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Collection Mapping the National Parks

Maps of Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in northwestern Arizona is one of the earth's greatest natural wonders. It became a national park in 1919. So famous is this landmark to modern Americans that it seems surprising that it took more than thirty years for it to become a national park. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the rim in 1903 and exclaimed:

Detail of [Theodore Roosevelt, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front], [1904], By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present Collection. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-13026

"The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison--beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world .... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to 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."

Despite Roosevelt's enthusiasm and his strong interest in preserving land for public use, the Grand Canyon was not immediately designated as a national park. The first bill to create Grand Canyon National Park had been introduced in 1882 and again in 1883 and 1886 by Senator Benjamin Harrison. As President, Harrison established the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893. Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve by proclamation in 1906 and Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. Senate bills to establish a national park were introduced and defeated in 1910 and 1911; the Grand Canyon National Park Act was finally signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The National Park Service, which had been established in 1916, assumed administration of the park.

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, very little was known about the geography of the Grand Canyon. Because of its remote location, the area in and around the canyon was not explored or mapped in detail by Europeans, although it was probably visited in 1540 by the Spanish expedition of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, who searched with Vasques de Coronado for the seven legendary cities of Cibola. In 1776, two Spanish priests, Francisco Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante, crossed the Colorado River while exploring the area, but little knowledge of the region was passed down in written form to later generations. The primary source of information about the magnificent canyon was an oral tradition sustained by the reports of fur trappers and traders and so-called "mountain men," most of whom were escorted through the rugged terrain by Native American guides.

Only one early visitor, Warren Augustus Ferris, is known to have produced a map showing the Grand Canyon. Drawn in 1836, it was not published until 1940, too late to be of use to the geographers and explorers who first traveled to the Colorado River and the canyon during the late nineteenth century. Ferris did, however, write and publish several articles in the 1840s, one of which described the canyon. His account added to the available information about the existence and approximate location of the Grand Canyon and served to increase interest in further exploration of the area.

Early European Maps

In 1907, the United States Geological Survey produced a summary of the expedition routes of principal explorers of North America between 1541 and 1844. This map shows the information that was available before the United States government's official exploration and mapping of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. It is evident that most of the early explorers who traveled throughout the American Southwest avoided the area around the Grand Canyon, because the rugged terrain in the region and the great difficulty of crossing the canyon provided physical barriers to exploration and the establishment of trails and roads.

A second summary map, made by Robert Brewster Stanton in 1908, complied information about the exploratory expeditions on the Colorado River between 1540 and the date of its publication. It is remarkable how few individuals had explored the entire length of the Colorado River before the second decade of the twentieth century.

The scarcity of data obtained by direct observation and documentation explains why very few early European maps provide much useful information about the region. For the most part, these early maps were compilations of information derived from the work or imagination of others. In addition to showing California as an island, most early European maps indicated that the area in and around the Grand Canyon was included in "Parts Unknown." See also Map #1, Great Smoky Mountains.

American Maps of the Old Southwest, 1800-1860

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the United States had begun a period of territorial expansion westward across the North American continent. Colonial Americans had generally settled first along the Atlantic seaboard and then gradually moved west to create new farms. Before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, U.S. territory was limited to lands east of the Mississippi River.

Many of the great explorers of the American West, such as Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Zebulon Pike, made their names and reputations traveling through the relatively unknown territory that the United States obtained through the Louisiana Purchase. Pike's map of 1807 included information from other explorations in the Southwest and showed additional information about territory east of Santa Fe and south of Tucson. Although his map shows a longer segment of the Colorado River than most earlier maps, including the river's entry into the Gulf of California, it reveals little new material about the area in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.

Around 1850, several factors created enormous incentive for more comprehensive and accurate maps of the American West. Gold was discovered in California, and westward migration greatly accelerated. The Mexican War resulted in the annexation of Texas and California and much of the land between. The Gadsden Purchase enabled the United States to expand its borders to include what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico.

With its claim to the western portion of the continent firmly established, the United States government authorized the War Department to conduct four surveys across the territory west of the Mississippi River in order to determine the best route for a transcontinental railroad. A fifth survey was commissioned to study a north-south route in California that would enable both northern and southern California to be served by whatever route was ultimately chosen for the transcontinental railroad.

There was also strong interest in exploring the Colorado River to determine its suitability for navigation because waterways had been the traditional route of access to the interior of North America, particularly when overland routes were unavailable or dangerous. In addition, there was a need for scientific information about the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River that could only be obtained by observation and documentation. Both purposes were served by Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives's scientific expedition up the Colorado River by steamboat in 1857-58. Through his association with the United States Topographical Engineers and his travels, Ives obtained information that had long been absent from earlier maps.

Rio Colorado of the West..., drawn by F.W. von Egloffstein, 1858.

The Ives expedition produced one of the most important early maps of the Grand Canyon . Using shading instead of the traditional hachure marks to indicate differing elevations of the terrain, the topographer F.W. von Egloffstein created an engraved map that is a work of art.

In 1858, Lieutenant Gouvernour Kemble Warren drew a composite map synthesizing the state of knowledge of the area. It was based on data from the Pacific Railroad Surveys; the General Land Office, which had the responsibility for surveying and distributing public lands; the early explorations of the Transmississippi West, including the work of Lewis and Clark; and the more recent work of Ives.

Post-Civil War Maps of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon

Government exploration and mapping of the West was interrupted by the Civil War, and was resumed after the surrender of the Confederacy. During the period immediately after the war, published maps of the region continued to be based on pre-war surveys conducted by the military and the General Land Office. Often the cartographic information was adapted for popular use by commercial map and atlas publishers. After the war, the General Land Office resumed surveying activity, producing new and more detailed maps.

Detail of Parts of Northern and North Western Arizona and Southern Utah.

There were renewed attempts on the part of the U.S. government to make systematic surveys and maps of Western regions, including the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Toward that end, four great Western surveys were undertaken. Clarence King surveyed the fortieth parallel. A second survey was conducted by Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, the head of the newly created Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, which merged with the King and John Wesley Powell surveys to form the United States Geological Survey, a civilian agency, in 1879. The two other individuals, who each headed one of the other Western surveys, John Wesley Powell, a civilian, and George M. Wheeler, a young army lieutenant and a recent graduate of West Point, were primarily responsible for much of the new information that was gathered about the Grand Canyon.

Powell, a former army major who had lost his right arm during the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh, left the military after the war and began a career teaching geology and other natural sciences at several colleges, background that would enhance his descriptions of the Colorado River. With his epic journey down the river in 1869, the first of several expeditions that he led, Powell, a legendary figure in the history of the West, became the first person to travel the full length of the river.

Although Powell's scientific reports of the region, particularly on the geological evolution of the Grand Canyon, immediately increased both knowledge of the area and public interest in it, he produced only one small map of the river, to accompany an article published in Scribner's Monthly Magazine. His work, however, formed the basis for further surveys and studies of the region. He continued his career in public service, becoming the head of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the civilian organization that assumed responsibility for mapping the West.

George M. Wheeler was the last of the military explorers of the Grand Canyon. Like Ives, and unlike Powell, Wheeler traveled up the river, progressing slowly enough to collect a variety of information. He was accompanied by scientists, including a naturalist and a geologist, who assisted him in compiling data that became part of his report on the expedition. A significant result of Wheeler's efforts was the first map to accurately locate the course of the Colorado River. It was published as part of the larger series of sheet maps based on his extensive surveys in California, Nevada, and other areas of the Southwest that came to be known collectively as the "Wheeler Atlas." Wheeler's expedition to the Grand Canyon was the last great exploratory effort in the region; one of its major achievements was establishing systematic basis for further mapping of the area under the aegis of the Geological Survey.

The Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District, 1882

Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district.

When mapping functions were consolidated within the USGS, many people who had been involved with the Western surveys were absorbed by the new agency. The first director of USGS was Clarence King; the first publication of the Survey was Tertiary History of. . . by Clarence E. Dutton, demonstrating the tie between the USGS maps and earlier mapping efforts.

Clarence E. Dutton began working on his Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District while he was a member of the Powell survey. Consisting of twenty-three sheets, Tertiary History. . . (1882) summarized what was known about the Grand Canyon in a strikingly beautiful manner. Part of a longer report, it was a composite work in the same way that the Warren map had been, integrating the results of the post-Civil War surveys of the American West. The maps are drawn at three different scales and show the topography and geology of the Grand Canyon. Tertiary History. . . was important both as a work of art and as the scientific foundation upon which subsequent mapping was based, making it one of the most popular cartographic works devoted to the Grand Canyon.

Maps Produced Before to 1920

The Geological Survey continued systematic surveying and mapping of the Grand Canyon after the publication of Dutton's work in 1882. Historic USGS topographic quadrangle maps, at a scale of 1:250,000, began with the Kaibab sheet published in 1886 (reprinted 1915), followed by Echo Cliffs (reprinted 1905) and Chino in 1891 (reprinted 1900), and San Francisco Mountain in 1894 (reprinted 1911). These sheets form the first standard series of topographic maps of the region and were based primarily on the work of the Powell survey.

The early Kaibab quadrangle showed Bright Angel Creek and its vicinity, which is now considered to be the heart of the Grand Canyon. In 1903, the first Bright Angel quadrangle was completed at a scale of 1:48,000. It was reprinted at that scale with minor corrections until 1947. Around 1910, the USGS produced a colored relief model of the Grand Canyon, which was later photographed.

Other government agencies were also producing maps around the turn of the century. In 1908, the Forest Service published a map to accompany Theodore Roosevelt's proclamation establishing Grand Canyon National Monument. The map shows the boundaries of the adjacent Grand Canyon National Forest in relation to those of the new National Monument.

Privately published maps appeared before the national park was established in 1919. The beauty of the location was captured in stereographs, an early form of three-dimensional photography, from several vantage points overlooking the canyon. The Underwood and Underwood's Map #2, dated 1904, documents the locations from which these photographs were taken and the scope of each view.

Rand McNally produced a handsome illustrated booklet with a map on the back cover showing Hermit Run Road and Hermit Trail. It had a cover drawing showing a horse-drawn carriage and many early photographs of recreational activities in and around the Grand Canyon. Rand McNally's extensive earlier work on the canyon enabled it to publish a map of Grand Canyon National Park and its boundaries the year that the park was established.

U.S. Government Maps, 1920 to the Present

In 1927, using the quadrangle maps as a basis, USGS was able to publish its first complete map of Grand Canyon National Park at a scale of 1:45,000. Subsequent editions of the map included new information. In 1962, USGS produced its first single-sheet map of the park at a scale of 1:62,500. A beautiful shaded relief map was published in 1972 at the same scale.

Individual 15-minute topographic quadrangles of the national park at a scale of 1:62,500 were also published in 1962 in eleven sheets with a twelfth showing the Bright Angel quadrangle in shaded relief. In 1988, USGS further divided each 15-minute quadrangle into four 7.5-minute sheets at a scale of 1:24,000. Bright Angel Point, Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, and Shiva Temple were enlargements of the original Bright Angel 15-minute quadrangle. Because of the popularity of the Bright Angel area of the park, these four sheets are used to illustrate new USGS maps; in all, the national park is covered by thirty-two 7.5 minute sheets. The quadrangle maps, frequently called "quads," are used by recreational hikers and campers as well as scientists such as botanists, zoologists, ecologists, and geologists.

Caption Below
Map of Grand Canyon National Park.

The National Park Service also published maps of the park and its vicinity to aid visitors in exploring the roads and trails. Although less detailed, Park Service maps include information that is either unavailable or difficult for the layman to see on USGS maps. Their primary purpose is to show routes between various points of interest, and they are routinely distributed to visitors entering the park.

The earliest Park Service map of the Grand Canyon in the Library of Congress's collections is a beautiful shaded relief map dated 1926. Some subsequent editions of Park Service maps divide the park into the North and South Rims. Others emphasize the Inner Canyon. Some of the more recent maps show the effects of the 1975 Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act, which absorbed Marble Canyon National Monument into the park.

Finally, growing awareness of the value of wetlands and their role in preserving the environment led to a national survey of the classification of wetlands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the 1970s. There is only one sheet for the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon continues to attract more than five million visitors each year. It is a source of wonder and fascination to people from around the globe. A blending of art and science and creative insight has produced beautiful panoramic views of the Grand Canyon such as Clarence Dutton's Tertiary History which continues to inspire those who travel to northern Arizona to see for themselves the grandeur of Grand Canyon National Park.

Patricia Molen van Ee
Specialist in American Cartography
Geography and Map Division
Library of Congress