It’s the post apocalypse. Thermonuclear warfare between the United States, Russia, and China.

There are a group of Americans living in Northern Arizona. With all the cities destroyed and whatnot, they decide to trek to the Grand Canyon. They settle there and as generations go by the slowly grow more and more primitive, living the lives of subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherers in and around the Grand Canyon. My question is, could they actually survive there?

Where could the Grand Canyoners (Grand Canyonites??? Side question: What’s a good demonym for people living in the Grand Canyon)

What could the Grand Canyon inhabitants hunt, what food could they grow, and which clothes should they wear in the environment? Could they survive here with primitive technology?

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    $\begingroup$ Grand Canyoneros. $\endgroup$
    – void_ptr
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ The Havasupai people have been living there for centuries: theofficialhavasupaitribe.com They might not appreciate immigrants. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


I am not an expert of native American people, but I am pretty sure that the Colorado river was a livable place when it was inhabited by the natives.

In general rivers carry water, and that allow vegetation to grow, the vegetation attracts animals and this means vegetable and meat are available. Plus, if you know some farming, you can grow your own crops. This is the reason why the first civilizations developed along the rivers (Mesopotamia, Nile and Indo).

What they could wear depends of course of the local availability, but fiber and leather based garments would be the norm.

If you give a look at the history of the populations who inhabited the river before European colonization, you can get a better idea:

The first humans of the Colorado River basin were likely Paleo-Indians of the Clovis and Folsom cultures, who first arrived on the Colorado Plateau about 12,000 years ago. Very little human activity occurred in the watershed until the rise of the Desert Archaic Culture, which from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago constituted most of the region's human population. These prehistoric inhabitants led a generally nomadic lifestyle, gathering plants and hunting small animals (though some of the earliest peoples hunted larger mammals that became extinct in North America after the end of the Pleistocene epoch). Another notable early group was the Fremont culture, whose peoples inhabited the Colorado Plateau from 2,000 to 700 years ago. The Fremont were likely the first peoples of the Colorado River basin to domesticate crops and construct masonry dwellings; they also left behind a large amount of rock art and petroglyphs, many of which have survived to the present day.

Beginning in the early centuries A.D., Colorado River basin peoples began to form large agriculture-based societies, some of which lasted hundreds of years and grew into well-organized civilizations encompassing tens of thousands of inhabitants. The Ancient Puebloan (also known as Anasazi or Hisatsinom) people of the Four Corners region were descended from the Desert Archaic culture. The Puebloan people developed a complex distribution system to supply drinking and irrigation water in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico.

The Puebloans dominated the basin of the San Juan River, and the center of their civilization was in Chaco Canyon. In Chaco Canyon and the surrounding lands, they built more than 150 multi-story pueblos or "great houses", the largest of which, Pueblo Bonito, is composed of more than 600 rooms. The Hohokam culture was present along the middle Gila River beginning around 1 A.D. Between 600 and 700 A.D. they began to employ irrigation on a large scale, and did so more prolifically than any other native group in the Colorado River basin. An extensive system of irrigation canals was constructed on the Gila and Salt rivers, with various estimates of a total length ranging from 180 to 300 miles (290 to 480 km) and capable of irrigating 25,000 to 250,000 acres (10,000 to 101,000 ha). Both civilizations supported large populations at their height; the Chaco Canyon Puebloans numbered between 6,000 and 15,000 and estimates for the Hohokam range between 30,000 and 200,000.

  • $\begingroup$ You definitely do not want to try to use the Colorado River to irrigate anything. The river is extremely unpredictable in terms of how much water it puts out a year and even with modern technology it's pretty iffy. The ancestral Puebloans were smart enough to not rely on the Colorado for anything, they practiced dry farming because the Colorado was so unreliable. House of Rain by Craig Childs goes into detail on how the Colorado is a bad bet for people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic scenario. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 3:47

I concur with the other answers that indigenous and non-indigenous people should be able to survive in Grand Canyon without much trouble.

However, I have to underscore the fact that Grand Canyon can not support any sizeable population. This land is very dry, terrain is inhospitable, wildlife is scarce and arable land is even more scarce. In other areas of Colorado River you can get much more easy access to the river, but the Grand Canyon is arguably the worst place for it.

Low tech inhabitants of the canyon may herd goats and sheep - this would be probably their best option to generate food supply.

I think that the entire Grand Canyon can support no more than a few thousand of population, if you limit them under the rim. If we allow settlements above the rim, in the places where American Indians traditionally dwell, we can potentially get much higher population numbers.


I believe that there actually is an Indian reservation in a side canyon of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is a very grand canyon, after all, very wide and long, covering a lot of territory in the west.

Here is a link to a map of the Grand Canyon, showing the western border of the Navajo Reservation to the east, and the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the Hualapai Indian Reservation to the south. The Kaibab Indian Reservation is to the north.




And of course the various national forests, and national monuments, and the Grand Canyon National Park, employ people, and the local tourist industry employs people, so there are a number of people permanently living in the Grand Canyon area.

The area seems to have a very low concentration of named places on the map near the Grand Canyon. I guess that many Americans who work in or near the Grand Canyon drive tens of miles to and from work every day, and others may live in isolated houses.

I think that after a nuclear war most Americans in the Grand Canyon area would leave due to most of their supplies having been imported from outside the region and that no longer happening.

Most of the Indians would not leave, since the area was the home of their ancestors for centuries. How well they would survive would depend on how traditional or modern their lifestyle was at the time of the nuclear war and how adaptable they were.

So it seems to me that that a group of "white Americans", seeking to survive in the Grand canyon area, would find a few thousand Indians also seeking to survive in the Grand Canyon area, and relations with them would probably be an important part of their experience.

And in the future, the native Indians and the "white Americans" living in the Grand Canyon area might be invaded by a many times more numerous power expanding from the east into the area, the Navajo tribe.


You should take a look at a DLC called Honest Hearts for the game Fallout New Vegas. It's about tribes surviving the apocalypse in the Grand Canyon. Might give you some ideas to grow into your own re water supply, irrigation, food, threats etc...

One thing I would say is remember that the Grand Canyon in parts acts as a massive wind tunnel, which in your world would involve radioactive wind. I imagine large parts of the Grand Canyon would therefore be uninhabitable or really dangerous, full of strange mutations and the like.

I think what this question really boils down to is whether they have any other options. After all, any port in a storm. There are things about the Grand Canyon that would make it highly desirable in a primitive world-

1) It has a water source. As others have mentioned, it's not consistent and therefore unreliable for farming, but it exists and can be drunk from. The water is as likely to be clean as any water you'd find in a post-apocalypse.

2) It's defendable. It might not seem so at first, but if you break it down, the height advantage that any attacker would gain from being on top as opposed to within the gorge is more than negated by the fact that primitive cultures rarely have the weapons for truely effective ranged attacks (nothing that shields couldn't stop) meaning an attacker would be forced to descend to your level to fight. Which forces them onto your ground, which bad terrain at their back and no way to retreat easily.

3) It's proximity to pre-war locations. It's not at all far from Las Vegas. If the people who lived there were willing to scavenge for supplies, a major city like Vegas would be an ideal place. Additionally, that part of the US has got more than it's fair share of military bases. The equipment they would contain would be useful not only for combat, but also for day-to-day survival and civilisation building.

Food is the only real issue I see (apart from the relatively cramped space and restrictions on growth). Hunting would have to become their primary source of nutrition, and hunting can only ever support societies of a limited size. The only solution I could think of would be large-scale fishing in the nearby Lake Mead.

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    $\begingroup$ We expect answers to provide explanations. A plain "Look at X" it's usually a poor answer and as such it can be deleted. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 10:45

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