Museum Collection

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What is the Grand Canyon Museum Collection?

The Grand Canyon Museum Collection is a storage and research facility dedicated to preserving the physical artifacts that tell the various aspects of the Grand Canyon story. The storage facility, completed in 1999, has over 6,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage and research space, and houses over 1.6 million objects from seven different disciplines: archeology, ethnology, history, archive/ manuscripts, biology, geology and paleontology. Staff receive more than 2,000 research requests each year.

The Grand Canyon Museum Collection is open for study and research purposes to any interested researcher. In order to maintain its integrity, the collection may be used for reference only in a non-consumptive manner.

Museum staff must be present and will assist visitors in their searches. Because objects are irreplaceable, their use is generally restricted to onsite examination.

Frequently Asked Questions about the NPS Review of Potential Uranium Exposure

Q: Why was an investigation initiated?
A: In June 2018, Grand Canyon National Park hosted a team of safety inspectors for a recurring environmental safety audit. During that audit, three 5-gallon buckets of stored rock samples, some of which contained uranium, were identified in the Museum Collection facility as a possible safety risk.

Q: What happened to the samples stored in the three 5-gallon buckets?
A: On June 18, 2018, the NPS moved the samples to a restricted area at the Orphan Mine site, which is closed to visitors and most employees.

Q: Where did the samples come from and when were they collected?
A: Per NPS museum catalog records, the samples were collected between 1944 and 1965. The collection sites were primarily Orphan Mine on the South Rim, and one sample was from Monument Valley, AZ. The samples have been in the park's collection since then and moved to the current facility between 1999 and 2000. Previously the samples were stored at the park headquarters building with other archival and research items.

Q: What is the Grand Canyon Museum Collection?
A: The Grand Canyon Museum Collection is a storage and research facility dedicated to preserving the physical artifacts that tell the various aspects of the Grand Canyon story. The storage facility, completed in 1999, has over 6,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage and research space, and houses over 1.6 million objects from seven different disciplines: archeology, ethnology, history, archive/manuscripts, biology, geology, and paleontology.

Q: How many people visit the Museum Collection building each year and what does a typical visit consist of?
A: Up to 1000 visitors and researchers each year visit Grand Canyon's Museum Collections by appointment and reservation. Most visit as part of a 60-90 minute tour. The rock samples were not part of the tours; however, tours did walk through the area where samples were stored.

Q: Did I visit the Museum Collection on my trip to Grand Canyon?
A: The Museum Collection building is located in an administrative area that is separate from visitor use area. Few visitors to Grand Canyon visit the Museum Collection. It is open by appointment to researchers and the public for a limited number of tours. All access to the Museum Collection is supervised by NPS staff.

Q: Why were the rock samples stored in the Museum Collection?
A: The NPS stores samples at its museum collection facilities as part of research collections and to have representative samples of park resources.

Q: Is there a current risk to visitors, researchers, and staff using the facility?
A: Inspections of the facility since June 2018 have indicated that the Museum Collection building is safe for visitors and employees. Staff work routines are occurring as normal.

Q: How has this issue been communicated to staff?
A: Documentation of the sample contents and storage locations have been tracked and updated by NPS staff since their collection. Since the environmental audit in June 2018 identified a concern, park staff have been updated through a series of all-employee emails.

Q: What are the next steps?
A: The NPS is assembling an interagency investigatory team of subject matter experts that will arrive at Grand Canyon in the coming weeks. The team will review past reports and assess radiation safety programs/practices, provide recommendations regarding how samples are managed in the future, and address the potential for long-term health monitoring, if applicable. The team will also look at the level of exposure and risk to park employees and visitors. More specifically, the investigation will include a facility assessment including a radiation survey to determine exposure, document the manner in which the materials are/were stored, employee work practices, and likely exposure pathways. To ensure impartiality, the team's final report will be peer reviewed by outside experts prior to release.

Q: Where can I find more information?
A: The NPS will update staff and the public as new information becomes available. The NPS expects a report from the investigative team within 90 days. The NPS will update a recorded phone line (928-638-7688) and this webpage (nps.gov/grca/learn/historyculture/muscol.htm). You may also email grca_incident_team@nps.gov with specific questions.


 
Researcher pulls out specimen from large rack.
Museum Collection, circa 1935

Contact Information

2C Albright Avenue, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
(Located across from Albright Training Center)

Monday through Friday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Appointments are strongly recommended

Call the staff at (928) 638-7769

Email The Museum Collection Staff

 

Collections:

Archaeology Collection

 
Series of four twine figures in deer-like shapes
 

The material remains of past human life and activities at Grand Canyon, including:

  • Lithic tools dating back 12,000 years to the Paleo-Indians
  • Archaic split- twig figurines
  • Prehistoric basketry
  • Ancestral Puebloan pottery
  • Prehistoric sandals, textiles and adornment artifacts
  • Mining and early tourism artifacts
 

Ethnology Collection

 
Traditional basket woven of black and tan twine

The material artifacts of the native cultures that have inhabited the Grand Canyon region from the historic period through the present, including:

  • Havasupai baskets
  • Hopi kachinas, pottery, baskets
  • Navajo silver, rugs, pottery
  • Paiute baskets
  • Ethnobotanical materials
 

History Collection

 
Top: John Wesley Powell's watch, Bottom: John Hance talking to Teddy Roosevelt

Non-archaeological material artifacts of the non-native cultures at Grand Canyon, including:

  • John Wesley Powell's pocket watch
  • The Walter Clement Powell diaries from the second Powell expedition
  • A pen used by Woodrow Wilson to sign the act creating Grand Canyon National Park in 1919
  • Photos from the 1873 George Wheeler expedition
  • Over 200 oral history tapes, videos and transcripts
  • Over 1,000 maps and blueprints
  • More than 24,000 black and white photographs
  • Over 200 rare or out-of-print books
  • Over 80 hours of historic film footage
  • Original paintings by Thomas Moran, Louis Akin, Gunnar Widforss, Hiroshi Yoshida
 
Touching up the white paint-job on a wooden boat

Historic Boat Conservation Project

The Grand Canyon historic boat collection is comprised of 19 boats that comprehensively illustrate the history of river running on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, with the oldest boat dating back to 1909.

The project to conserve this unique collection started in July 2003, with the removal of the boats from unprotected exhibit. The conservation efforts continue with each boat receiving a meticulous cleaning and stabilization treatment from professional conservators.

 
view of archive room with records stored in space-saver storage racks, 3/4 view of storage.

Archive/ Manuscript Collection

The document collection tells the Grand Canyon story through photos and in writing, including:

  • 350 linear feet of park archives
  • 1930's CCC project reports
  • Superintendents' Monthly Reports, 1931-1967
  • The Mary Colter Desert View Watchtower collection
  • The Louise Hinchcliffe park library vertical files
  • The 1935 Vegetative Study record
  • TWA - United airlines 1956 air accident files
 

Biology Collection

A collection of plant and animal specimens that document the life zones of the Grand Canyon region, including:

 
Yellow swallowtail butterfly pinned to white paper
  • Over 14,000 herbarium specimens, including the Rose Collom, Walter Cottam and Merkle collections
  • Over 9,000 entomological specimens
  • Over 2,000 animal study skins, skeletons and scat materials
  • An alcohol collection with over 300 reptiles and amphibians

More Grand Canyon herbarium specimens are stored at the Museum of Northern Arizona Herbarium, the Northern Arizona Deaver herbarium, and the Desert Botanical Gardens, near Phoenix.

 

Geology Collection

 
Dark gray Vishnu rock specimen with blue tint
Rock samples that tell the geologic history of the Grand Canyon region, including:
  • The John Maxson schist collection
  • The Eddie McKee study collection
  • Mining cores and ore samples
  • Mineral specimens
 

 

Paleontology Collection

 
Yellowed sloth skull against white backdrop

The fossil remains from past geologic periods at Grand Canyon, including:

  • Bass limestone stromatolites
  • Cambrian eocrinoids
  • Hermit shale ferns and insect wing
  • Coconino sandstone reptile tracks
  • Pleistocene ground sloth remains
 

Services

The Museum Collection has a collection of over 22,000 black and white photographs that may be loaned, scanned or purchased for exhibit, research and publishing projects. Several photos can also be copied onto CD-Rom’s for purchase.

Onsite photocopying services are available.

We Need Your Help

The park is always seeking donations to enhance the collections. Contact Museum Collection staff for information about donating photographs, documents, or other materials.

 
Banner image linking to ASU Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon shows Grand Canyon scenic view with superimposed letters: ASU Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon. Click in image area to visit the ASU website.
The "Nature, Culture and History at Grand Canyon" website is the park's primary online source of historical and cultural information, Click on the photo above to visit.

Last updated: June 11, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023

Phone:

928-638-7888

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