Why the 16th Century Spanish Conquistadors likely did not descend into Grand Canyon near Desert View: A new perspective





Cárdenas exploration, Grand Canyon, Spanish conquistadors, Colorado river, 16th century.


         There is probably no more historically significant or culturally pivotal event in the history of the south-western USA than the ambitious expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. Although the exploits of Coronado’s army have been examined for hundreds of years, new information has emerged from on-going studies of surviving documents and field work. This paper presents a new hypothesis and supportive evidence which suggest that a dispatch of Coronado’s men (led by Don Garcia López de Cárdenas) with the goal of discovering the Colorado River, likely did not descend off the south rim of Grand Canyon near the present day Desert View area in eastern Grand Canyon, as proposed by Bartlett in 1940. Surviving documents indicate that the Cárdenas Expedition traveled 20 days and 130 miles before attempting a descent into the canyon; only three or four days of travel are needed to arrive at the Desert View area from the Hopi Village of Awat’ovi (the starting location of the Cárdenas expedition). In this paper, topographic, anthropologic and historic evidence along with new distance calculations are presented which suggest that the 16th Century Spanish descent into Grand Canyon did not occur near the present day Desert View area, but likely occurred at least 35 to 40 (linear) miles west of this area near the present day South Bass Trail. Ramifications of the proposed hypothesis include: (1) focusing the search for Spanish artefacts and surviving evidence at a new location in western Grand Canyon; and, (2) rectifying the historical record.

Author Biography

Ray Kenny, Fort Lewis College

Professor of GeologyGeosciences Department 


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