Park superintendent Dave Uberuaga, who opposes new Grand Canyon construction projects. “The Grand Canyon is a World Heritage site,” says Uberuaga. “I have a responsibility to protect it.” (Bill Hatcher)
The canyon floor has beckoned generations of adventurers—“The river is everything,” recalled writer Patricia McCairen after rafting alone in 1982. (Bill Hatcher)
Development in or near the canyon has long exerted pressure on the landscape. Bridge expansion on nearby Navajo lands. (Bill Hatcher)
Navajo pro-development advocate Brian Kensley, who expects job creation. (Bill Hatcher)
Each year more than four million visitors experience the landscape described by Zuni cultural historian Jim Enote as the “most elemental place on earth.” (Bill Hatcher)
Night traffic at Tusayan, the South Rim tourist complex. (Bill Hatcher)
Navajo graffiti protesting the proposed Escalade. (Bill Hatcher)
Many Navajo regard the proposed Escalade site—the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers (right)—as inviolable. “This fight,” says activist Darlene Martin, “is for future generations. And for my ancestors.” (Bill Hatcher)
Above the confluence, Jaderrae Dennison prepares to perform a hoop dance. If development comes, says her grandmother, Renae Yellowhorse, “the Holy Beings won’t hear our prayers.” (Bill Hatcher)
If the proposed development goes through, a gondola will whisk visitors from the canyon’s rim (above, tourists at the Mather Point overlook) to the bottom of the canyon, a journey long done by mule. (Bill Hatcher)
More than four million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. Most don’t venture beyond the rim (above, the Little Colorado River as seen from Cape Solitude, one of the best vantage points in the park). (Bill Hatcher)
The canyon and confluence at dusk from Cape Solitude. (Bill Hatcher)
Theodore Roosevelt, who declared the canyon a national monument in 1908, believed the site should be left untouched, that man could only mar it. Above, a sunset view of the canyon and North Rim from Maricopa Point. (Bill Hatcher)
The group Save the Confluence, a coalition of Navajo who oppose the Grand Canyon Escalade development on the canyon’s rim, erected this hand-painted sign on Highway 89 near the entrance to the park. (Bill Hatcher)
Delores Wilson (sitting on the rim where the tram will descend to the canyon floor) grew up on the Navajo Reservation and views the canyon as sacred. “That’s where the Holy Beings are,” her grandmother once told her. (Bill Hatcher)
Evangaline Dennison, 3, and Lamia Dennison, 9, perform a hoop dance at the rim of the confluence overlook. (Bill Hatcher)
Jaderae Dennison, 8, on her first trip to the confluence overlook. (Bill Hatcher)

Who Can Save the Grand Canyon?

A holy war is being fought over a proposal to build a $500 million commercial development, on the rim of America’s natural treasure

Navajo activist Delores Wilson opposes development on land she holds sacred: “You don’t want to anger the Holy Beings there.” (Bill Hatcher)
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After three and a half hours on the rutted, zigzagging road, we reached the confluence overlook. I had never been there before; the vistas stretching beneath me took my breath away. I sat on the edge of a limestone cliff and stared down at the confluence, 3,000 feet below me to the south. A few specks in the river were rafters approaching the junction with the Little Colorado. Only the occasional whine of a helicopter on a scenic tour marred the silence. For long minutes, I gazed at the buttes, pinnacles and side canyons receding into the distance. Here, I thought, were the great loneliness and sublimity that had so captivated Teddy Roosevelt.

I pulled out the diagram from the Confluence Partners website showing the 420 acres of infrastructure planned for the upper terminus, and in my mind’s eye tried to map it onto the serene emptiness of the plateau. I envisioned a paved circle loop, surrounded by a boutique hotel here, a shopping plaza there, a restaurant over there, an amphitheater next to it, adjoined by the Native American visitor center—with the ceaseless thrum of the tramway for background music.

Renae Yellowhorse had brought three granddaughters—10-year-old Lamia, 9-year-old Jaderrae, and 4-year-old Evangeline—for their first visit to the overlook. At first the kids seemed intimidated, even scared, cowering behind their grandmother’s skirts. But then Yellowhorse produced some cornmeal, which the kids sprinkled at the edge of the canyon. “The wind carries it away with our prayers,” said Yellowhorse.

Then the girls performed a hoop dance, symbolic of the forces of nature. Afterward, Yellowhorse sat near the rim and addressed us, her companions on this journey, in a soft monologue. “I want to share a dream I had last week,” she said. “I dreamed about buildings here, all over. Tepees, even though we never lived in tepees. Garish signs. ‘Buy your Indian moccasins here’—except they were made in Taiwan. In my dream, they were shutting down the tram. They were tearing down the buildings. Finally they listened to us. But I didn’t know how to feel.”

She took a deep breath, starting to choke up. “They come in with their empty promises, dividing the people. It hurts me very much. If they come in and build their walls, they’ll tear out the heart of mother earth.”

“The Holy Beings will be distracted by the lights and the noise. They won’t be able to hear our prayers.”

Yellowhorse gestured at her granddaughters, sitting in mute attention. “I want them to see this place just as their ancestors did. The same rocks, the same water. And I want their grandchildren to see it, too. To know the Holy Beings are here.”


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