In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country—to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I was delighted to learn of the wisdom of the Santa Fe railroad people in deciding not to build their hotel on the brink of the canyon. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel, or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see. We have gotten past the stage, my fellow-citizens, when we are to be pardoned if we treat any part of our country as something to be skinned for two or three years for the use of the present generation, whether it is the forest, the water, the scenery. Whatever it is, handle it so that your children’s children will get the benefit of it. If you deal with irrigation, apply it under circumstances that will make it of benefit, not to the speculator who hopes to get profit out of it for two or three years, but handle it so that it will be of use to the home-maker, to the man who comes to live here, and to have his children stay after him. Keep the forests in the same way. Preserve the forests by use; preserve them for the ranchman and the stockman, for the people of the Territory, for people of the region round about. Preserve them for that use, but use them so that they will not be squandered, that they will not be wasted, so that they will be of benefit to the Arizona of 1953 as well as the Arizona of 1903.
– President Theodore Roosevelt, from Speech at Grand Canyon Arizona, May 6, 1903
After our grand little hike beneath the rim at Cliff Spring, Sean and I continued north on the road up the eastern side of the Walhalla Plateau. It was already after 2pm on Friday, September 16, and despite the large breakfast we’d had at Grand Canyon Lodge that morning, we were more than ready for lunch.
On the way north, we stopped at Roosevelt Point to have a look at the view.
Roosevelt Point was named in 1996 to honor Theodore Roosevelt, who fought mightily to protect the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt assumed the presidency after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. In 1903, Roosevelt embarked on a months-long whistle stop tour of the American West to introduce himself to an American public predisposed to lionize the former North Dakota rancher and leader of the Rough Riders. In addition to affording Roosevelt his first visit to the Grand Canyon, in a brief stop at the South Rim where the view inspired him to forego his prepared remarks for a heartfelt plea to preserve it, this trip also made possible Roosevelt’s famous campout with John Muir in Yosemite National Park.
Roosevelt returned to the White House determined that the Grand Canyon become a National Park. But his hopes were met by fierce resistance by corporate grazing and mining interests and the politicians who supported them. Only an act of Congress could create a National Park, and time and again throughout his presidency, Roosevelt urged Congress to act to protect the Grand Canyon as a National Park. But it was to no avail.
Then in 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, which allows the president to create National Monuments. Section Two of the Act states:
That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.
In January 1908, frustrated by inaction in Congress, Roosevelt boldly declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument. The creation of the Antiquities Act less than two years earlier had been in direct response to the looting of Native American sites in the Southwest. Hence the Act specified only that the amount of land be the least possible to preserve the historic or scientific nature of the site protected, with members of Congress at the time assuming that National Monuments would be smaller than five thousand acres. But as Roosevelt and his Interior Department rightly concluded, just because the Grand Canyon is mind-numbingly huge doesn’t mean it should be left unprotected while Congress catered to special interests. And so Roosevelt declared it protected.
Eleven years and one month later, incidentally a month after Roosevelt died, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill establishing Grand Canyon National Park. In the decade between Roosevelt’s bold act and Congress’ eventual passage of a bill, Roosevelt’s exhortation that Americans visit their canyon had been taken to heart in the popular imagination, and Congress ultimately had to come around.
Almost a century later, Grand Canyon National Park brings almost six million tourists to Arizona, making it a huge economic engine for the state that had not at first wanted to heed Roosevelt’s admonition to “Leave it as it is.”
After our brief stop at Roosevelt Point, we continued north to the picnic area at Vista Encantada, where finally, at quarter to three, we had a lovely lunch of hotdogs and macaroni and cheese.
It was certainly a picnic with a view, even if we did attract the interest of a murderous Raven.
After lunch, we continued on to Point Imperial, at 8,803 feet the highest point on the North Rim.
By now it was ten to four, and the afternoon sun was casting long shadows across the canyon.
A tour bus for seniors was in the parking area, and both another group of visitors and we remarked that it would have been nice had the bus turned off its noisy engine while its passengers disembarked for their brief walkabout. The view was wonderful, but the idling engine noise was decidedly less than.
The views from Point Imperial were largely southerly and easterly. To the south, a city of buttes and side canyons stretched from the edge of the Walhalla Plateau.
East across the canyon, the Palisades of the Desert dropped abruptly from Marble Table, a flat expanse of the Navajo Nation.
The most evocative view, perhaps, was to the northeast, where we could see the Vermillion Cliffs off in the distance and ever-widening Marble Canyon announcing the arrival of the Colorado River at the Kaibab Plateau as it entered the Grand Canyon.
It was quite hazy because of the smoke from the Fuller Fire spreading out to the east. But still we could see the Echo Cliffs and, eighty miles away, Navajo Mountain.
In the near distance, Saddle Mountain dominated the view. Saddle Mountain Wilderness, part of Kaibab National Forest, was closed that day because of the fire, which had started in late June with a lighting strike near Point Imperial.
As we departed Point Imperial, we passed through a part of the Ponderosa Pine forest that had burned in an intense fire in 2000. The Fuller Fire had been less intense in part because so much fuel (stored up by a century of misguided fire suppression) had burned off in that earlier fire and since then prescribed burns had established a healthier forest understory.
It was a bit after four, and our day on the Walhalla Plateau was drawing to a close. We turned the Jeep onto the road back down Fuller Canyon toward the campground.