Great Lodges of the National Parks
Canyon Lodges: Grand Canyon
Although others came before him, John Wesley Powell was the explorer who literally put the Grand Canyon "on the map," by leading several expeditions to the area during the 1870s.
Between expeditions, Powell became acquainted with a self-trained geologist, Capt. Clarence E. Dutton. Powell liked the 34-year-old Yale graduate with "a soldier's bearing, a scientist's mind, and an artist's eye." So he contacted his friend, President Grant, and secured a "loan" of the Army officer for his next survey party. The loan would continue for the next 15 years.
Together, Dutton and Powell taught Americans how to see and understand the natural wonders of the Southwest. Dutton's book about the region's geology, Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District, is still the definitive work on the subject – more than 120 years after it was first published.
Over the course of millions of years, the Colorado River has carved out a series of 19 canyons. The Grand Canyon is only one of these, but it's also among the most visually inspiring places on earth.
The Park encompasses over 1,904 square miles, providing habitat for 75 species of mammals, 50 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 25 fishes, and over 300 bird species.
The Canyon is 217 miles long, and up to a mile deep. The North and South Rims are physically separated by just 10 miles, but the trip from one side to the other requires a 220-mile drive, or a 21-mile hike up and down treacherous terrain.
The average elevation of the North Rim is 1,000 feet higher than that of the South Rim, resulting in exceptional panoramic views. The elevation also contributes to colder weather and heavy snow; the north side of the Canyon is only open from May through October.
People & Protection
Grand Canyon National Park deals with a number of environmental threats. Some are as obvious as the 4 million visitors the Park receives every year. Other problems are more subtle, and a few dangers don't even originate in the Park.
At the top of the list, resource managers are concerned about air quality, the river system, fire management, and the effects of increased visitation.
Several decades ago, a polluted pall began to hang in the air above the Canyon. The haze is generated in industrial and urban areas far from the Park, so all that Rangers can do is monitor the situation and educate visitors.
Water is another critical issue. The flow of water into the Canyon is directly controlled by the Glen Canyon Dam, 15 miles outside the Park boundary. The Dam has altered the water temperature, seasonal fluctuation and sediment load of the Colorado River.
By the time the Grand Canyon Lodge was finished, the Union Pacific's concessions company had established a complete transportation network, with terminals and depots, tour bus services, and various road improvements.
Today, visitors might be wise to trace the route of the UP's "Loop Tour." In many ways, the Canyon's North Rim is more visually striking than the South Rim. Furthermore, the South Rim is more easily accessible, so it receives nearly all of the Park's 4 million annual visitors. Only a tenth of all visitors come to the North Rim.
Automobiles create multiple problems, from Parking to pollution, on both sides of the Canyon. The Park now offers a shuttle service on the South Rim, and is evaluating a light-rail system. On the North Rim, traffic remains a major concern, but there isn't enough funding to develop a new transit system at this time.