At least 5 or 6 million years ago — and possibly even 70 million years ago — the Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries in present-day Arizona. But despite being as old as the dinosaurs, we can still visit the Grand Canyon just as it has existed for centuries and for that we can thank explorer, soldier, naturalist and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.
By the late 1800s, the Grand Canyon was already a major tourist destination in the United States. Thousands of tourists flocked to the site each year, including a young man named Theodore Roosevelt. An avid outdoorsman despite his upperclass New York City upbringing, Roosevelt established a conservationist attitude towards America’s natural wonders early on, founding the Boone and Crockett Club, the country’s oldest wildlife and habitat conservation organization, in 1887. His belief in saving America’s natural beauty for future generations only increased when he became president following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.
In 1902, with the help of fellow Boone and Crockett Club members, President Roosevelt devised the National Wildlife Refuge System to create wildlife refuges throughout the nation. Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge became the first such refuge in 1903 and by 1906, the Grand Canyon Game Preserve was established.
On June 8, 1906, Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, which gave the President the authority to create national monuments from federal lands in an effort to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. Roosevelt immediately set his sights on the Grand Canyon and on January 11, 1908, he proclaimed more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument.
One hundred and ten years later, the Grand Canyon continues to be one of America’s most visited natural landmarks, with the now National Park attracting nearly six million visitors each year. And although conservation has become a bizarrely partisan issue, America will hopefully continue to protect its natural lands, just as Roosevelt wished when he visited the Grand Canyon in 1903 and uttered these famous words:
“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.”