THE SAN RAFAEL SWELL The San Rafael Swell, with roughly 1,800 square miles of public land, is one of the Colorado Plateau’s classic Laramide-age uplifts. It is a broad, elongate, structural dome trending mostly northeast. Originally horizontal, the rock layers comprising this structure were compressed during the Laramide Orogeny into a convex, upward-arching anticline measuring about 75 miles long and 30 miles wide.
As early as 7200 years ago, Clear Creek Canyon was used by prehistoric hunters and gatherers as a passageway through the Pahvant Plateau.
The Fremont culture was first identified from sites found in 1928 along the Fremont River near Capitol Reef National Park. Archaeologists noticed that structures and artifacts were different than those in Anasazi sites to the south. Unique characteristics included previously unseen pottery types, dew claw moccasins, unfired clay figurines and petroglyphs with a trapezoidal body shape.
The conquistadors' inability to comprehend the scale of Grand Canyon topography had nothing to do with the century these men lived in. Of course, Cardenas' Hopi guides knew well their nearby "Salt Trail" route to the river; they likely smiled inward even as they impassively watched Cardenas' three "agile" conquistadors struggling in vain for three days in growing thirst atop the Redwall cliffs. Hopi mirth aside, our point here is that even these tough little men in armor who toted Toledo steel and conquered empires embodied the same two failings the nearly every non-Indian visitor to Grand Canyon since 1540 has exemplified : an inability to comprehend the scale of Grand Canyon and a marked--and often fatal--tendency to underestimate it.