The Grand Canyon: Millions of Years of History

Grand Canyon History

Grand Canyon History is a story that started in a far distant era. Somewhere between 5 million and 6 million years ago, the Colorado River was diverted into a portion of land now known as northwestern Arizona. Over the course of the past few million years and still today, the water eroded out the soft stone into a gorge that we now call the Grand Canyon. At 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, the Grand Canyon has become one of the most iconic natural attractions in the United States. Not only has its sheer majesty captured the hearts of billions, but the artifacts found within and stone layers that make up the beautiful canyon walls can tell us a lot about Earth’s history. The Grand Canyon’s millions of years of history are hard to know for sure, but what archaeologists and geologists do know is quite the tale.

Grand Canyon History

Image Via National Park Service via Flickr

Early Human Use

Archaeological evidence suggests that human ancestors visiting the Grand Canyon date back to 12,000 years ago in the Paleo-Indian period. While a number of early Native American tribes made temporary homes in the Grand Canyon, its most prominent early inhabitant was the Pueblo tribe. In the summers, the Pueblo migrated from the hot inner canyon to the cooler plateaus around its rim and reversed the journey in the winter. During their time, the Pueblo erected a number of stone and mud houses and granaries throughout what is now Grand Canyon National Park, 2,000 Pueblo archaeological sites remain today.

After what was thought to be severe drought caused the Pueblo to move towards more stable water sources, the Grand Canyon remained uninhabited for one hundred years until the Paiute tribe from the East and the Cerbat tribe from the West re-established settlements in the area. Later, the Navajo tribe would join them and the three tribes co-existed in the area until the United States Army moved them to reservations in 1882.

Today, the Native American tribes that once thrived in the Grand Canyon still live on the land today. The Havasupai and Hualapai are descended from the Cerbat natives and live in the village of Supai in the western part of the park, an area that has been occupied by their people for centuries.

The March Towards National Park Status

In the 1880s, prospectors looked over the deep rim of the Grand Canyon and saw dollar signs. They staked claims inside the canyon in hopes of mining some of the profitable deposits of asbestos, copper, lead, and zinc. However, the effort of moving the ore out of the deep canyon proved more than the materials were worth and the mining operations were soon abandoned.

While not outwardly profitable, the canyon’s natural beauty was undeniable. In 1893, the Grand Canyon was awarded federal protection as a Forest Reserve, then later a National Monument. It wasn’t until three years after the foundation of the National Park Service in 1919 that the Grand Canyon was named a national park. Today that protection spans one million acres of land. Each year near five million visitors come to view the archaeological attractions of the canyon’s early residents, hike an extensive network of challenging, sun-drenched trails, enjoy attractions like the famous SkyWalk, and, of course, to see the canyon itself.

Looking to experience a piece Grand Canyon history live and in-person? Contact us today to learn about our variety of Grand Canyon tours that give you the best way to see this ancient beauty.