Arizona Historical Society
  • Rescaling Geography:Grand Canyon Exploratory and Topographic Mapping, 1777–1978

Nobody truly knows Grand Canyon.1 The sheer scale of the place prevents anyone from ever seeing it fully, from ever learning all of its secrets. John Wesley Powell, the most famous of canyon explorer-scientists, once wrote: "You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths."2 But even after a lifetime toiling through those labyrinths, one would capture only a partial, fragmented view of the whole. Clarence Dutton, one of Powell's protégés and close collaborators, called Grand Canyon "the sublimest thing on earth." He clarified, "it is so not alone by virtue of its magnitudes, but by virtue of the whole—its ensemble."3 So how might one try to see, how does one truly grasp, Grand Canyon's full ensemble? Our [End Page 621]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

Grand Canyon terrain mapped to scales of (a) 1:1,000,000 and (b) 1:100,000. Maps by author.

best efforts to understand the region holistically come through the abstraction afforded by the science and art of cartography.

Rescaling Geography

Part of the power of maps is their ability to consolidate, package, and communicate geographic reality. As noted by Powell, "It is easy to be lost in a maze of hills and a confusion of mountain peaks unless the grand topographic forms on which the hills and mountains are sculptured are seen with a mental vision that reaches further than the eye."4 Maps grant this vision. Maps rescale geography, allowing us to conceptualize space beyond the distances and depths perceived by our senses. Cartographic scale—the relationship between space on a map and the space on the Earth it represents—makes this mental work possible.

Cartographic scale is a simple, yet slightly unintuitive, inverse proportion: the larger the area represented by the map, the smaller the scale of the map. It is most commonly recorded as a ratio. For instance, on a map with a scale of 1:1,000,000, one unit on the map [End Page 622] is equivalent to one million units on the surface of the Earth; on a map with a scale of 1:100,000, one unit on the map is equivalent to one hundred thousand units on the Earth. The 1:1,000,000-scale map is smaller than the 1:100,000-scale map, which is ten times larger. The larger-scale map will cover a comparatively smaller area of the Earth, but, because it offers a magnified view, is able to depict more of the detailed features that define that area's geography. Even a rudimentary understanding of scale offers a useful lens through which to review the history of Grand Canyon cartography.

Cartographic Legacy

In 1969, half a century after the 1919 creation of Grand Canyon National Park, explorer-cartographer Bradford Washburn found himself disturbed by the unavailability of large-scale maps of the region.5 The most accurate and detailed maps available at the time were those produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). In that series, one inch on the map represents approximately one mile on the Earth (1:62,500).6 Washburn bemoaned the lack of detail on the USGS maps, stressing that their scale was "simply inadequate to depict such incredibly rough country, with extremely intricate trails involving hundreds of tight switchbacks," much less the "accurate plotting of the geology, botany, or archaeology" of the region. He was right. Soon after, he went on to lead a field and aerial survey of the most accessible, well-known, and frequented parts of the canyon, its so-called "heart." The National Geographic Society (which Powell and Dutton helped co-found decades earlier) funded the bulk of the endeavor. A map called "The Heart of the Grand Canyon," published in a 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine, was the crowning achievement of Washburn's survey.7 It has become one of the most iconic Grand [End Page 623] Canyon maps ever created. It also culminated the first two centuries—from 1777 to 1978—of Grand Canyon exploratory and topographic mapping.

Washburn's late-twentieth-century cartographic achievement built upon those made by previous generations of explorers and mappers who strove to define and cartographically relay the region's physical geography. A sampling of this chronology's key protagonists includes Joseph Christmas Ives, John Wesley Powell, Clarence Edward Dutton, François Émile Matthes, and Claude Hale Birdseye. The list is incomplete. It admittedly consists of Euro-American (white) men only. Some important, and many less important, contributors have been omitted.8 And this is not to mention the cast of countless others who made the work possible, including Native and immigrant guides and laborers, geographers, topographers, artists, engineers, boatmen, cooks, field assistants, bureaucrats, and, lest we never forget, noble beasts of burden, among others. Nevertheless, it is those aforementioned giants of early Grand Canyon exploration who, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, led a succession of the first true mappings of the region.9 The geographic knowledge embodied in the maps they created—their cartographic legacy—will forever inform what, and how, humans know Grand Canyon.

A Peripheral Geography

Prior to the late 1850s, there were no detailed or even remotely accurate maps of the region. Only a small number of maps, all extremely small-scale, made superficial mention of the giant, seemingly hard-to-miss chasm. It simply lay too deep within the inhospitable mountain and desert landscapes that dominate the west-central interior of the North American continent. Administrative control over those lands shifted rapidly during the first decades of the nineteenth [End Page 624] century—from the Spanish Empire's viceroyalty of New Spain, to a newly independent Mexico, then to another former colony, the United States, whose own imperialist impulses drove its territorial expansion. Faraway geopolitical shifts had little if any impact on local dynamics within those territories, or on their governance, though. They were simply too harsh, too sparsely populated, and too lacking in viable resource wealth to motivate the sort of regular exploratory activities that might have otherwise yielded major geographical advances. The arid lands of the West, and the Native communities therein, thus constituted a geography peripheral to the powers that held de jure but not quite de facto control over them.

But the area was not entirely unknown by foreigners. Spaniard García López de Cárdenas carries the distinction of leading the first group of Europeans to gaze upon Grand Canyon in 1540, as part of the Francisco Vázquez de Coronado expedition. More than three centuries would pass before parts of the region would become the subject of any concerted survey and mapping efforts. Still, at least a portion of what we now consider Grand Canyon received recognition in maps created by Spanish proselytizers in the late eighteenth century, then copied by a Prussian polymath a few decades later in the early nineteenth century.

Puerto de Bucareli

Spanish missionary Father Pedro Font, known for his detailed diary and maps, drew one in 1777 that expanded on an earlier version of the California coast he had drawn the year before. The updated version includes portions of the upper Colorado River, including a locale labeled "Puerto de Bucareli."10 This so-called pass or gate was assigned that name by another missionary, Father Francisco Garcés, in honor of New Spain's viceroy at the time, Antonio María Bucareli y Ursúa, who "so assiduously pushed the colonization of Alta California." Garcés was himself a zealous proselytizer who, in addition to his burning "desire to Christianize," sought to "learn about the country in which he served."11 In a translated journal [End Page 625] entry from 1776, Garcés describes his encounter at the Puerto de Bucareli: "I … halted at the sight of the profound [canyons] which ever onward continue; and within these flows the Rio Colorado. … I named this … Puerto de Bucareli. … I am astonished at the roughness of this country, and at the barrier which nature has fixed therein."12 In an entry two days later, he elaborated: "This [Little Colorado] river runs to the west[-]northwest, and unites with the Rio Colorado a little before this passes through the Puerto de Bucaréli."13 Thus, Puerto de Bucareli is a toponym assigned by Garcés to denote none other than Grand Canyon itself.14 This is important. It means that the term Puerto de Bucareli was the "earliest known non-Indigenous name for the canyon."15 By extension, the first maps to portray what we now take for granted as Grand Canyon are those that call it Puerto de Bucareli.16

The most well-known maps mentioning a Puerto de Bucareli were authored by the famous explorer-naturalist-geographer-scientist from Berlin, Alexander von Humboldt. From 1799 to 1804, the polymath traveled throughout and studied the lands within Spain's holdings in the Americas. New Spain's northern reaches remained persistently inaccessible. Humboldt went as far north as the central Mexican Plateau (in the modern state of Guanajuato), which marks the southern start of North America's long desert and xeric (dry) ecoregions within which Puerto de Bucareli is located.17 To construct his geographic interpretation of New Spain, he relied on the best data sources available. By that time, probably no more than a dozen or so Europeans had ever laid eyes on the canyon complex, [End Page 626] much less depicted it in map form. In terms of geographic data, there was nothing better available for Humboldt than the missionary maps by Font and Garcés.

Humboldt drew his first map of New Spain in 1804. It is a sketchy, minimally stylized drawing. It would later be embellished with imaginatively represented topography and redesigned typography prior to publication in Europe. Before returning from his expedition through Spanish America, Humboldt detoured to Anglo America, visiting the United States, and, at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson, its new capital, Washington, D.C. Only a year before, in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase had significantly expanded the territorial extent of the United States. The expansion created a new border between it and New Spain. Jefferson hoped to gain intelligence from Humboldt, as, among other uncertainties, he did not know where the border lay exactly. Humboldt, earnestly committed to the free exchange of information, found himself in a fortuitous position: "Not only had he sketched a detailed map of New Spain; he had compiled a short memorandum which contained information on the population, trade, agriculture, even the military strength of the provinces of New Spain."18 Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's treasury secretary, made a copy of Humboldt's map.19 It was, according to one scholar, "perhaps the single most valuable cartographic document the United States government could have acquired."20 Reproduction in the United States was thus ensured. As publishers in Europe obtained the new geographic information, variations of the Humboldt map proliferated there, too. Despite cartographic reification on both sides of the Atlantic, though, the Puerto de Bucareli label did not stick for long.

Northwest Fur Country

In the first half of the nineteenth century, most of western North America remained beyond de facto jurisdiction of any state power. [End Page 627]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Humboldt's New Spain sketch from 1804. (b) Detail of "Puerto de Bucarelli." Adaptation by author. Alexander Von Humboldt, "General Chart of the Kingdom of New Spain Betn. Parallels of 16 & 380 N. from Materials in Mexico at Commencement of Year of 1804" (map, 1804), available on Library of Congress website,

[End Page 628]

A growing number of Anglo- and Euro-Americans migrated westward and occupied the poorly documented western lands of the continent. Many were fur-trapping mountain men moving in pursuit of their trade and livelihood. As Wallace Stegner noted, "They spread very thin in the Plateau Province, where neither country nor climate was generally favorable for beaver except in the north, and only an impatient itch for travel justified the hardships."21 The diary of one of those trappers is the source of the earliest map to reference Grand Canyon in a manner somewhat resembling its current appellation.

Unlike the Spanish colonists who approached Grand Canyon from the south, fur trappers like Warren Angus Ferris approached it from the north.22 His "Map of the Northwest Fur Country, 1836" depicts the intermontane geography of the western continent. The canyon is labeled in cursive toward the southern limit of the map: "Great Chanion [sic] of the Colorado."23 Running parallel to each side of the roughly positioned lines marking the Rio Colorado are rectangular blocks conveying the presence of an impassable barrier. Ferris's illustrated portrayal corresponds to his written one: "The Colorado … enters the great chanion [sic], which is a canal in many places more than a thousand feet deep, and bounded on either side by perpendicular walls of rock, that bid defiance to horsemen, who would descend to the river; in fact, they are seldom accessible to footmen."24 According to one observer, the map marked an "inestimable improvement in the cartography of the region." In the absence of locational certainty, landscape relativity more than sufficed: "errors may be explained by the fact that he had no instruments with which to determine location. … With latitude and longitude eliminated the Ferris map is in excellent proportions."25 These virtues made [End Page 629]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Warren A. Ferris, "Map of the Northwest Fur Country in 1836." (b) Detail of "Great Chanion of the Colorado." Adaptation by author. Map courtesy of Brigham Young University Library.

no difference, though, at least not to the Ferris contemporaries who might have made use of the map—it was published in 1940, more than a century after it was drawn. Nevertheless, in terms of (geo-)graphically conveying the giant barrier that is the canyon, it marked a major improvement over those from the preceding half century that vaguely noted a Puerto de Bucareli. Represented at a larger scale and labeled with an explicitly geographical moniker, the Ferris map was the first to suggest the canyon's full regional proportions and practical implications.

Rio Colorado of the West

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican-American War and gained for the United States new territories that would eventually become the states of California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Manifest Destiny had mandated and ideologically justified westward expansion.26 Through the Mexican War, and railroad development especially, the United States obliged. The country was eager to raise its [End Page 630] geographical consciousness of the promising new western lands. Ongoing conflicts flared intermittently between the U.S. government and the increasingly powerful Mormons who had settled in Utah and were also rapidly colonizing other areas. War Department officials ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a hydro-graphic survey of the Colorado River to examine the river's potential for military logistics. Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives led it.

Opening his 1861 report on the expedition with a letter to his superior officer, Ives summarized its main purpose, "to ascertain the navigability of the Colorado," explaining that the movement of Mormon troops south into Mojave and other Native lands represented a potential threat to the U.S. government. Ives stressed his belief that the river route would offer a more efficient option "for transportation of supplies to various military posts in New Mexico and Utah." The expedition started by steamboat, moving from the mouth of the Colorado River at the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California) until, pushing against the river, they got as far as the boat could go. They crashed upon Fortification Rock in Black Canyon (now called Rock Island in Lake Mead, just northwest of Hoover Dam). Navigability determined, the river-based expedition morphed into an overland affair. The party moved east-northeastward, roughly parallel to the river across the vast Coconino Plateau south of the canyon.27

They had their first encounter with what Ives called the Big Cañon while in Hualapai lands. They descended to the canyon bottom at the Colorado's junction with Diamond Creek. Continuing northeast across the Coconino, they entered Havasupai lands, where they descended Cataract Creek (present-day Havasu Creek) and made their second, and final, visit to the canyon's depths. "The famous 'Big cañon' was before us; and for a long time we paused in wondering delight, surveying the stupendous formation through which the Colorado and its tributaries break their way," Ives wrote.28

Frederick Wilhelm von Egloffstein, a supremely skilled landscape artist and cartographer, was among the party members.29 His "Rio Colorado of the West" series contains a stylistically innovative [End Page 631] and aesthetically striking set of topographic maps produced in two parts, at two different scales. "Map No. 1," with a scale of approximately one inch representing six surface miles (1:380,160), covers the bulk of the south-north portion of the expedition traveled by boat up the lower Colorado River.30 At a scale reduced by half, one inch representing twelve miles (1:760,320), "Map No. 2" follows the river eastward from Black Canyon and continues beyond the Painted Desert into Hopi and Navajo lands. The map's most prominent feature, its "BIG CAÑON OF THE COLORADO," while stylistically beautiful, is grossly incorrect.31

"Rio Colorado of the West, Map No. 2" is the first shaded-relief map of Grand Canyon. Shaded-relief maps simulate sunlight across a landscape to create realistic-looking shadows throughout the terrain. They create a sense of depth and are particularly compelling for areas with significant topographic change (relief). To portray the Big Cañon's extreme elevation variability, Egloffstein enhanced the relief-shading technique by introducing subtle graduations (ruled tints). Ives commended Egloffstein's work:

There are defects readily to be perceived, and further experience will doubtless suggest many improvements but I think it will be generally admitted that, for maps of such a character of country, and upon such a scale, this style—which is believed to be new, so far a[s] regards the application of ruled tints—is, in beauty and effectiveness, much superior to the old. … It is an approximation to a bird's eye view, and is intelligible to every eye.32

Indeed, Egloffstein's map is a masterful work of pioneering Grand Canyon cartography deserving high praise for its representational artistry.

Lower marks are awarded for accuracy. By necessity, Egloffstein gave "Map No. 2" a smaller, demagnified scale than that of "Map No. 1," the latter dealing with the well-established lower portion of the river, the part that (mostly) forms Arizona's western border with Nevada and California. With the less-detailed perspective, he [End Page 632]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Frederick Wilhelm von Egloffstein's 1858 "Rio Colorado of the West, Map No 2." (b) Detail: "Big Canon of the Colorado." Adaptation by author. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

granted himself greater creative license. The map becomes increasingly speculative as it moves east; he made conspicuous guesswork in depicting the river upstream from Diamond Creek. The rims, side canyons, and the overall shape of the gorge were all wrong. Perhaps to its credit, it makes no effort to presume the location of the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.

John Strong Newberry served as both physician and geologist on the expedition. His observations led to important gains concerning the geology and botany of the region, particularly on the role of water in acting as a powerful force of erosion upon the land.33 [End Page 633] Newberry expanded on Egloffstein's work by superimposing geological classifications on the latter's topographic base map.34 The Ives expedition thus produced not only the region's first shaded-relief topographic map but also its first geologic map. Unfortunately for the Ives team, publication of the report that would have relayed the successes of their expedition, cartographic and otherwise, suffered from inauspicious timing. The year of its publication, 1861, also marked the beginning of the Civil War, and with it a shift in the War Department's—the whole country's—focus. The next attempt to explore and map the region properly would not happen until the war was over, more than a decade after the Ives expedition. In the interim, Big Cañon cartography would be based more on conjecture than fact.

Speculative and Blank Spaces

In the decade or so following the Ives expedition, government agencies and private firms published a multitude of maps of the United States and its increasingly dynamic western territories. They vary widely. Most are beautiful and well researched. In the context of Grand Canyon geography, though, these maps share the common characteristic of being egregiously incorrect. Northwestern Arizona remained cartographically ambiguous, still not properly explored, surveyed, and mapped. In one of those maps, commented one eloquent observer, the cartographer "had to splash the word 'Unexplored' across almost eight degrees of longitude, and leave a good part of the middle plateau country hatched in with mountains that represented less information than an unwillingness to leave the paper white."35

The War Department's Office of Pacific Railroad Surveys produced a seminal map called the "Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean."36 Multiple editions were published over an eleven-year period between 1857 and 1868, each updated with the latest data. Sometimes no reliable data were [End Page 634] available whatsoever. Mapping officials eventually adopted the rule of leaving the map blank in those areas.37 Thus is the case with the 1868 version, which contains a conspicuously empty space where Grand Canyon resides. Summarizing in 1869 the dearth of knowledge on the expanded national territory, one journalist wrote:

The great mocking mystery of our geography is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and the region of country along and around it. The government maps, noting only what is absolutely known, carry a great blank to represent it. … This vacant region comprises the northern part of Arizona. … Is there any other nation so ignorant of such a piece of itself?

Use of the term "vacant" unquestionably perpetuated a false geographical imagination of empty occidental lands that were, in fact, occupied by Native peoples. The words, nevertheless, embody the postwar zeitgeist of an America re-energized to gain a deeper understanding of its expanded national domain and the wealth it promised. These speculative and blank spaces of American geography, manifest on maps, as well as in the popular American consciousness, demanded corrective infill.38

The Powell Expeditions

Not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, the country returned to the work of westward self-discovery. The last few years of the 1860s saw the creation of four distinct surveys of western lands, each directed by a different man. John Wesley Powell was one of them. Powell was a one-armed Civil War veteran who, among the [End Page 635]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) 1868 edition of the "Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean." (b) Detail of the great "blank space." Adaptation by author. Edward Freyhold et al., "Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean; Originally Prepared to Accompany the Reports of the Explorations for a Pacific Railroad Route" (map, 1868), available on Library of Congress website,

four, carried the least impressive credentials and lowest level of (formal) education. He was a mostly self-taught geologist. His survey, which eventually came to be known as the U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, started with no government funds whatsoever. Nevertheless, Powell's survey would, eventually, gain some official funding (although always the least of the four).39 Prior to gaining real government support, Powell's expedition started as a self-motivated journey into what he called "the Great Unknown."40

The expedition's intention was ambitious but fundamentally scientific. As Powell declared: "This summer's work will be devoted chiefly to the study of the geography and geology of the Valley of the Colorado, the great canyon district, the chief of which is the 'Grand Canyon,' yet unexplored."41 While slightly exaggerated, [End Page 636] Powell was fundamentally right: despite the Ives party's journey to a few limited parts of the region, including visits beneath the rim by Newberry as geologist, there had previously been no explorations deep into the actual interior of Grand Canyon, and certainly not from the river itself.42 Moreover, Ives had carried out a War Department mandate to explore and map for strategic military purposes; Powell, on the other hand, entrepreneurially pursued an independent undertaking in the name of science.

In the summer of 1869, Powell set out with nine men, across four boats, to run the Colorado River through the entirety of what is now known as Grand Canyon. It had never been done before.43 Empirical observation and measurement were key; the instrumentation was thus indispensable. They brought "two sextants, four chronometers, a number of barometers, thermometers, and other instruments" to collect geo-positional and environmental data. These data also allowed the party to estimate how much farther they would have to travel down the winding river to the better-known geography closer to sea level.44

Rapids quickly taught the crew a lesson in the river's formidability. A major disaster early on, followed by a series of other devastating mishaps, resulted in the loss of one of the boats, about a third of the foodstuffs, most of the men's clothing, and the bulk of the scientific equipment. The latter was the most debilitating to Powell's scientific goals. The river relentlessly battered the men until virtually no remnants of the expedition's initial scientific intent remained. Survival became paramount. Ultimately, only six men completed the journey, barely alive. Three deserted.45

Oramel Howland, the party's untrained topographer, led the departure, convincing two other party members, his brother Seneca and William Dunn, to join. The Howlands and Dunn left the main party on respectful, albeit strained, terms. They started their escape from the river at a location just upstream from an ominous set of [End Page 637] rapids. (Those rapids now bear the name Separation Rapid.)46 They ascended through a side canyon (Separation Canyon) in northwestern Grand Canyon, eventually connecting up to the Shivwits Plateau, one of four massive plateaus on the region's northside.

For safekeeping, Howland took with him a portion of the expedition's notes, including, potentially, parts of its geographic data—each faction thinking that the other was taking the riskier route.47 The river proved the safer option. The three men were murdered somewhere on the Shivwits Plateau—a forever unsolved mystery.48 Along with their lives, the notes and data they carried were also lost. The whereabouts of the other original documents also remain unknown, their existence doubtful.49

This year marks not only the centennial of Grand Canyon National Park, but also the sesquicentennial of Powell's first expedition through the entirety of the Colorado River. The 1869 expedition is an inspirational testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and its will to survive. However, as a scientific pursuit whose main objective was to study and, at the very least, correctly map the course of the river, it was a failure. Powell would have to try again.

Starting his second Colorado River expedition in 1871, he did just that. Powell was committed to ensuring that this second shot at the canyon would be a slower, more methodical, more cautious, and better-funded endeavor. The first attempt had garnered him fame as an intrepid explorer, but not as a serious scientist. Powell leveraged his newfound fame to gain relatively modest government funding. This time he entrusted the work of mapping to Almon Harris Thompson, a man of greater scientific training and competence.50 Thompson served as lead geographer. He oversaw the work of the expedition's topographers, as well as that of its artist, Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh.51 [End Page 638]

Dellenbaugh drew the final maps for the second Powell expedition, which included significant overland survey work conducted in 1872 and into early 1873. One of the topographers left the party prior to entering Grand Canyon, allowing Dellenbaugh to play a central role in the actual data collection, too. More than thirty-five years later, in 1908 and 1909, Dellenbaugh wrote his own accounts of the expedition, published in two books.52 In one, he summarized:

The topographic, geologic, and geodetic work of the survey did not cease with our departure from the river. … When the winter of 1872–73 had fairly set in we established permanent camp … where, under Thompson's always efficient direction, our triangulation and topographic notes were plotted on paper, making the first preliminary map of that country.53

The first actual Powell map publication came to fruition as a small figure in an 1875 issue of Scribner's Monthly magazine.54 Dellenbaugh's 1908 book includes two substantially larger-scale maps describing the country he and the others surveyed.55 "Preliminary Map No. 1" carries a scale of approximately one map inch equaling approximately four miles (1:250,000) and covers eastern Grand Canyon.56 "Preliminary Map No. 2" covers the region's western swath. Dellenbaugh employed a succession of small lines—hachures—radiating across the landscape to handsomely convey topography.

Among other things, the importance of the maps produced by Dellenbaugh and the other topographers on Powell's second expedition is that they correctly depicted, within a margin of error commendable for the era, the course of the Colorado River, including the location of its confluence with the Little Colorado River.57 [End Page 639]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Preliminary Map No. 2. (b) Preliminary Map No. 1. (c) Detail of Dellenbaugh's topographic styling. Adaptation by the author. Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh et al., "Preliminary Map No. 2 of the Country Surveyed in 1872 and 1873.," (map, 1873), available on Library of Congress website,; Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh et al., "Preliminary Map No. 1 of the Country Surveyed in 1872 and 1873." Courtesy of the American Geographical Society Library.

Despite a level of inaccuracy unacceptable by today's standards, it was a great leap forward for human, and particularly American, [End Page 640] geographical knowledge. Before a U.S. congressional committee in 1874, Powell testified:

The work has been completed. You have on the wall one of the preliminary maps of that region. It is but a tracing of the field sketches; the computations for latitude, longitude, and altitudes are not yet completed, nor have the triangles been computed, so that it is not a final map. … There is now left within the territory of the United States no great unexplored region, and exploring expeditions are no longer needed for general purposes.58

Powell would later go on to become one of the most influential scientists in the United States, masterminding the institutional architecture for, and serving as a director of, the future United States Geological Survey. He was also the founding director of the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology. During his time as the head of the USGS, Powell advanced his grand vision for the organization. It included what a recent Powell biographer called the country's "first continental federal science project—both the geological and topographical mappings of the entire contiguous United States."59 That project continues to this day.

Competing Cartography

But Powell was not the only man to lead Grand Canyon mapping efforts in the early 1870s. While his 1869 traversal and explorations of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon were widely known, he would not publish his first full account of the expeditions until 1875, and no major maps would emerge until Dellenbaugh published his account of the second expedition decades later in the early 1900s. Lieutenant George Montague Wheeler of the Army Corps of Engineers was, along with Powell, one of a quartet of rivals leading the four major postbellum surveys of the western United States, each vying for federal funding. Wheeler oversaw a military effort supported through the War Department. Powell [End Page 641] and two others represented civilian surveys and received their funding from the Interior Department.60

The absence of Powell's formal contributions presented an opportunity, as apparently perceived by Wheeler, to attempt to assert symbolic exploratory-survey claim to Grand Canyon.61 In 1871, as part of his ambitious Geographical Survey West of the Hundredth Meridian, Wheeler hastily appended Grand Canyon geography to his already expansive itinerary. He led one of his crews on an expedition up the Colorado River by boat, similar to what Ives had tried more than a decade earlier. They launched from Camp Mojave, gruelingly fighting the river upstream until reaching their destination at Diamond Creek.

In his final report on the entirety of his massive western survey, published in 1889, Wheeler declared, "The exploration of the Colorado River may now be considered complete."62 It was an anti-climactic echo of Powell's statement before Congress fifteen years earlier. Writing decades later, Dellenbaugh, Powell's cartographer, expressed his indignation at the claim: "Why was the exploration now any more complete than it was before Wheeler made this unnecessary trip? Powell, two years before, had been through the part ascended, and Wheeler, so far as I can determine, added little value to what was known before." While he acknowledged Wheeler's "nerve and pluck in accomplishing the ascent to Diamond Creek," Dellenbaugh ultimately concluded that Wheeler's Grand Canyon efforts, "cannot be considered anything but a needless waste of energy."63

Nevertheless, in 1876, decades before any significant Powell cartography was published (most Powell maps were still in raw manuscript form), Wheeler did in fact produce a notable Grand Canyon map.64 "Parts of Northern & Northwestern Arizona & Southern Utah, Atlas Sheet No. 67" comprises one of the sheets [End Page 642]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Parts of Northern and North Western Arizona and Southern Utah. (b) Detail of topographic styling for the 1876 Wheeler map. Adaptation by the author. George M. Wheeler, "Parts of Northern & Northwestern Arizona & Southern Utah, Atlas Sheet No. 67" (map, 1876), in United States Army Corps of Engineers, Topographical Atlas Projected to Illustrate Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian of Longitude (Washington, D.C., 1876).

within the atlas that accompanies Wheeler's survey west of the hundredth meridian.65 It covers nearly the whole of the greater Grand [End Page 643] Canyon region at a scale of approximately one inch equaling eight miles (1:506,880). It is a beautiful specimen of shaded-relief mapping. Also included in Wheeler's 1889 report is a "Map Showing Routes of the River and Land Parties Engaged in Exploring the Grand Cañon of the Colorado." It carries a scale of approximately one inch equaling six miles (1:380,160). That map covers only far western Grand Canyon.

The inefficient duplication of military and civilian survey efforts, as well as the intense, sometimes ugly, competition amongst those efforts, resulted in their consolidation into the United States Geological Survey. Officially founded in 1879, the USGS remains the country's foremost mapping agency, publishing authoritative topographic and geologic maps, as well as thousands of scientific reports, datasets, and other materials. In 1881, Powell became the second director of the USGS. He headed the agency until 1894. His tenure saw a significant expansion of the scope, personnel, fiscal appropriations, and bureaucratic power of the agency.

Tertiary History

Early into Powell's directorship, in 1882, the USGS produced its first publication: Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District. Clarence Dutton authored it.66 Like so many Grand Canyon explorer-scientists, Dutton was a polymath who, through his Tertiary History, gave the world an inimitable combination of science and poetry. As one scholar observed, Dutton's writing contains prose that "is evocative and literary and belongs properly with that of Thoreau, Burroughs, Muir, and other 'naturalists' of the time, rather than with works written in the specialized jargon of science."67

As Dutton describes in the opening lines of his Tertiary History, the book is fundamentally about the "methods and results of EROSION upon a grand scale."68 It was the first intensive treatment of Grand Canyon geomorphology ever published. It was also arguably the magnum opus of Dutton's prodigious career. Tertiary [End Page 644] History was accompanied by an atlas containing twenty-three sheets for the Grand Cañon District. The atlas alone was a tour de force. Dutton's atlas presented to the world a comprehensive set of topographic and geologic maps. It was a significant expansion and improvement on Newberry's first geologic map from more than twenty years earlier.

Dutton was both a protégé and intellectual equal (if not superior) to Powell. They were close professional collaborators and personal friends. One author, reflecting on the deeper impact Powell and Dutton had on bringing Grand Canyon into popular consciousness, wrote:

These two [Powell and Dutton]—more than anyone else—had brought the Grand Canyon in all its splendor before the nation, revising it from a place of horrors and awe into one of spectacular beauty and exceptional presence in the American nation. If Powell had been the protagonist in the Grand Canyon epic, then Dutton was its muse.69

Their authoritative maps, which assured new levels of geographical knowledge, certainly played a role in that revision. Their work in building scientific institutions has also had lasting and on-going impact. In 1888, no fewer than three aforementioned canyon explorer-mappers—Powell, Thompson, and Dutton—co-founded, along with thirty other exceptional men, the National Geographic Society.70 Institutionally, the USGS, the National Park Service (NPS), and the National Geographic Society (NGS) have made the most substantial contributions to Grand Canyon cartography.

The Matthes-Evans Survey

In 1902, the year of Powell's death, the USGS initiated the most significant Grand Canyon topographic survey ever conducted. The man who led it, François Emile Matthes, jokingly commented that he found himself "commissioned with the survey of a hole in the ground."71 Matthes worked closely with his sidekick, Richard Evans, [End Page 645]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

Detail of the Matthes-Evans Grand Canyon National Park map. François E. Matthes and Richard Evans, "Topographic Map of the Grand Canyon National Park Arizona (East Half)" (map, 1948), United States Geological Survey, National Park Service, available on Library of Congress website,

to complete the survey. Together, Matthes and Evans achieved the greatest improvements in accuracy of all their predecessors. In their field report and technical summary, published in 1926, they explained the need for their work:

There was already in existence an excellent reconnaissance map that was made in the early eighties of the last century … under the direction of Major John W. Powell, the first explorer of the chasm; but the time had come when a large-scale map, accurate in details of delineation and controlled by modern triangulation and precise levels, was required.

The Matthes-Evans topographic survey of Grand Canyon is the longest-running ever conducted. It was completed over a cumulative thirty-eight months over more than two decades (1902–1923).72 Among other prolonging factors was the fact that theirs was the first truly modern, methodologically systematic [End Page 646] survey of the region. The fundamental principles and methods of triangulation had already been used by Powell's team, but the intervening decades saw improvements in the type and integrity of the tools and technologies. Matthes and Evans used plane tables mounted on tripods, in conjunction with alidades, leveling rods, heliotropes, and other equipment required for short- and long-distance triangulation.

But the main difference between the surveys was in their logistics. The Matthes-Evans survey was conducted entirely by land navigation (notwithstanding more than a few precarious, and often eventful, river crossings). They traversed the rolling hills of the Coconino Plateau, into the depths of the canyon, and then up again onto the Kaibab and Kanab Plateaus, and back again—on foot, multiple times. "In a region almost uninhabited … traversed by little-used wagon roads and dim stock-trails, cut in two by the Grand Canyon and further cut up by lateral canyons, and for the most part devoid of water, this work approached real romance."73 Romance aside, the systematic, overland nature of the work makes the Matthes-Evans survey arguably the most logistically and physically demanding Grand Canyon survey ever executed.

By 1923, Matthes and Evans had successfully completed the survey of the four quadrangle sections—Vishnu, Bright Angel, Shinumo, Supai—that covered the bulk of eastern Grand Canyon. Their maps were produced maps at a hitherto unprecedented scale of about one inch equaling four thousand feet (1:48,000). Just four years prior, in 1919, large parts of the region had become Grand Canyon National Park. In 1927, the USGS, in collaboration with the NPS, published its "Topographic Map of the Grand Canyon National Park Arizona" in two sections; a later edition was republished in 1948. Never before had the region's geography been visualized in such detail. Their data informed the underlying base-map of virtually all subsequent USGS and NPS mapping efforts of the next several decades. It was only after the 1960s, when aerial-based survey methods had started to become commonplace, that the Matthes-Evans field data were superseded. [End Page 647]

Mapping the River Anew

While Matthes and Evans were filling in sections for their forthcoming USGS/NPS national park map, another notable USGS Grand Canyon survey was being led by Claude Hale Birdseye.74 His was a different type of topographic survey. It more directly reflected one of the imperatives of modernity: conquering the natural world. In this case, the conquest of nature meant hydrologic control of the Colorado River.

Writing seven years before serving as Birdseye's lead hydrologist, Eugene La Rue opined on the future role of water for the Colorado River basin:

What is to be the future of this immense region? Doubtless its forests will be utilized, its mineral wealth will be exploited, its wonderful scenic beauties will be unfolded. Its greatest development must come, however, from its water resources, on which the development of its other resources must largely depend. Without the water afforded by the Colorado River and its tributaries this basin would remain forever a barren desert. These rivers make possible not only the construction of large irrigation systems and the growth of towns, cities, and prosperous agricultural communities, but also the generation of hydroelectric power for lighting, heating, industrial uses, and the transportation of freight and passengers.75

Development. Infrastructure. Dams. To subdue the river through feats of modern engineering meant knowing the river—and its canyon systems—through feats of modern mapping.

The purpose of the Birdseye survey was to "locate the last potential dam sites in the Colorado River system." Its output would become critical to the selection of sites for hydroelectric power dams. But why would a new survey be needed? Were the maps from the Matthes-Evans survey, which had significantly surpassed the quality of previous topographic data, not enough? Again, it comes down to cartographic scale. Re-engineering of the Colorado River required maps modelling enough topographic detail to measure [End Page 648] the water-holding capacity of potential reservoirs. "Because most of the potential dam sites were in largely inaccessible canyons, the topographic mapping begun by Powell in 1869 had insufficient resolution [scale] to determine the potential volume of a reservoir."76 The Birdseye maps were prepared at a scale of one inch representing approximately one half mile (1:31,680), an effective doubling of the standard USGS quadrangle scale at the time (1:62,500).77 Birdseye did, however, acknowledge the efforts of his canyon surveyor contemporaries, recording that, "I have never followed any maps which expressed the features with such remarkable accuracy as the Vishnu, Bright Angel, and Shinumo [quadrangle] topographic maps. We find slight discrepancies in minor detail but Matthes and Evans surely deserve great credit for the work they did."78 Ironically, not one of the sites surveyed by Birdseye was chosen for dam development. Two sites, of course, were ultimately chosen to replumb the upper Colorado River (and, by extension, its entire subcontinental watershed). Upstream, Glen Canyon, northeast of Marble Canyon, was chosen for the Glen Canyon Dam. It created the Lake Powell reservoir. Downstream, Boulder Canyon, within Black Canyon, was chosen for the Boulder (now Hoover) Dam. That dam created the Lake Mead reservoir. Construction of the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936. Ives's conclusion from nearly eighty years earlier, that Black Canyon marked the effective end of the river's upstream navigability, inadvertently proved truer than he could have possibly imagined.79

Evolving Methods and Washburn's Re-Survey

Significant technological advances characterized the first half of the twentieth century. In 1903, while Matthes and Evans surveyed the canyons and plateaus of northwestern Arizona along the thirty-sixth degree of north latitude, a pair of bicycle-engineering brothers were testing, on the barrier islands of North Carolina, at that same parallel, the world's first successful airplane. Within less than [End Page 649] a decade, the Wright brothers' flying machine was sufficiently improved to make aircraft functional for military reconnaissance missions. World War I increased recognition of the utility of aerial photography. Airborne technologies continued to develop throughout the twentieth century, particularly during World War II.80

Photographic methods were still underdeveloped during the long-running Matthes-Evans survey, though. Writing in 1926, they explained the unique challenges Grand Canyon posed for the incipient technology, concluding that "for the mapping of a deep and complex chasm such as the Grand Canyon, the plane-table remains the most efficient and most economical instrument."81 Aerial photography would, of course, continue to evolve. By the 1960s, all USGS topographic maps would be based on data "compiled from photogrammetric methods from aerial photographs."82 The era of the fully in situ topographic survey was over. The last major twentieth-century survey of the Grand Canyon would not be a USGS effort, though. It would be an independently driven pursuit undertaken by an entrepreneurial adventurer-scientist. In this way it was analogous to Powell's 1869 effort.

A full century after Powell, Bradford Washburn embarked on a new effort to map Grand Canyon. It was a hybrid survey, involving both field and aerial methods. Washburn called the project a "re-survey" in recognition of the cartographic legacy he had inherited. Funding came from the NGS and the Boston Museum of Science. (Washburn served as founding director of the latter.) Survey work ran from 1971 to 1975. Post-survey data processing and cartography took an additional three years. National Geographic published "The Heart of the Grand Canyon" in its July 1978 issue. It has since become the most cartographically celebrated map of Grand Canyon ever produced.83

The on-site portion of Washburn's survey benefited from some of the best equipment available at the time, including advanced [End Page 650] theodolite and laser range-finding devices (for determining angles and distances—constructing triangles—between stations). Beyond the surveying equipment itself, Washburn's team (which included his pioneering wife, Barbara Washburn) enjoyed the aid of helicopter transport to some of the most difficult-to-access peaks. Over seven hundred helicopter landings were made over a total of twelve field visits.

The most fundamental operational advantage enjoyed by Washburn was the inclusion of aerial-survey techniques. Pricate contractors acquired low-altitude photographs. Photogrammetric analysis (calculating distances with photos) was applied in conjunction with the field-collected survey control data (much of which had already been well established by Matthes and Evans decades earlier). These efforts produced raw topographic and hydrographic base data ready for map production. Data were generated at a fantastically large scale: one inch equals four hundred feet (1:4,800). The final map, "The Heart of the Grand Canyon," had its scale reduced to one fifth of the raw data, approximately one inch equaling two thousand feet (1:24,000). As Washburn explained: "If our scale had been larger, the sheet would have been hopelessly unwieldy for use in the field, or we would have had to resort to two sheets. Had it been smaller, we would have sacrificed most of the fine detail that was, after all, the basic objective for the whole project."84 (The USGS published its own 1:24,000-scale Grand Canyon quadrangle sections in 1988, a decade after the publication of "The Heart of the Grand Canyon.") Washburn's survey marked the last major topographic Grand Canyon survey of the twentieth century, arguably the last the region will ever undergo.

But the survey effort, yielding data at an unprecedented scale, is not the sole reason for the resultant map's many accolades. It was also unparalleled in its artistry. In the words of one admirer: "It feels more like a painting of the Grand Canyon than the hyper accurate map that it is."85 Washburn hired world-class cartographers to construct the map. They hailed from the Swiss Federal Office of Cartography (Swisstopo) and the National Geographic Society's Department of Cartography. The judges of a 1979 cartography competition described the map as "a work of art both substantively and [End Page 651]

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

(a) Bradford Washburn's "The Heart of the Grand Canyon." (b) Detail of Zoroaster Temple and other features. (c) Detail of Grand Canyon Village, and other features. Adaptation by author. Copyright clearance from National Geographic Maps/Image Collection (rights release: RR3-270937-2).

technically. A successfully designed map of a most difficult area. Obvious painstaken effort and care went into rendering this extreme detail while maintaining excellent readability."86 Washburn's map, reflecting the holistic essence of cartography, was an achievement in both the science and art of communicating geography. It thus culminated the first two centuries—from 1777 to 1978—of Grand Canyon mapmaking. [End Page 652]

Knowing Grand Canyon

Those 201 years saw significant cartographic change. An obscure river intersection on a continental sketch evolved into a vague regional river barrier. It then became some sort of giant chasm whose shape and full extent could only be guessed. The locations of features—physical and demographic—remained relative to one another. But positions were continually calculated and increasingly validated. Location gained affirmation in absolute terms. A topographic landscape of ever-growing information emerged.

The region's name changed, too: from Puerto de Bucareli, to Great Chanion of the Colorado, to Big Cañon, to, finally, Grand Canyon (or variants thereof). As knowledge of the landscape developed, so grew the number of features worthy of distinction and appellation. Toponyms were formalized. They proliferated and were regularly consumed, internalized, and perpetuated as matters-of-fact. Individual features now carry monikers constructed by words exotic to the region's native tongues. Place name origins now frequently derive from distant continents. Sprinkled generously are iconic figures from Chinese, Egyptian, Germanic, Greek, Hindu, and Roman cultures and mythologies (e.g., Confucius, Osiris, Thor, Apollo, Brahma, and Jupiter Temples). They are scattered alongside places named for the Euro-Americans on record as exploring them (e.g., Cardenas Butte, Powell Plateau, Mount Dellenbaugh, François Matthes Point). Relatively few places carry names associated with the Native communities whose ties to the region go back centuries, if not millennia, before any encounter by white men.

The twenty-decade cartographic evolution reviewed here reflects a steady increase in scale by a magnitude of hundreds. Cartographic scale systematically compressed and repackaged the region's geographic scale. Absent this rescaling, Grand Canyon geography would remain even more incomprehensible to our senses. The magnified view presents a clearer perspective of the region's geographic anatomy. By better seeing its constituent parts, we come closer to seeing Grand Canyon's geographic whole—Dutton's full ensemble.

But perhaps Powell was right and the undertaking is futile. He concluded that neither words nor images would ever suffice in conveying the region in its sublime glory: "The wonders of the [End Page 653] Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail."87 Maybe capturing Grand Canyon's full ensemble truly is impossible. But maybe it is the challenge posed by that very impossibility that motivates makers of Grand Canyon maps to begin with. [End Page 654]

Matthew Toro

MATTHEW TORO is the director of Maps, Imagery, and Geospatial Services at the Arizona State University Library.


1. Omission of the article "the" preceding "Grand Canyon" connotes the region's broader geographic identity as a singular (and profoundly contested) place constituted by a plurality of myriad socio-environmental processes. See, e.g., Barbara J. Morehouse, A Place Called Grand Canyon: Contested Geographies (Tucson, 1996). The author wishes to thank Paul Hirt, Richard David Quartaroli, Earle Spamer, Michael Fry, Ben Wolford, Eric Friesenhan, Karl Karlstrom, Edward Oetting, Byron Pearson, David Turpie, the Arizona State University Library Map and Geospatial Hub, Northern Arizona University Cline Library's Special Collections and Archives, and the Arizona State University Institute for Humanities Research for supporting the construction of this cartographic history. Responsibility for any potential errors or other misstatements rests solely with the author.

2. John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (1875; repr., New York, 2003), 397.

3. Clarence E. Dutton, Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District: With Atlas (1882; repr., Tucson, 2001), 143 (emphasis in original).

4. John Wesley Powell, "Appendix V," Bulletin of the Philosophical Society of Washington, March 1871, p. 57.

5. Bradford Washburn, "Resurvey of the Heart of the Grand Canyon, 1971–1978," National Geographic Society Research Reports 15 (1983): 1–34.

6. There was a decently larger-scale USGS map available. With regard to that map, Washburn reported: "This excellent 'reconnaissance' map [scale 1:48,000, with 40-foot contours] was not materially improved upon until the new USGS Bright Angel Quadrangle [scale 1:62,500, with 80-foot contours]." Washburn, "Resurvey of the Heart of Grand Canyon," 1. For additional rudimentary information on cartographic scale, see, e.g., "Map Scales," USGS Fact Sheet 015–02, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, February 2002, available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

7. William T. Peele and Richard K. Rogers, "The Heart of the Grand Canyon" (map) Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.; Michael Fry, "How Washburn Mapped the 'Heart of the Grand Canyon,'" Mapping Grand Canyon Conference, Tempe, Arizona, February 28, 2019, video available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

8. For a more comprehensive account of U.S. topographic mapping efforts in Grand Canyon and beyond, see Richard Tranter Evans and Helen Marie Frye, "History of the Topographic Branch (Division)" (U.S. Geological Survey, 2009), available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

9. In the sense of a material, easily transmittable embodiment of geographic information.

10. The author owes a debt of gratitude to Earle Edward Spamer for graciously rectifying his ignorance on this matter via private email correspondence generously facilitated by Richard David Quartaroli, to whom the author owes a separate scholarly debt.

11. Carl Irving Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540–1861, 2 vols. (Mansfield Centre, Conn., 2004), 2:91 (first quotation), 2:92 (second quotation).

12. Francisco Tomás Hermenegildo Garcés, On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer: The Diary and Itinerary of Francisco Garcés (Missionary Priest) in His Travels Through Sonora, Arizona, and California, 1775–1776, vol. 2, ed. Elliot Coues (New York, 1900), 347–51.

13. Garcés, On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer, 2:354–55. "Puerto de Bucareli" sometimes appears with a diacritical accent over its penultimate vowel ("Bucaréli"); it also sometimes appears, erroneously, with a doubling of its final consonant ("Bucarelli").

14. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of the Colorado River: The Story of Its Discovery in 1540, with an Account of the Later Explorations, and with Special Reference to the Voyages of Powell Through the Line of the Great Canyons (New York, 1902), 90–94; Garcés, On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer, 2:348fn29.

15. Earle E. Spamer, The Grand Canon: A Worldwide Bibliography of the Grand Canyon and Lower Colorado River Regions in the United States and Mexico, 1535–2018, 3rd ed. (n.p., 2019), available online at This quote comes from the latest update to the astoundingly herculean achievement that is Spamer's bibliography.

16. Jim Knipmeyer, "Padre Garces' 'Puerto de Bucareli,'" The Ol' Pioneer: The Quarterly Magazine of the Grand Canyon Historical Society, March 2005, pp. 9–10.

17. "Ecoregions of North America," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, (accessed September 29, 2019).

18. Ingo Schwarz, "Alexander von Humboldt's Visit to Washington and Philadelphia, His Friendship with Jefferson, and His Fascination with the United States," Northeastern Naturalist 8 (2001): 48.

19. Alexander von Humboldt, "General Chart of the Kingdom of New Spain Betn. Parallels of 16 & 380 N. from Materials in Mexico at Commencement of Year of 1804" (map, 1804); Kent Mathewson, "Alexander von Humboldt's Image and Influence in North American Geography, 1804–2004," Geographical Review 96 (2006): 416–38.

20. Mathewson, "Alexander von Humboldt's Image," 420.

21. Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Cambridge, Mass., 1954), 121.

22. The author's initial lead on Ferris and his map comes from Patricia Molen van Ee, "Maps of Grand Canyon National Park," Library of Congress Collection: Mapping the National Parks: Articles and Essays, available online at (accessed September 27, 2019).

23. Warren A. Ferris, "Map of the Northwest Fur Country, 1836" (map) (Orem, Utah, 2000).

24. W. A. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains: A Diary of Wanderings on the Sources of the Rivers Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado from February, 1830, to November, 1835., ed. Paul C. Phillips (Denver, 1940).

25. Paul C. Phillips, "The Ferris Map: An Evaluation," in ibid., x, xii.

26. John O'Sullivan, "Annexation," United States Magazine and Democratic Review, August 1845, pp. 5–19.

27. Joseph C. Ives, Report upon the Colorado River of the West, Explored in 1857 and 1858 (Washington, D.C., 1861), 5 (first quotation), 44 (second quotation).

28. Ibid., 99, 100–102.

29. Steven W. Rowan, The Baron in the Grand Canyon: Friedrich Wilhelm Von Egloffstein in the West (Columbia, Mo., 2012).

30. Joseph Christmas Ives, Frederick Wilhelm von Egloffstein, and Andrew Atkinson Humphreys, "Rio Colorado of the West, Map No. 1" (map, 1858), available online on (accessed September 29, 2019).

31. Joseph Christmas Ives et al., "Rio Colorado of the West, Map No. 2" (map, 1858), (accessed September 29, 2019).

32. Joseph C. Ives, "Appendix D: Remarks Upon the Construction of the Maps," in Ives, Report upon the Colorado River of the West.

33. Elizabeth C. Childs, "Time's Profile: John Wesley Powell, Art, and Geology at the Grand Canyon," American Art 10 (Spring 1996): 9; Earle Spamer, "'Slower! Faster! Stop! Back! Ahead!' Andrew Carroll, Grand Canyon's Forgotten Pioneer," manuscript in progress.

34. See Karl E Karlstrom et al., "160 Years of Grand Canyon Geological Mapping," within this issue.

35. Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, 122.

36. Edward Freyhold et al., "Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean; Originally Prepared to Accompany the Reports of the Explorations for a Pacific Railroad Route" (map, 1868), available on Library of Congress website, (accessed September 29, 2019).

37. Richard D. Quartaroli, "GPS in 1869: The Geographical Powell Survey," in A Gathering of Grand Canyon Historians: Ideas, Arguments, and First-Person Accounts, Proceedings of the Inaugural Grand Canyon History Symposium, ed. Michael F. Anderson (Grand Canyon, Ariz., 2002), 131.

38. Samuel Bowles, Our New West: Records of Travel Between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean (Hartford, 1869), 500–501. The theme of a cartographic "blank space" is commonly used to contextualize Powell's impact on Grand Canyon cartography. Dellenbaugh, the cartographer from Powell's second expedition, makes multiple references to this "blank space" theme in his early-twentieth-century accounts of the follow-up expedition: Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh, A Canyon Voyage: The Narrative of the Second Powell Expedition Down the Green-Colorado River from Wyoming, and the Explorations on Land, in the Years 1871 and 1872 (New York, 1908). The Bowles quote is also cited in Richard D. Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau: Grand Canyon's 'Great Unknown' and the West's Arid Lands," in Reflections of Grand Canyon Historians: Ideas, Arguments, and First-Person Accounts, Proceedings of the Second Grand Canyon History Symposium (Grand Canyon, Ariz., 2007), 11. Drawing heavily on Stegner, the "blank space" theme is also prevalent in Scott Kirsch, "John Wesley Powell and the Mapping of the Colorado Plateau, 1869–1879: Survey Science, Geographical Solutions, and the Economy of Environmental Values," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92 (Sept. 2002): 548–72.

39. Evans and Frye, "History of the Topographic Branch (Division)," 1, 28.

40. Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau"; Richard David Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell and Crew's 1869 River Mapping: What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?" Mapping Grand Canyon Conference, Tempe, Arizona, February 28, 2019, video available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

41. As cited in Martin J. Anderson, "First Through the Canyon: Powell's Lucky Voyage in 1869," Journal of Arizona History 20 (Winter 1979): 396.

42. John F. Ross, The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell's Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West (New York, 2018), 109.

43. The James White claim remains a topic of debate; see, e.g., Todd R. Berger, ed., Reflections of Grand Canyon Historians: Ideas, Arguments, and First-Person Accounts, Proceedings of the Inaugural Grand Canyon History Symposium (Grand Canyon, Ariz., 2007).

44. Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, 119. For an intriguing investigation into a Powell expedition archive mystery that led to insights on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century astronomy-based geo-positioning, see Quartaroli, "GPS in 1869: The Geographical Powell Survey," 132.

45. The exact circumstances of their departure remain controversial.

46. Because of the historical significance of Separation Rapid, notes on this toponym are common throughout the literature; see, e.g., Gregory McNamee, Grand Canyon Place Names (Boulder, Col., 1997), 98–99.

47. Dellenbaugh, A Canyon Voyage, vii.

48. Ross, Promise of the Grand Canyon, 191–93.

49. See, e.g., W. L. Rusho, "Francis Bishop's 1871 River Maps," Utah Historical Quarterly 37 (March 1969): 208; Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau," 12; Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell and Crew's 1869 River Mapping."

50. Mark Collins Jenkins, "Almon Thompson: The Self-Taught Cartographer Who Helped Found National Geographic," National Geographic Society Newsroom (blog), January 28, 2018, (accessed September 29, 2019).

51. Rusho, "Francis Bishop's 1871 River Maps," 208.

52. Dellenbaugh, A Canyon Voyage; Dellenbaugh, Romance of the Colorado River.

53. Dellenbaugh, Romance of the Colorado River, 342.

54. John Wesley Powell et al., "Map of the Grand Cañon of the Colorado Showing Route Travelled by Major Powell" (New York, October 1875); Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau," 12; John Wesley Powell, "An Overland Trip to the Grand Canyon," Scribner's Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine for the People, October 1875, p. 661.

55. Dellenbaugh, A Canyon Voyage, 244, 246.

56. Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh et al., "Preliminary Map No. 1 of the Country Surveyed in 1872 and 1873" (map, 1873).

57. Following Powell's second expedition, the Colorado River was now cartographically mispositioned by a mere quarter-mile, although parts of the canyon itself were off by between two and three miles. See, e.g., Jonathan Upchurch, "Creation of the Matthes-Evans Topographic Map of the Grand Canyon," Mapping Grand Canyon Conference, Tempe, Arizona, February 28, 2019, video available online at (accessed September 27, 2019). See also Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau," 14.

58. J. W. Powell, "Geographical and Geological Surveys West of the Mississippi," House Report, 43rd Congress, 1st Session, May 18, 1874, as cited in Richard D. Quartaroli, "John Wesley Powell's Cartography of the Colorado Plateau," 11–18.

59. Ross, Promise of the Grand Canyon, 283.

60. Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons.

61. Robert W. Karrow Jr., "George M. Wheeler and the Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian, 1869–1879," in Exploration and Mapping of the American West: Selected Essays, ed. Donna P. Koepp (Chicago, 1986), 128.

62. George Montague Wheeler, "Report upon United States Geological Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, Volume I: Geographical Report" (U.S. Geological Survey, 1889), 170, available online at (accessed September 27, 2019).

63. Dellenbaugh, Romance of the Colorado River, 303.

64. Karrow Jr., "George M. Wheeler and the Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian," 122.

65. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Topographical Atlas Projected to Illustrate Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian of Longitude (Washington, D.C., 1876).

66. Clarence E. Dutton, Tertiary History. Dutton's team conducted the fieldwork between 1875 and 1881, first under Powell's Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region and then under the newly consolidated USGS, under Clarence King's inaugural directorship.

67. Wallace Stegner, "Introduction," in Dutton, Tertiary History, viii.

68. Dutton, Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District, 2:1 (emphasis in original).

69. Ross, Promise of the Grand Canyon, 324.

70. Fry, "How Washburn Mapped the 'Heart of the Grand Canyon'"; Jenkins, "John Wesley Powell"; Mark Collins Jenkins, "Clarence Dutton: Poet of the Grand Canyon," National Geographic Society Newsroom (blog), January 20, 2018, (accessed September 27, 2019); Jenkins, "Almon Thompson."

71. François E. Matthes, "Mapping the Grand Canyon," Technology Review 7 (1905): 1.

72. François E. Matthes and Richard T. Evans, "Map of Grand Canyon National Park," Military Engineer 18 (May–June 1926): 188–201.

73. Matthes and Evans, "Map of Grand Canyon National Park," 195.

74. Sargent, "Colonel Claude Hale Birdseye"; Evans and Frye, "History of the Topographic Branch (Division)," 152–53; Diane Boyer and Robert Webb, Damming Grand Canyon: The 1923 USGS Colorado River Expedition (Logan, Utah, 2007), 58–60; Mark Manone, "The 1923 Birdseye Expedition: First Maps of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon," Mapping Grand Canyon Conference, Tempe, Arizona, March 1, 2019, video available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

75. Eugene Clyde La Rue and Nathan C. Grover, "Colorado River and Its Utilization," Water Supply Paper (U.S. Geological Survey, 1916), 10, available online at (accessed September 29, 2019).

76. Boyer and Webb, Damming Grand Canyon, 35 (second quotation), 57 (first quotation).

77. The Matthes-Evans maps at a scale of 1:48,000 were in fact an irregular scale produced for Grand Canyon National Park; only special map series were produced at this nonstandard scale. The USGS 1:62,500-scale series has since been discontinued.

78. Boyer and Webb, Damming Grand Canyon, 158.

79. Evans and Frye, "History of the Topographic Branch (Division)," 152.

80. For a general overview, see Janet R. Daly Bednarek and Michael H. Bednarek, Dreams of Flight: General Aviation in the United States (College Station, Tex., 2003).

81. Matthes and Evans, "Map of Grand Canyon National Park," 201

82. This cartographic metadata is standard on virtually all USGS topographic quadrangle maps produced in the latter half of the twentieth century.

83. In support of this claim—of Washburn's map being "cartographically celebrated"—see, e.g., Fry, "How Washburn Mapped the 'Heart of the Grand Canyon"; Gamache Martin, "'The Heart of the Grand Canyon,' National Geographic Society, 1978," in Cartography: A Compendium of Design Thinking for Mapmakers, ed. Kenneth Field (Redlands, Calif., 2018), 282–83.

84. Washburn, "Resurvey of the Heart of the Grand Canyon, 1971–1978," 26.

85. Martin, "'The Heart of the Grand Canyon," 282.

86. Joseph W. Wiedel, "Award-Winning Map Designs," 491.

87. Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, 394.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.