rare and endemic plant and animal species like the desert bighorn sheep and desert shrew.
Moreover, the Grand Canyon also played a pivotal role in the development of our National Park System: it was in part out of a desire to protect the canyon that Stephen Mather fought to establish the NPS, as a way of better managing and protecting the parks. While the Grand Canyon did not gain official park status until 1919, nearly 3 years after the NPS was established, many credit it with Mather’s drive to develop and lead the NPS as its first director.
The human history of the Grand Canyon dates back much further than the creation of the NPS, of course: artifacts dating back nearly 12,000 years have been discovered within the canyon, evidence of early Paleo-Indian tribes. Currently, 11 traditionally-associated tribes and historic ethnic groups are involved in co-managing the park, as part of the preservation of their cultural heritage. These include the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Paiute, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai Apache, and Zuni tribes.
Interested in visiting? Check out the park’s website here, which includes information on how to plan your visit, as well as important weather advisories. The AIR Adventures team had the privilege of visiting as part of our cross-country road trip in 2015. We stayed at the historic El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905 on the South Rim. We recommend taking some time to hike or run the Bright Angel Trail, a 6 mile one-way trail that starts from the South Rim and takes you on a scenic tour into the canyon. A note of caution, though! The trail goes straight down – meaning the distance you go down equals the distance you have to come back up! Do not underestimate the challenge of the hike back out of the canyon.
Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle.
Bikes? Yes – in designated areas. Rentals are available on the South Rim.
Dogs? Yes – in designated areas, and on leashes. The South Rim trails are particularly dog friendly.
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