For millennia, indigenous Grand Canyon residents relied on the area’s resources for both lifestyle and livelihood. A wide variety of peoples lived in diverse settlements ranging from small nomadic hunter/gatherer groups to large established villages with crops and later livestock. They carried on long-distance trade relations with each other and defended their territories.
Some grazed horses, cattle, and sheep after the Spanish introduced these animals to the Americas. Areas with reliable water sources were often cultivated with local food crops like maize, beans, and squash. The landscape was inhabited well and native plants and animals used extensively for food, although rarely before the arrival of modern market economies and transportation systems were natural resources exploited on a large scale and exhausted—except in localized areas near settlements.
In 1848, the United States acquired the Grand Canyon region in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. With the U.S. acquisition of the territory, new arrivals whose cultural expectations were shaped far from Grand Canyon brought a new sense of land use. The Canyon and its neighboring plateaus offered an abundance of forests, unique geologic formations, and seemingly empty spaces that attracted loggers, miners, and ranchers. Their activities intersected and overlapped as they sought to extract resources for their own livelihoods and, in the process, shaped the subsequent development of the entire Grand Canyon region. By 1900, as Barbara J. Morehouse explains in A Place Called Grand Canyon: Contested Geographies, “logging, mining, and ranching became the dominant activities on the landscape.” (26)
Although these extractive industries often conflicted with each other, both on the ground and in political arenas, their activities combined to create and sustain new and different demands on the land, such as pressures for better transportation systems. This desire to move goods and people quickly had a decided effect on the history of the Grand Canyon. Men constructed roads – for wagons, rail, and later trucks and cars – for the purpose of transporting products such as logs, ore, and livestock out to markets. Those same roads and rails brought tourists in to the canyon. In the late 19th century, many small entrepreneurs developed businesses based on extracting natural resources or serving tourists. Folks such as Pete and Martha Berry were among those early entrepreneurs who made a living exploiting both.
But by the early 20th century more organized, larger-scale enterprises soon displaced many of the family businesses. New conflicts over lands and resources resulted. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway connection to the canyon in 1901 benefited and challenged local miners, ranchers, loggers, and tourism entrepreneurs. The roads and rails also brought people with different ideas about how to use and manage the Grand Canyon.
At the same time as the railroad first arrived at the Grand Canyon, the federal government increased its presence and management of federal lands in the region. In the first two decades of the 20th century the Grand Canyon and the plateau lands immediately surrounding it were part of the national forest system managed by the US Forest Service. A professional forester named Gifford Pinchot headed this federal agency when it was established in 1905.
Pinchot was one of the founders of the conservation movement dedicated to efficient, sustainable use of natural resources. A social and economic reformer, he directed the US Forest Service to regulate the activities of those using national forest resources to promote the principles of conservation. Those who had come to the Grand Canyon a generation earlier had been able to stake land claims, extract valuable ore, cut timber, and graze livestock with little interference or regulation. They sometimes welcomed the expertise, assistance, and employment opportunities offered by the US government, but just as often they resented the rules and restraints established by the Forest Service.
In 1919 the newly established National Park Service took over control of the inner canyon and small portions of the north and south rims, while the Forest Service retained control over most of the forested plateaus. The Park Service was dedicated specifically to preservation and public enjoyment of important natural and cultural parks and monuments, so most resource extraction activities inside the new park boundaries were curtailed. Logging, mining, and grazing continued on the national forest lands outside the park under Forest Service regulations, but the heart of the Grand Canyon was now protected from development—except for tourist-related development. The Park Service exercised a heavier regulatory hand than the Forest Service on businesses working inside the national park. Once again, some people appreciated the guiding hand and policy clarity brought by the Park Service as well as its roads, facilities, and greater public attention. But others who felt less favored by the agency resented its authority and regulations. Most rankling to the smaller operators, the Park Service seemed all too willing to cooperate with the Santa Fe Railway, Fred Harvey Company, and other powerful businesses eyeing potential profits in the Grand Canyon region.
The land-use conditions established by the extractive industries ensured that any public management of the Grand Canyon would be contested. The result has been a long, protracted conflict among proponents of various land uses that is not yet completely resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Boundaries of the national park, the national forest, the surrounding Indian reservations, and other public and private holdings are politically negotiated and have changed over time as private interests and tribal and public officials have struggled over the control of cultural meanings and economic resources of the Grand Canyon.
Debates among the proponents of various land uses, for-profit and non-profit, did not necessarily pit those who wanted to preserve Grand Canyon against those who wanted to use the Canyon. After all, most land uses – whether logging or hiking – require some level of preservation in order to continue to be viable. The main issue concerned the identities and preferences of those who would establish and control the parameters for use or nonuse. The loggers, miners, and ranchers tended to prefer local government control, but only reluctantly. Ideally, many preferred no government control at all, assuming that the market could adequately regulate the extractive industries. But the reality of conflict among the various industries themselves drew government into the debates about the priority of use in specific locations.
The extractive industries – mining, logging, and ranching – have not left Grand Canyon completely, although they do not retain as large a presence as they once did nor are they present within the boundaries of the National Park. Once seen as emblematic of the Old West, the extractive industries now illuminate complex issues endemic to the New West that intersect on the Grand Canyon to an extent seldom seen in other regions. The original boundaries of the Park deliberately excluded valuable grazing and timber areas in order to allow such economic uses to continue.
As the Park expanded in the twentieth century, desires for economic development continued to inform and shape the placement of new borders, but the extractive industries have not been completely removed from the larger region. Active uranium mining claims are staked on federal lands; logging is a management tool in the Kaibab National Forest; and cattle roam the plateaus on the north and south rims. Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the States of Arizona and Utah exercise varying levels of oversight of these industries, and benefits accrue to residents of local towns and reservations. Begun well over a century ago, the complicated and often uneasy relationships between and among miners, loggers, ranchers, and the Grand Canyon continue today.
We invite you to follow the links to learn more about each of these industries and their historic developments in the Grand Canyon region.
Written By Dana Bennett and Paul Hirt
- Anderson, Michael F. Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, 1998.
- Anderson, Michael F. Polishing the Jewel: An Administrative History of Grand Canyon National Park. GCA, 2000.
- Morehouse, Barbara J. A Place Called Grand Canyon: Contested Geographies. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1996.