30 Sep

Map of the Week: Visiting the Grand Canyon

By Arden Benner

As we enter our eighth month of COVID-19 induced quarantine and fall comes to the Northern Hemisphere, a little stir-craziness is to be expected. To counteract the most drastic of its symptoms, this week’s map of the week is a virtual field trip to one of the country’s most picturesque locations—the Grand Canyon. A recognized national park for over a century and an ecological marvel of incomparable dimension, the Grand Canyon fields millions of visitors every year (5,974,411 in 2019). Predictably, this year’s numbers are expected to be much lower than usual, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of this digital deep dive. Science Friday has amassed a collection of historic maps of the region, titled “Unfolding Stories In Maps Of The Grand Canyon,” and these will guide our tour. 

Created by geologists John H. Maxson and François Émile Matthes, this map of the Bright Angel Quadrangle, takes into account the area’s geologic formations and faults. The landscape of the Grand Canyon ranges from 1,840 to 270 million years old. Predominately sculpted by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon continues to shift in a constant battle against erosive forces.

This topographic relief was produced by the USGS in 1972. Titled “Grand Canyon National Park and vicinity, Arizona,” the map covers hundreds of miles and thousands of years of history. Within the constraints of the Grand Canyon 4,615 archeological resources have been discovered, by an in-depth survey of only 6% of the parks total area. The oldest of these human artifacts have been timestamped at almost twelve thousand years old, and are under the authority of the park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes and historic ethnic groups. The Grand Canyon has been consistently occupied since the Paleoindian period, roughly 11,500 years ago. The National Park Service offers an Archaeology Virtual Tour dedicated to these artifacts. 

Hopi guides led the first Europeans (Spanish) to the Grand Canyon in the 1540s. The first mapping expedition didn’t enter until 1859, and the first settlers arrived at its rim in the 1880s. In 1893, the park became a forest reserve thanks to President Benjamin Harrison, and in 1919 it was officially declared a National Park. Maps like the one above, “Grand Canyon South Rim Panorama Map” by Tom Patterson for the National Park Service, look a bit different than earlier representations. Here, we can see the development around the canyon’s edges, the marked trails along its rim, and visitor centers on either side. Today, the Grand Canyon doubles as a sacred historic site and one of the country’s oldest tourist destinations. 

Our final representation from Science Friday is more modern. This map was based on the book “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” by Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers. The map displays every recognized death in the canyon between 1869 and 2018. The interactive web map is currently on its fourth version, published in February of 2019, and has been viewed over 120,000 times. Visitors to the site can “explore this map to discover the trials, tribulations, incidents, and often heartrending stories of how these souls perished in one of the most beautiful and iconic, yet hostile environments on Earth.” It is important to note that the National Park Service lists that thirteen fatalities occurred in the park in 2019. 

We’ll conclude our virtual tour of the Grand Canyon with a bit more interactive of a look. Google Earth offers an in-depth virtual tour of the canyon itself, zooming across hundreds of miles of trails and historic sites at the click of a button. Although more connected than ever before, society has taken a bit of a pause when it comes to getting out and about. Let this map-based exploration make your quarantine a little brighter.