Carl Hayden, circa 1910, Carl Hayden Photograph Collection, Greater Arizona
Carl Hayden and the Grand Canyon
The ongoing and persistent irony of the American West is that for all its independence and frontier resilience and perseverance, it is the region of the country most dependent on the Federal government and its representatives in the U.S. Congress. This was particularly true for the newly minted state of Arizona in the first quarter of the 20th century – and no Arizona representative had more of an impact on the state during this century than Carl T. Hayden.
Carl Hayden was elected as Arizona’s first member of the House of Representatives. A native Arizonan, he had a long and abiding love affair with the state and its wild areas. Before the turn of the century as a young man, he made the first of many visits to Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. It is no surprise, then, that as floor manager in the House, Hayden was instrumental in the eventual passage of the 1919 legislation establishing the Grand Canyon National Park.
This legislative quest began in earnest in 1917, although there had been prior attempts. With the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, additional incentive existed to change the status of the Grand Canyon. In addition to Representative Hayden, the players involved in this legislative quest included iconic Arizona politicians and larger than life characters such as Henry Fountain Ashurst, George W. P. Hunt, Ralph and Niles Cameron and William W. Bass.
A Trip Down Bright Angel Trail, 1914. Luhrs Family Photographs, Greater Arizona Collection, ASU Library
Bright Angel Trail—The Controversy
Following its creation in 1891, the Bright Angel Trail was headed by a group led by Pete Berry and Ralph Cameron. Although it was registered as a toll road in 1891, for many years it was used essentially for free since its use was overshadowed by the more popular Grandview trail, 11 miles to the east.
Two things happened in 1901 that affected this dramatically. Berry received a five-year extension to his toll franchise (which he transferred that year to Cameron) and, more significantly, the Santa Fe Railroad finished its spur to the Grand Canyon terminating several hundred yards from the Bright Angel trailhead. The railroad brought with it masses of travelers and corporate-sponsored tourism enhancing many-fold the value of the toll franchise which was eagerly and tenaciously levied by Cameron and then Coconino County for as long as they could keep control out of the hands of the government.
The legislation in 1919 by Hayden and Ashurst establishing Grand Canyon National Park contained the following provision:
“The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to negotiate with the said county of Coconino for the purchase of said Bright Angel Toll Road and Trail and all rights therein, and report to Congress at as early a date as possible the terms upon which the property can be procured.”
“As early as possible” became close to a decade of wrangling, politicking and legal maneuvering. Ralph Cameron and Carl Hayden were the two main protagonists in this long struggle, one fighting to maintain, for his and his county’s benefit, one of the premier trails in America; the other struggling to bring this invaluable piece of recreational Valhalla under the control of Grand Canyon National Park as was envisioned by his enabling legislation.
Victory for the federal government and Hayden, now a U.S. Senator following his 1926 defeat of Ralph Cameron, arrived finally in 1928 as reported as follows:
“Visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park will no longer have to pay a toll charge of one dollar for riding over the Bright Angel trail. This trail has just been acquired by the Government, and will be operated by the National Park Service. No toll charge is made over any trail in the National Parks.”