January 11 - Anniversary of the Grand Canyon Being Declared a National Monument

Posted on January 11, 2013

Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona? It's a sight that President Theodore Roosevelt wanted every American to see at least once in his or her lifetime. (Of course, it's great if people from all over the world see it, too...)

Roosevelt didn't want the land around the Grand Canyon to be ruined by development. Apartment houses and factories along the South Rim would not, in his mind, be an improvement. The canyon would be protected from such development if it were a national park, but only Congress could set aside land as a national park. So Teddy Roosevelt did the next best thing: he declared the Grand Canyon to be a National Monument.

On this date in 1908, he said, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."

I've seen the Grand Canyon several times, and it is breathtakingly beautiful (although I don't know that I would position it as the #1 sight to see!). My husband doesn't fully appreciate it—he would rather interact with beautiful scenery, hiking up beautiful trails to lovely lakes, fishing in streams, and so forth. His only interaction with the Grand Canyon has been driving to a lookout, looking down on all that colorful beauty, and then driving to some other lookout.

But of course many of the five million people who visit the canyon each year DO interact with the scenery. The three most popular activities are whitewater rafting through the canyon, hiking down to the canyon floor (and of course back up again—that's the tough part!), and going down and back up by mule. (My brother did an unusual half-hike/half-ride on his honeymoon. He hiked down to the canyon floor with his bride, but then he got injured—a broken or badly twisted ankle or something. So his wife had to hike out alone and get a mule, go back down to my brother and help him ride up to medical care.)

Some people love to photograph the canyon at different times of the day, because different shadows and lighting give the canyon different versions of beauty. Some people paint the canyon. One of the pricier activities is taking a helicopter ride over or through the canyon. And there is a new activity available: the Skywalk. Visitors must wear booties over their shoes and then walk almost 70 feet out, over the canyon, on a “bridge” with a clear, 4-inch-thick glass floor. Skywalkers get to see all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, 4,000 feet below, over the railing or down below their feet.
May I just say “yikes”?

I'd also like to say “Hooray for Teddy Roosevelt!” Congress did eventually make the Grand Canyon a national park (in 1919), but who knows what might have happened if Roosevelt hadn't seen the importance of safeguarding national scenic treasures, hadn't set up 18 of these treasures as national monuments, hadn't started the conversation about conservation? 

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