The Sand, The Wind, And The Willow
ince time immemorial, Granite Park has held cultural and historical significance for numerous peoples. Foremost amongst these groups, over the past seven centuries are Yuman-speaking (“Pai”) bands/clans currently referred to as the Hualapai Tribe. Granite Park, with its fault line, offers people of the river community access to its beautiful and intriguing delta and canyons. Historical records from the journal of Birdseye wrote: “At this point the river widens considerably and granite outcrops in the side canyons, together with the wide river valley with many willow trees along the left bank, led us to call the place ‘Granite Park’.”
The Hualapai Tribe’s view consists of traditional values relating to the landscape and sacred ancestral sites. Within this relatively lush riparian zone along the river corridor are native plants that are culturally sensitive to the Hualapai people. Therefore concerns surrounding ancestral sites and the ancient Goodding Willow, pronounced I’yo in Hualapai, are to protect and enhance their chances for survival in an area where there is frequent camping and high recreational use.
After three years of discussions between the Park Service and the Hualapai Tribe, a cooperative effort was undertaken to implement a program of preservation at Granite Park this past March. This project included obliterating trails, placing traditional Zuni checkdams in active gullies, and stabilizing the Goodding Willow. Other persons involved in the project included representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation, Zuni Tribe, and commercial volunteer guides.
The main eye sore was the spider web of pedestrian highways that developed across the entire delta. Substantial multiple trailing has resulted in damage to vegetation, soils, and cultural resources. Through archaeological monitoring it was also evident that these trails were compacting the soil so much that some trails were becoming gullies, or small runoff channels, which in turn, geometrically increased the erosion of cultural deposits. It took three working days to obliterate over 2,500 ft of trails.
Approximately 11 checkdams were built in active arroyos which were threatening the integrity of archaeological sites. Their construction was supervised by Zuni soil conservators. They taught us traditional Zuni erosion control methods that their Tribe have successfully used on their own lands for over 1,000 years.
In addition to trail obliteration and the construction of several checkdams, you will also notice a slight change surrounding the Goodding Willow. The tree stands near the shoreline at the boat beach and is a historic treasure that has stood at the site for perhaps 150 to 200 years. It appears as a mature plant in photos from John Wesley Powell’s expeditions in the 1870’s. Undoubtedly, it also provided shade and shelter for the Hualapai people and other native American Indians living and visiting Granite Park throughout the centuries. Few river runners from the earliest pioneers to the present have not sought shade from this old tree in the sweltering summer, or appreciated its shelter during a stormy winter night.
During the past 15 years, the health of the tree has gradually declined. The trunk is hollow and split, and the shore has gradually eroded around the base of the tree. Although the tree has shown remarkable ability to persist in its precarious state of health, it is likely that it will not survive much longer without intervention to save it.
Through the request and suggestions of the Hualapai Tribe, their elders, and botanist, Art Phillips III, several tons of rock were placed around the exposed root areas of the tree. It was thought that the rocks would capture additional sediment during the 45,000 cfs flow to cover the roots, thus protecting the tree from further deterioration. A special thanks to Brian Dierker for his help and enthusiasm—“Keep it movin’, always movin’.”
Much thought, time and labor was expended to ensure the preservation of Granite Park. The important message the Hualapais are sharing with us is that Granite Park is sacred ground to their people. All the Hualapai ask, as well as other tribes who have cultural affinity in the canyon, is that people respect the areas of their ancestors.
Loretta Jackson, Hualapai Tribe
Lisa Leap, Grand Canyon National Park