Paradise is defined many ways. For me, spending last week away from a cell phone and the rest of the electronic world was paradise. My personal paradise was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It can’t get much better than that!
Grand Canyon National Park is the nation’s busiest, with 4.5 million annual visitors. The park brochure for the Canyon notes: “This special landscape offers an opportunity to consider the powerful ties between people and place” [emphasis mine].
Although I spent very little time thinking about work last week, the “powerful ties between people and place” are at the heart of Archaeology Southwest’s mission. So, I did reflect on the curious, and very important, tie between an early law dealing with archaeology and my week in the paradise of the Grand Canyon.
In the early 1900s, Arizona politician Ralph Cameron did his best to claim the Grand Canyon for himself. Through some bogus mining claims, he charged tourists for use of the access trails into the canyon. Fortunately, with the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt was given the authority to proclaim Grand Canyon National Monument, which he did on January 11, 1908.
Mr. Cameron protested that declaration and sued to have it nullified. His lawsuit went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where the president’s authority to establish Grand Canyon National Monument was upheld unanimously on April 19, 1920. Ironically, Congress had created Grand Canyon National Park in 1919, and the park has been enlarged several times since.
The Antiquities Act has been a broadly bipartisan tool. Only three presidents failed to use the Act to designate national monuments. The protections that national monument status provides for exceptional national treasures should continue to inspire bipartisan action. That is certainly my hope for Archaeology Southwest’s work with a broad coalition of interest groups to establish Great Bend of the Gila National Monument through an act of Congress.
But I digress. My ability to experience geological exposures that are 1.7 billion years old and to see bighorn sheep only an arm’s length away derives directly from the nation’s first archaeological law, the Antiquities Act of 1906. So, as the glow of my vacation fades, I want to express my deep thanks to those leaders who came before—especially Preservation Archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett, who crafted language that passed muster in Congress, and President Teddy Roosevelt, who rapidly put the new law to work. The Antiquities Act has protected so many special places in this nation and given so many people the chance to experience the wonders of those places.