Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon's Human History

November 7, 2010, 5:35 pm

Although John Wesley Powell first gave the Grand Canyon its name, Grand Canyon National Park has actually been inhabited for over 4,000 years! One of the best ways to explore the park is through the eyes of those who first called it home.

Ancient Roots

The first known occupants of Grand Canyon National Park traveled through the area around 11,500 B.P.! These paleo-hunters roamed the plateau and riverbanks chasing after big game but left few signs of their presence. It wasn’t until the introduction of agriculture and corn, around 500 A.D., that family groups began to settle in the region.

Around this time, the Grand Canyon supported a thriving community where Puebloan (Anasazi) lived peacefully alongside the Cohonina people. Individual family dwellings built into caves and cliffs, naturally gave way to communities and signs of village life. This communal living lead to new breakthroughs in irrigation and farming and allowed villagers to establish an extensive trade network reaching as far west as the Pacific Coast, and as far south as Central America.

Historians have often debated what caused the Cohonina and Puebloans to systematically abandon their homes but it is speculated that widespread drought forced them to leave. These ancient Puebloans and Cohonina inhabitants slowly gave way to descendents of the Hualapai, Havasupai and Navajo who still inhabit the areas just outside the park.

Discovering the Past

Today, nearly 2,000 ancestral Puebloan sites have been found in the park. One of the best areas to learn about this rich history is at the Tusayan Museum in Desert View. The Museum houses arrowheads, pottery and other household artifacts. The Museum is also home to split figurines in the shape of bighorn sheep and deer that are 2,000 to 4,000 years old!

Not only can visitors view unique historical artifacts in the museum, visitors can also explore the Tusayan ruin outside of the museum, which is home to an excavated kiva, or ceremonial chamber as well as several other buildings used in village life.

If exploring exhibits solo is not for you, the park also offers interpretive ranger programs that explore the history of the park. At the Verkamp’s Visitor Center attend ‘The Human Story,’ a daily discussion of the park’s earliest inhabitants. At the Tusayan Museum the park offers ‘Glimpses of the Past,’ where visitors can explore the remains of the ancestral Puebloan ruin with the help of a ranger. On the North Rim attend ‘Into the Past’ at the Walhalla Overlook where you can ask questions about the excavated site nearby.

In addition to the treasures in the park no trip to Grand Canyon should be complete without a trip to Huluapai Tribe and Skywalk and the Havasupai Indian Reservation just outside of the park.

The Skywalk, managed by the Hualapai Tribe and located on tribal lands gives visitors the chance to walk out over the Grand Canyon on a horseshoe-shaped steel frame with glass floor and sides.

After a trip to the Skywalk, be sure to check out the stunning waterfalls of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Havasupai means people of the blue-green waters. The Havasupai are intimately connected to the water and land and each year thousands of visitors are attracted to the beautiful waterfalls.

As you travel throughout Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding regions be sure to look for signs of those inhabitants who first brought light to the region’s vast and impressive beauty.

 Image courtesy of National Park Service