The Grand Canyon Becomes A National Monument – 1/11/1908

US History |


Everything is affected by time which includes places considered to be a national monument. Without properly maintaining these treasured landmarks, they would disappear from the face of the earth. Yet, who declares something to become a national monument and what criteria go on behind the scenes in making such a decision? 

One such choice was made over a century ago during the early years of the 20th century on establishing an area to come under such protection. The announcement came on January 11th, 1908 when then President Theodore Roosevelt designates the title of “National Monument” should be given to the mighty Grand Canyon as he declares “The ages had been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

This area had been for centuries home to the Native Americans and the original European to view the vast brightly colored spectacle known as the Grand Canyon was Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas; he was traveling throughout northern Arizona with the Spanish explorer Coronado in 1540. Although future explorers would marvel at the spectacular sight from the rim, few ever took the risk of attempting the dangerous decent into the canyon that was 5,000-feet-deep in an effort to explore the miles of maze-like turns and twists.

The Grand Canyon remained terra incognita even as late as the 1860s to the majority of those not native to the area. This changed in 1869 as the geologist John Wesley Powell attempted his original daring journey via the Colorado River through the canyon. Powell, along with nine individuals, floated down Wyoming’s Green River using small boats made from wood to its confluence with the Colorado River (currently in Canyonlands National Park) and finally into the “Great Unknown” within the Grand Canyon. 

Amazingly, Powell and his group managed to direct their delicate wooden boats through a series of punishing rocks, rapids and whirlpools. Humbled but alive, they emerged in late August at the end of the canyon. Although everyone survived the river, it was unfortunate for three men who were killed by Indianans as they left the expedition and attempted to travel back toward civilization; they convinced each other that their chances were more compromised going down the treacherous Colorado than walking through the desert.

The fascination was growing among Americans with the wilderness and nature which by the late 19th century made the canyon more of a popular destination for tourists. Shoddily built hotels were set up on the south rim by entrepreneurs in hopes of making a profit from the amazing view. The route that stagecoaches were traveling was eventually replaced with the arrival of a spur line in 1901 of the Santa Fe railroad. This provided more of a comfortable means and was quicker to reach the canyon. More than 100,000 tourists were arriving each year by 1915.

President Theodore Roosevelt was conservation-minded and was determined the canyon should always be preserved for the people’s benefit; eventually, he designated a big area of the canyon in 1908 to becoming a national monument. Ensuring that private developers would be unable to ruin the Grand Canyon, Congress added protection to the canyon by naming it a national park in 1932. Presently, visitors viewpoint of the canyon has barely changed from the way it looked nearly 500 years ago to what Lopez de Cardenas had seen.

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Nancy Reyes

Senior Writer

One of our top senior writers, Nancy came to us wanting to break away from the politics that comes with major news corporations. She leads our team of historical writers in creating the best engaging content out there that keeps our readers coming back for more. She is an enthusiast of all things medieval and has been a member of her renaissance fair group for 15 years. She received her degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and hopes to one day travel the world.