Written By: Lily Rothman

It could take up to five days for a tourist on muleback to reach Havasu Canyon in 1947. But take one look at the brilliant blue-green water of Havasu Falls, and it’s obvious why so many have decided to make that particular Grand Canyon excursion. As LIFE put it back then, “A tourist usually visits the Grand Canyon only long enough to realize how much more he could see and learn if he stayed longer.”

That image was one of the few photographs printed in color for a story LIFE ran that September about the Grand Canyon and its geology, history and wildlife and, last but not least, its appeal to tourists. The couple of color images that made it into the magazine, however, represented just a slice of what LIFE kept to itself or printed in black and white; a few of those unprinted images can be seen here. Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919, and by the time that article was published, about a half a million visitors made their way there each year. Today, that annual count is ten times higher, with a whopping 5 million tourists exploring one of America’s greatest natural wonders. 

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Havasu Falls, at the canyon’s western end, are in the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which could be reached by a 14-mile horseback trip from the South Rim. The Indian name, Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water,” derived from the brilliant color of the lime-impregnated water of Havasu Creek.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park in color, 1947.

Grand Canyon National Park, 1947.

Frank Scherschel The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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