Great Lodges of the National Parks
Canyon Lodges: El Tovar
Native American groups lived in the region for 10,000 years before the first Europeans arrived to "claim" the territory for Spain.
Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, came in search of the mythic Seven Cities of Cibola. They didn't find the cities, but they did hear stories of a great river. In 1540, Coronado sent Garcia Lopez de Cardenás to find the water, with the help of Hopi guides, and so Cardenás is credited with being the first white to see the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately Coronado had been hoping to find a route to the Gulf of California, and the Canyon posed an insurmountable obstacle. Another 230 years would pass before missionary Francisco Tomás Garcés would gaze into the Grand Canyon from somewhere on the South Rim in 1776.
In 1821, Mexico finally achieved independence from Spain. At that point, the Canyon became Mexican territory.
The Grand Canyon National Park takes in 1,218,376 acres. At first glance, the vistas are so overwhelming that it's difficult to focus on the amazing details of multiple habitats and geologies.
Scientists believe that the Canyon was created within the last 5 million years – barely a tick of the geologic clock. At the bottom of the Inner Gorge, where the Colorado River is still cutting into the living rock, the stones are roughly 2 billion years old.
On this very old foundation, a succession of rock tiers was laid down over time, layer upon layer, so the stone gets younger with each foot climbed toward the Canyon rim. The newest level, where El Tovar sits, is Kaibab limestone about 250 million years old.
"It is not until the sightseer reaches the edge," claimed a Santa Fe brochure, "that the full force of the view strikes him with a shock that makes him gasp."
People & Protection
In the year that Grand Canyon became a National Park, it received 44,173 visitors. By 1956, visitation passed the 1 million mark. While it took 37 years to reach the first million, it only took 13 years to jump from 1 to 2 million sightseers a year. Today, 5 million people a year come to enjoy the Canyon.
The cumulative impact of so many people is stressing the environment. While specific problems may be new, environmental concerns have always been a part of the Park. In the early years, the big issues were roaming cattle, sewage disposal, and wild burros eating forage that native wildlife needed. As time went by, the challenges had more to do with zoning, development, and automobile traffic.
In 1995, a General Management Plan was approved for the Park. The result of a 4-year public process, the plan will help guide resource management in the 21st century.
Train was the preferred mode of travel for reaching the "wild" West. But by 1926, more visitors came to the Park by private car than Pullman car. After decades of financial struggle, the rail line and depot closed in 1968. Happily for rail enthusiasts, the train tradition was revived in 1989.
These days, travel by car has fallen out of favor, due to increasing air pollution and traffic congestion. But a free shuttle service is provided on the South Rim, and a light-rail system is under consideration. The emphasis now is on sustainable development strategies, and greenways for bike and foot traffic.
Still among the most popular forms of transportation: a mule ride to the bottom of the Canyon and back. If this sounds good to you, plan on 2 days for the excursion. Hikers should allow 3 days to get from one side of the Canyon to the other.