García López de Cárdenas discovers the Grand Canyon

September 17, 2012

Conspicuous in Coronado’s army and destined to be heard of in resounding tones was García López de Cárdenas, a soldier who had already given important service in the New World. Like Coronado, a second son of a Spanish nobleman, he was left without a fortune by the law of primogeniture. He married Doña Ana de Mendoza, daughter of a Spanish count, and a distant relative of the viceroy….

Cárdenas went forward on the new leg of his journey, traveled twenty days, and arrived at a place fifty leagues from Tusayán and eighty from Cíbola. Here, says Castañeda, they came to the gorge of a river, “from whose brink it looked as if the opposite side must be more than three or four leagues by air line.” Cárdenas and his men had discovered one of the most impressive scenic wonders in all nature—the Grand Canyon of Colorado River!…

Castañeda’s next paragraph is one of the most precious passages in all the writings ever put on paper with respect to discovery in North America, for it records the first attempt of Europeans to descend into the most stupendous gash in the earth’s surface anywhere in the world….

“They spent three days trying to find a way down to the river, which from above appeared to be only a fathom wide, although, according to what the Indians said, it must be half a league across…. The descent was found to be impossible.”

Herbert E. Bolton, Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains (Albuquerque, N.M.: The University of New Mexico Press, 1964), pp. 54, 139-140.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 213



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