Ruins of the cookshack at the Last Chance Mine on Horseshoe Mesa

Ruins of the cookshack at the Last Chance Mine on Horseshoe Mesa

After the Mexican-American War of 1848, the United States acquired the southwestern portion of North America north of the Gila River and energetically started to explore the hostile deserts of the region. A flood of gold seekers and emigrants sought routes to the California gold fields in 1849, and soon a wagon road was established across the Coconino Plateau south of the Grand Canyon. But the course of the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon itself, was still a mystery.

Lt. Joseph Ives

In 1857, Army Lieutenant Joseph Ives was sent up the lower Colorado River in a steamboat to find the head of navigation. After wrecking on a rock in Black Canyon below the present site of Hoover Dam, Lieutenant Ives continued overland. He descended Peach Springs Wash to the Colorado River and visited Supai. Members of his party included John Newberry, the first geologist to study the Grand Canyon, and Bavarian artist and cartographer Baron Friedrich von Egloffstein, who produced the first detailed maps of a portion of the Grand Canyon. But the Grand Canyon still didn't even have a name, usually being referred to as the "big canyon." And all of these early visitors regarded the Grand Canyon with horror, as a useless place with a completely inaccessible river.

Powell's River Expeditions

During 1869-71, Major John Wesley Powell, a geologist and one-armed American Civil War veteran, led two expeditions down the Green and Colorado River systems. He also explored the plateaus surrounding the canyon and studied the local Indian tribes. He literally put the canyon on the map, naming it "The Grand Canyon of the Colorado." He published several professional papers on the canyon as well as a popular account of his journeys. His and the accounts of other members of his parties helped to popularize the Grand Canyon.

Stanton's River Expedition

Robert Brewster Stanton led an expedition through the Grand Canyon in 1889-90 to survey it for a river-level railroad. Several accidents, including the loss of the company president by drowning early on the first attempt to run the river (for some reason Stanton did not include life jackets on the trip), and difficulties getting financing, doomed the proposed railroad. But Stanton did have one effect- he wrote a book about his adventures in the Grand Canyon that popularized river running.


Attracted by the large expanses of rock open to exploration, prospectors and miners began to explore the canyon. In the 1880's, William Wallace Bass came to the Grand Canyon from the east coast for his health, and the dry air worked it's magic. He raised a family at Bass Camp on the South Rim to the west of the present village, built the Bass Trail, the first trail across the canyon, and developed copper mines on both sides of the river. At about the same time, Pete Berry developed the Tanner and Grandview trails in the eastern Grand Canyon. Berry's Last Chance Mine on Horseshoe Mesa was one of the few Grand Canyon mines to show a profit, if only for a short time. John Hance built trails down Red and Hance canyons to reach asbestos deposits on the north side of the river. Fibers from his mines were used in fireproof theater curtains as far away as Europe.