They couldn’t get enough of the Grand Canyon. Read about the early explorers and fanatics that passionately forged great adventures out in the wild canyon.
Unmatched canyon explorer
From the moment the Northern Arizona University math professor first set foot on a trail in 1945 until he retired from hiking in 1987, Butchart simply couldn’t stay away from the park. Over those years, he hiked more than 12,000 miles (many of them off-trail), climbed 83 inner canyon formations (many of them first ascents), and pioneered more than 100 new routes from the rim to the river (many of them extremely difficult). In 1963, he became the first person to hike the length of the entire park.
Butchart could be fearless, using an inflatable sleeping pad to cross the Colorado River and access remote side canyons (a dangerous move that’s definitely not allowed today). After his death in 2002, officials named a 7,600-foot pillar in the park Butchart’s Butte in his honor.
Brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb
Adventure photographers and moviemakers
Nobody saw the Grand Canyon quite like the Kolbs.
These brothers, among the first entrepreneurs on the South Rim, started a successful business selling images of early tourists and canyon scenery. Known for going to extremes to get to the shot, the two even risked a daring river trip to make one of the world’s first adventure films.
It started in 1901, when Ellsworth first came to the Grand Canyon. He convinced his brother, Emery, to join him, and the two promptly started a photography business from a canvas tent. By 1903, the business had evolved into a true studio. The Kolbs’ bread-and-butter work was shooting photos of the mule trains on the Bright Angel Trail: They took the photos in the morning as the riders descended, then one would run the 4.8 miles down to Indian Garden, where a natural spring provided enough water to develop their negatives. By the time the riders returned in the afternoon, the Kolbs would have their images ready to sell as souvenirs.
The brothers also explored the depths of the canyon for many excursions, photographing its hidden treasures fearlessly: dangling from ropes, clinging to cliff faces, and perhaps most daringly, running the Colorado River in two small boats. Their successful 1911-1912 journey was the 9th ever completed and the first to film the adventure. The Kolbs took their resulting movie on a nationwide tour, then returned to the canyon and showed it to eager audiences. The movie ran from 1915 to 1976—setting (and still holding) the record of longest continually running movie in U.S. history.
Kolb Studio still stands near the Bright Angel Trailhead, housing a museum where visitors can browse photos and even watch clips from the historic river rafting movie.
John Wesley Powell
River runner extraordinaire
John Wesley Powell was just 35 when he led a ragtag group of nine other men on a perilous and (he hoped) historic journey down the Colorado River. He had heard about the mysterious Colorado River region, and decided he’d be the one to try to trace the river’s course.
When the team reached a dangerous-looking rapid less than 40 miles before the finish, three men abandoned the expedition. After running Separation and then Lava Cliff Rapids, Powell and his men floated out of the canyon on August 29 – wet, shaken, but successful. They’d just become the first people to paddle the Grand Canyon’s length.
Powell assured himself a place in the history books with this incredible maiden voyage, but the professor was far from done. He repeated his expedition in 1871-72, this time coming home with maps, photos, and scientific specimens, then helped form and lead the United States Geological Survey. Today, thousands follow in Powell’s wake down the Colorado River every year; a permit to raft the length of the river is one of the Grand Canyon’s hottest tickets.
Read more about Powell’s Expeditions
The original hermit
Hermit Road. Hermits Rest. Hermit shale formation. Just who was this mysterious “hermit” who is now remembered in so many place names throughout the park?
His name was Louis Boucher (boo-SHAY), a French Canadian tourist guide and trail builder who settled on the South Rim in the late 1800s. Boucher claimed the area west of the present-day Grand Canyon Village, near where Hermits Rest now stands. Around the turn of the 20th century, he helped manage the historic Indian Garden camp along the Bright Angel Trail and guided visitors down his own Silver Bell Trail to his camps at Dripping Springs and Boucher Creek in the inner canyon until 1909.
Ironically, Boucher was not actually a hermit—just a man who lived alone. Many visitors and early South Rim pioneers knew him (and his white mule, Calamity Jane) well. Today, part of his Silver Bell Trail remains in use as the Boucher Trail, which starts at Dripping Springs.
The conservation president
No other president is as linked to the protection of wilderness like Theodore Roosevelt, and for very good reason: The renowned hunter and naturalist was responsible for conserving 230 million acres of public land during his presidency, including the Grand Canyon. By signing the American Antiquities Act of 1906, Roosevelt gave himself the power to declare national monuments, thereby protecting America’s natural treasures from development and exploitation. In 1908, he set aside more than 800,000 acres as the Grand Canyon National Monument (later declared a national park in 1919).
Roosevelt first saw the canyon during his Western tour in 1903, inspiring his famous speech on what would become the national park:
“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. 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 cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”