J.C. Ives Visits the Grand Canyon

Mollhausen's Sketch of the Grand Canyon
Mollhausen’s sketch of the Grand Canyon.

In early 1858, Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers commanded the first military vessel up the Colorado River. He took the little paddle-wheeler named the “Explorer,” all the way up to today’s Hoover Dam to check the navigability of the river. On the return voyage to Ft. Yuma he and his little band of surveyors, accompanied by the expedition’s artist Baldwin Mollhausen, left the crew and took a side trip to explore the Grand Canyon to see if it was feasible to run a railroad through the mighty gorge.

With the assistance of some local native guides Ives snaked his way to the bottom, becoming the first white man to do so. His comments afterwards suggest that in his opinion, the Grand Canyon would never be referred to as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

“It can be approached,” he wrote, “only from the south and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours is the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

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