Grand Canyon Reopens as Hualapai Tribe Enters COVID Lockdown and Navajo Nation Objects

The South Entrance Station of Grand Canyon National Park, seen here barricaded, will be accessible from May 15-18 between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m. as part of a phased reopening. (Courtesy National Park Service)

Despite the economic benefits of tourism, Tribal Nations in and around the Grand Canyon oppose its reopening

The Hualapai Tribe is entering a two-week lockdown to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, which has led to 53 confirmed COVID-19 cases among community members including one death. The Tribe manages the Skywalk on Hualapai lands; the horseshoe-shaped glass floor extends 70 feet from the western Grand Canyon rim.

The same day the Hualapai Tribe announced its lockdown, Grand Canyon National Park announced it will reopen its South Rim entrance starting today, May 15. While the west rim is a 250-mile, or five-hour drive, from the south rim entrance, the opposing approaches of the Tribe and park service to managing a global health pandemic highlights the heightened threat of coronavirus to an entire culture, such as the 2,300-member Hualapai Tribe.

Meanwhile, the Havasupai Tribe, whose village of Supai is located deep within the Grand Canyon, is also closed for tourism. Many of the Havasupai Tribe’s 650 members reside at the base of the canyon, as have their ancestors for 800 years.

Even beyond the heart of the Grand Canyon and its outskirts, Tribal Nations are impacted. For instance, Grand Canyon visitors who need to drive along Route 89 between Flagstaff or northern Arizona and Cameron, “will be traveling through the Navajo Nation, which requires face masks to be worn at public facilities and businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19,” states an NPS release. A Navajo statement notes that visitors traveling through the Navajo Nation during curfew hours will be cited.

Navajo lands abut the Grand Canyon to the east, and the Nation was vocal about insisting the Grand Canyon close, as it did on April 1. A month and a half later, the attraction is welcoming visitors again — even as Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer urge the park to remain closed.

“Our federal partners need to understand that we have a voice in how these parks impact our communities. We welcome the economic benefits that tourists bring, but we are also fearful of the potential negative impacts and had hoped that when the Grand Canyon closed on April 1, the park would remain closed until our positive COVID-19 numbers have flattened,” Nez said.

As of Thursday, the Navajo Nation reached a total of 3,632 positive COVID-19 cases and 127 deaths.

“Some may say, ‘Life is not without risk, but for me and our Navajo relatives, one death is one too many. The Navajo Nation is not willing to risk the lives of our Diné relatives nor the lives of those visiting our beautiful lands. Our Nation is still under daily and weekly curfews, our essential businesses are only supplied for the needs of our residents and not supplied for the influx of travelers. Even a slow phase of reopening one of the largest tourist destinations in the world will overwhelm our communities,” said Vice President Myron Lizer.

Below, Native Business offers a logistical overview of how the Grand Canyon is reopening in phases — even as the Hualapai and Havasupai Tribes remain on lockdown, and as accessing the attraction entails many visitors traverse through Navajo lands.

Grand Canyon Nation Park Reopens to Public

From May 15-18, visitors will be welcome to Grand Canyon National Park at selected South Rim viewpoints through the South Entrance Station between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m.

“This initial reopening phase will increase access to our public lands in a responsible way by offering the main feature of the park for the public, the view of the canyon, while reducing the potential exposure of COVID-19 to our nearly 2,500 residents,” said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable in a press release.

Visitors will have limited day use access to:

  • The viewpoints at Pipe Creek Vista, Twin Overlooks, Duck on a Rock, Thor’s Hammer, No Name Point and Navajo Point along East Desert View Drive. Vehicles will be directed to turn around at Navajo Point.
  • The picnic areas east of Yaki Road, Thor’s Hammer and Buggeln Picnic area.
  • The restroom facilities located by the South Entrance Grand Canyon National Park sign, picnic area east of Yaki Road, and Buggeln picnic area.

The National Park Services reminds visitors that while driving on Route 89 between Flagstaff or northern Arizona and Cameron, “they will be traveling through the Navajo Nation, which requires face masks to be worn at public facilities and businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. Also, the neighboring Havasupai Reservation remains closed for tourism.”

This map of Arizona shows locations of Tribal reservations. (Courtesy Inter Tribal Council of Arizona)

The Havasupai Reservation, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, is reliant on tourism for roughly 75 percent of jobs, but has suspended all tourism for the time being in order to protect its people.

“With such a small Tribe, the spread of this disease within the Canyon and Supai Camp could be devastating to the Tribal community and to the continued viability of the Havasupai People,” says a GoFundMe campaign initiated to help the Havasupai weather this crisis.

Also nearby, the Hualapai Tribe issued a community lockdown beginning May 15 at 6 p.m. and ending May 29 at 6 a.m. in response to an increase in COVID-19 infections.

In a May 12 press release, Hualapai Health Officials confirmed 53 positive COVID-19 cases among local Tribal members and other community members including four commuting staff, three Tribal members living in the Kingman area, one Tribal member living in the Bullhead City area, seven continue to be hospitalized, one has recovered, and one death. The release also noted that there are 191 positive confirmed cases and 23 deaths in Mohave County.

This map shows what will be open during the phased reopening of the Grand Canyon beginning Friday, May 15. (Courtesy National Park Service)

In addition to the continued closure of Grand Canyon Skywalk, the following areas and facilities at Grand Canyon will also remain closed:

  • Grand Canyon Village, including lodges, campgrounds and all visitor facilities.
  • The Desert View Developed area and the East Entrance to the park at Desert View.
  • The Rim Trail, Greenway Trail System, the inner canyon, and all hiking trails.
  • The Colorado River, The North Rim and Tuweep.

Grand Canyon National Park has also suspended all river rafting trips through June 13, 2020 when it will again evaluate the situation. 

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