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Grand Canyon Folklore & Legends

The Grand Canyon is one of the worlds natural wonders. Flying across country and viewing it
from thousands of miles in the air, or closer in on a Grand Canyon Tour, you are awed into
silence. Generations of people who stand at the rim looking into the Canyon are inspired to retell
ancient legends.
From sacred oral history to colorful western lore, get to know some of these tales and legends
and enjoy a glimpse into the past.
Native American Creation Stories
Several major tribes are connected with the Grand Canyon to this day, while others have passed
through history and moved on to other locations or vanished into the ancient past. Today, the
Havasupai still reside on the Canyon floor, and many Navajo people inhabit a vast reservation,
which stretches to 27,000 square miles and crosses on its western edge into Grand Canyon
National Park.1
Grand Canyon sightseeing tours like Scenic Airlines Native Explorer tour give you a close-up
experience of indigenous life in the Canyon with a flyover and self-guided visit to several
Hualapai Ranch locations.
The Navajo
Navajo call themselves the Din people, and their origin stories include many references to lands
they still inhabit bordering the Grand Canyon. Their four sacred mountains include the San
Francisco Peaks of Arizona, together known as the Sacred Mountain of the West.
Ancient rock paintings found throughout Navajo lands depict the journey through four worlds of
tribal legend. The Fourth World, or glittering world, was sunny and bright, and resembled the
Canyon and reservation lands of today. Changing Woman, mother of the Navajo people, was
born in the nearby Canyon de Chelly.2
The Hualapai
The Hualapai are found today on their reservation of about one million acres, stretching along
108 miles of the Grand Canyon. The tribe operates several tourist attractions and has remained
close to their roots, as told in the tribal legend of Packithaawi, the hero who alone survived the
worlds great flood. After the flood, he used his giant flint knife and heavy wood club to dig out
the Grand Canyon, giving the flood waters a path to rush into the Sea of the Sunset.3
The Havasupai

The Havasupai tribe has lived in the Grand Canyon for at least 800 years, mostly along the
South. They call themselves the Havasu Baaja, meaning people of the blue-green waters,
describing the pools of water formed by waterfalls along Havasu Creek.
In the Havasupai legend, the earth was also destroyed in a flood. After the flood, the water found
a way to the sea by carving out the Grand Canyon. The lone survivor, Pukeheh, wandered west
until she reached the Havasu Canyon, where the beautiful waterfalls along Havasu Creek became
father to her daughter. Ever since then, all Havasu girls are called Daughters of the Water.3
Modern American Legends
Fast forward to the expanding American nation of the late 19th century, and youll find equally
colorful but much more secular Grand Canyon stories. Unlike the gods and heroes of Indian
legends, these characters celebrated the American drive to build and expand, and often originated
in the imaginations of journalists and promoters. Remember any of these?
Pecos Bill
Originally conceived by writer Edward OReilly and printed in a 1917 magazine, the Pecos Bill
tall tales were popularized and took hold of the American imagination. In one story, Bill jumped
on a tornado and rode it as if it were a bucking bronco. The tornado, in an effort to throw him
off, rained hard enough to carve out the Grand Canyon, before Bill at last fell off in California,
where his impact created Death Valley.4
Paul Bunyan
The booming lumber industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used promoters to publish
stories about their own colorful hero of tall tales, Paul Bunyan. A brawny, giant-sized
lumberjack, our hero was said to have accidentally carved the Grand Canyon while dragging his
giant axe behind him as he fought his way through a storm, searching for firewood.5
The Grand Canyon Today
The Grand Canyon endures, reminding us of the passage of time and our place in it. Canyon
hikers can see ancient rock art or petroglyphs as evidence of the archaic people who left
legendary images for future visitors to find. Look for sites along Bright Angel Trail and others.
National Park Service guides near the Tusayan Ruin and Museum offer background on some of
these locations.6