Fact Check

Stop the Super Mall in the Grand Canyon!

Rumor: Developers plan to build a super mall in the Grand Canyon.

Published Mar 5, 2015


Claim:   Developers plan to build a super mall in the Grand Canyon.


TRUE: Confluence Partners is developing a large tourist attraction at the Grand Canyon.
FALSE: The attraction will be a "super mall" built in the Grand Canyon, and opposition to the project is universal among the area's Native American groups.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2015]

Is there a plan to turn the Grand Canyon into a shopping mall???
I hope not!

super-mall in the Grand Canyon - true or false?

Building a megamall at or IN the Grand Canyon?


Origins:   On 5 March 2015, the website SumOfUs published a petition titled "Stop the Super Mall in the Grand Canyon". The message, accompanied by an image of the Arizona geological landmark's Havasu Falls, began ny stating:

Property developers want to build a super-mall smack dab in the middle of one of America's most breath-taking world heritage sites, the Grand Canyon. The mall would include an IMAX, shops, hotels and fast food cafes. The National Park Service has called the plans 'a travesty'.

The ludicrous project is being proposed by property developers Confluence Partners as a way to make more money from the millions of people who want to see one of nature's greatest marvels.

We cannot let big business get away with monetizing our national parks! The company is already facing huge outrage over the plan from many sides. If thousands of SumOfUs members speak out about this monstrosity, it will be forced to back down.

The petition was correct in stating many Native American interests and conservation groups oppose this development at or near the Grand Canyon

(albeit to varying degrees and different reasons). But the plea also caused some confusion due to its broad description of a "super mall in the Grand Canyon," which led many readers to imagine that the national park's wondrous canyon scenery would be replaced with a gigantic mall. Others believed the proposed site of the construction was at the waterfall in the photo, which is actually some distance from the land targeted for development.

The Grand Canyon Escalade project was detailed in an August 2014 National Geographic article, which described the development as encompassing "hotels, restaurants, shops, and a Navajo cultural center on the desolate canyon rim":

[R. Lamar Whitmer, a Scottsdale, Arizona, developer] and his partners are working with the Navajo Nation to build the Grand Canyon Escalade, a billion-dollar development with hotels, restaurants, shops, and a Navajo cultural center on the desolate canyon rim, almost 30 miles from the closest highway.

Tourists who may not otherwise be able to visit the floor of the canyon could ride a gondola to the confluence a mile below. There they would stroll on an elevated walkway and take in the stunning view from stadium-style seating.

The article also explained that control over the land on which the proposed development would be built is currently a subject of dispute between tribal groups and the National Park Service:

The plan, now pending before the Navajo Nation Council, has caused division on the reservation and with other tribes, including the Hopi, who say the canyon, and the confluence in particular, are sacred and should not be disturbed.

It has also caused alarm in the National Park Service and among conservationists, who warn that the proposed development — along with another commercial project at the park's main entrance on the South Rim — could alter the canyon forever.

The tribe and the park service disagree over who controls the land by the river where the lower part of the project is planned. The Navajo say their reservation starts at the river, while the park service claims its boundary goes a quarter mile up. Uberuaga says the park service would use its jurisdiction to stop development there. The Navajo Nation will exert its sovereignty, Tome says. "We're not going to acquiesce to the National Park Service whatsoever."

Several separate tribal entities have voiced opposition to the project. Lifelong resident Renae Yellowhorse told the New York Times that the development would irreparably harm a sacred site:

"This is where the tram would go," she said. "This is the heart of our Mother Earth. This is a sacred area. It is going to be true destruction."

But Ms. Yellowhorse, a leader of the Save the Confluence coalition, said she was intent on protecting land where Indians go to pray and honor their past — particularly what is known as the Confluence, the place where the two rivers meet.

"We don't want to see the site desecrated," she said. "We don't want the tram out there. We don't want people out here."

Not all tribal groups objected to the proposal, however. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said that the Grand Canyon Escalade would be a beneficial additional that would service to provide job opportunities and revenue for the Navajo:

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said he plans to green-light the project and the $65 million required from the tribe for road, water and communication facilities.

While overlooking the canyon from its south rim, Shelly explained, "I come here and I look from that view as the President, as the guardian of the Navajo people and our nation ... and say, 'what can I give to my families and my people?'"

Shelly said that the Navajo suffer from unemployment and high suicide rates. "The only conclusion I got from that is that they need jobs, they need homes. They need good homes. They need better education. They need to get involved in a lot and create business," he said.

The Times also reported that the mayor of Tusayan, Arizona, maintained many opponents of the development are out of touch with the reality faced by tribal people living in remote areas near the Canyon:

Greg Bryan, the mayor of Tusayan and manager of a Best Western there, said that development was needed to accommodate park workers as well as people who might want to live near this national park.

"We want people to own their own home," he said. "It's awfully nice that the environmental community that lives in Chicago or Boston or Los Angeles — who live in their nice homes and who can go down to the corner grocery store and get whatever — can complain about what's taking place here, without realizing that the people who live here need to have some quality of life as well."

Last updated:   5 March 2015


    Crawford, Amanda J.   "Grand Canyon on the Precipice."

    National Geographic.   14 August 2014.

    Nagourney, Adam.   "Where 2 Rivers Meet, Visions for Grand Canyon Clash."

    The New York Times.   3 December 2014.

    Sottile, Chiara   "Grand Canyon Development Plan Sparks Dispute Among Navajo."

    NBC News.   8 February 2015.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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