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"The Site Every American Should See"


Grade level: middle and high school

Theodore Roosevelt first visited Grand Canyon National Park in 1903 and became enamored by the area as most tourists do. The canyon's stunning views led Roosevelt to exclaim that the canyon is a "site every citizen should see." Roosevelt was so moved by the site that he became instrumental in preserving its beauty for generations to enjoy. He began legislative protection of the area by establishing the Grand Canyon Game Reserve in 1906, and upgrading the reserve to the status of a national monument two years later. The Grand Canyon finally became part of the national Park system in 1919.

The Grand Canyon is so magnificent that it is truly hard for the brain to comprehend. At its deepest, the canyon plunges more than a mile down to the bottom, where the Colorado River continues to carve its path through the rock. Layers upon layers of rock have been eroded by the river to reveal bare cliffs, steep-walled canyons, and sedimentary rocks of a variety of colors. Gray, purple, red, brown, tan, and green layers of rocks that can be viewed throughout the canyon represent 1.25 billion years of sediment deposition and subsequent erosion. The canyon stretches 277 miles along the Colorado River from Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs.

In this lesson, students will research the Grand Canyon to see why it is so special. Why, as Roosevelt said, should everyone see it? Students will stand in the shoes of Roosevelt and explain to Congress why the country should make the canyon a national Park.

    Students will:
  • Research the natural wonders of Grand Canyon National Park
  • Describe the Park's stunning beauty and natural features
  • Write a speech that explains why the Grand Canyon should be preserved as a national Park

National Standards:

National Geography Standards

Standard 4: The geographically informed person understands the physical and human characteristics of places.

Standard 7: The geographically informed person understands the physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

National Social Studies Standards

Standard 2:
Time, Continuity, and Change Human beings seek to understand their historical roots and to locate themselves in time. Such understanding involves knowing what things were like in the past and how things change and develop. Knowing how to read and reconstruct the past allows one to develop a historical perspective and to answer questions such as: Who am I? What happened in the past? How am I connected to those in the past?

Standard 6:
People, Places, and Environment The study of people, places, and human-environment interactions assists learners as they create their spatial views and geographic perspectives of the world. Today's social, cultural, economic, and civic demands on individuals mean that students will need the knowledge, skills, and understanding to ask and answer questions such as: Where are things located? Why are they located where they are? What patterns are reflected in the groupings of things? What do we mean by region? How do landforms change?

National Science Education Standards

Standard D: Understanding the structure of the earth system

  • Great Lodges of the National Parks: Canyon Lodges (PBS video)

    Start with: The Grand Canyon embodies the wild open American west.
    End with: The railroads were very instrumental in getting the national Parks established that we have in the west; particularly Grand Canyon National Park

    Start with: Soaring high over these manmade landmarks along the rim, the California Condor...
    End with: This is awesome; this is awe inspiring.

    Start with: Look at that view! It's a long way down, isn't it.
    End with: The result was one of the finest examples of rustic architecture ever to be built in a national Park.

    Start with: The thing is you can't take it all in.
    End with: When your eye views it for the first time, you know you're looking at something very, very unusual.

    Start with: When we first got to the lodge, it was an overwhelming experience.
    End with: People never forget their experience at Grand Canyon Lodge. It's just a great place to be.

  • Pencils and paper

No special preparation is required

  • Tell the class that they are about to view a video on Yosemite National Park. Ask if anyone has ever been there. If someone has, ask them to describe the Park to the class. If no one has been there, ask what they know about the Parks and then fill in any gaps. Quote Roosevelt as saying that that the Grand Canyon is a site everyone should see. Tell them to pay particular attention about why he would have said this.
  • View the video with the class. Elicit ideas from the class why Roosevelt was so enthused about the Park, and write the list on the board. Explain that these reasons led Roosevelt to establishing the area as a game reserve in 1906, a national monument in 1908, and finally upgrading it to Park status in 1919.
  • Explain that the class will research the natural wonders of the Grand Canyon to gain a better understanding of why Roosevelt was so passionate about this Park. They are required to find information about the canyon that supports Roosevelt's statement that the canyon is something everyone should see. They will write an outline of Park attractions and reasons why people should go see it. Remind students that they are writing as if they lived in the early 1900's. Some basic questions that need to be answered in the outline include:
    What is the main attraction of the Park?
    How could you describe it to someone who has never been there?
    How did the canyon form?
    Why is it important geologically?
    Describe how visitors can enjoy the Park other than just looking over the rim.
    What other features are there beside the canyon?
    What kind of wildlife lives there?
  • Using their outline, students will then write a speech to Congress as if they were Roosevelt trying to gain financial support to make the Grand Canyon a national Park, keeping in mind that the congress has not been there and they may be reluctant to allocate money to something they've never seen. Explain to the students that the national debt had increased twenty-one fold during World War I, and the government purse strings needed to be tightened (for more on the history of the national debt go to Therefore, Roosevelt's speech must capture Roosevelt's enthusiasm and passion for the area.
  • After writing their speeches, each student will present their speech to the class.
Assessment Suggestions:
    Student assessment may be based on:
  • Accuracy of the Park description
  • How persuasive the student's argument was to establish the area as a national Park
  • How well the student captured Roosevelt's fervor for the Park
  • Research the geologic history of the Grand Canyon and make a chart to scale that explains the stratigraphy of the canyon.


Childs, C., Grand Canyon; Time Below the Rim

O'Conner, L.B., 1992, The Grand Canyon

Schmidt, J., 1993, The Grand Canyon National Park

Stegner, P., 1995, Grand Canyon: the Great Abyss

Tufts, L.S., 1992, Secrets of the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National Parks

Wallace, R., 1972, The Grand Canyon