(Fairley) When historians describe the decades preceding designation of Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), they typically focus attention on early scientific studies conducted by John Wesley Powell, Clarence Dutton, and Charles Walcott. All three of these pioneering scientists were employed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a small Federal agency first established in 1879. Yet rarely do historians mention later contributions of USGS scientists to the subsequent development and interpretation of GCNP. This article attempts to fill this gap.
When GCNP was officially designated on February 26, 1919, Grand Canyon was already a popular, internationally renowned tourist destination. Its reputation derived in no small measure from books and articles written by USGS geologists, which included some of the earliest illustrations and photographs of Grand Canyon. In addition to Powell, Dutton, and Walcott , other noteworthy USGS scientists who contributed to Grand Canyon’s early fame included Francois Matthes who, along with topographers John Stewart and Richard Evans, mapped the Canyon’s topography in painstaking detail during the first decade of the 20th century ; Levi Noble, who mapped the Precambrian geology in the Shinumo area in 1909 , and Nelson Darton, who produced the first popular guidebook about Grand Canyon’s geology for distribution by the Santa Fe Railroad . Thus, by the time Grand Canyon was designated as the Nation’s 15th national park, USGS scientists had laid a solid foundation of basic geological knowledge about this remarkable landscape upon which the National Park Service (NPS) could build.
But what about the century that followed? In what respects did USGS personnel contribute to the park’s subsequent development and interpretation? The intent of this article is not to recount every scientific study undertaken by USGS scientists in Grand Canyon during the past century. Instead, this article attempts to document the various roles played by USGS professionals, working in collaboration with NPS personnel, to shape the future development and interpretation of the Park.