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November 1933Volume 8, Number 8


By Barbara H. McKee, Grand Canyon.

THE Grand Canyon was first seen by white men in 1540, when a scouting party in charge of Den Garcia Lopez de Cardenas was sent out by Coronado from the Indian village of Zuni. However, they seem to have left the great chasm unnamed. Cardenas1 realized that the river at the bottom was one that had already been discovered and crossed by Melchior Diaz, then named the Tison (Firebrand) river, but he did not refer to the canyon by any name.

In 1858 Lieutenant J. C. Ives and J. S. Newberry, geologist, having completed a survey of the Lower Colorado River, visited this huge gorge and wrote of it under the names of "Big Canon" and "Great Canon". It is interesting to note what Ives2 had to say about this country: "The region last explored is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and doubtless will be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever undisturbed."

It was only a few years later, however, in 1869, that Major John Wesley Powell explored the length of the Green and Colorado Rivers. He passed through the great canyon in the course of the journey, and it was he who gave it the name Grand Canyon, probably shortly after this trip. Mr. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, who was one of Major Powell's topographers on his second trip, in 1871 and 1872, tells3 how Powell used that name in his report following the journey, and how it was not until his topographers made the first preliminary map of the region in the winter of 1872 and 1873 that the name was recorded on a map.

The Painted Desert is another region, the name of which has often been attributed to the early Spaniards who came into this part of the country. Mr. Dellenbaugh4 has shown this also to be incorrect, and cites the exact place in Lieutenant Ives' report on his exploration of the Colorado River. In the Section on Geology, pages 76 and 86, written by Dr. Newberry, geologist of the expedition, we find the region between the Little Colorado River and the Hopi mesas called the "Painted Desert", due to the colorful and strange scenery of that country. So it seems that it was really Dr. Newberry who gave the name.

According to Dr. Harold S. Colton5 of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, the Painted Desert is now defined as embracing the valley of the Little Colorado River from the neighborhood of Holbrook to the Grand Canyon, and extending southeast for approximately 140 miles.

1. Winship, George Parker, Translation of the Journey of Coronado, A. S. Barnes & Co., p. 35, 1904.

2. Ives, Lieut. J. C., Report Upon the Colorado River of the West, Senate Ex. Doc. 36th Congress, 1st Session, p. 110, 1861,

3. Dellenbaugh, F. S., "Naming the Grand Canyon", Science, Vol. 77, No. 1997, p. 349, April 1933.

4. Dellenbaugh, F. S., "The Painted Desert", Science, Vol. 76, No. 1976, p. 437, Nov. 1932.

5. Colton, Harold S. "Days in the Painted Desert and the San Francisco Mountains", 1932, page 1.

A North Rim view toward the Painted Desert GRANT PHOTO

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