A Visionary and Leader

Ansel F. Hall was the first Chief Naturalist for the National Parks.  Starting as a backcountry ranger in Sequoia National Park in 1917, he rose through the ranks with a passion to educate the public about the history, science, and protection of our national parks. Chief Hall was instrumental in developing the first programs for museums, forestry, wildlife, field studies, photography, and scouting that exist to this day.

AFH Master-final editA member of The Explorers Club (NYC), Ansel Hall traveled to four continents in search of ideas to improve the national parks.  He even drove across North Africa – from Morocco to Syria – in 1924 to inspect archeological sites and international museums.

The most ambitious venture was Ansel Hall’s 1930’s Rainbow Bridge Monument Valley Expedition to the remote, unexplored region straddling the Utah-Arizona border. Organized during the Great Depression, it was a six-year scientific exploration involving hundreds of volunteer scientists, field workers, and native tribes.

Ansel Hall pioneered nonprofit fundraising and corporate sponsorships to support national park projects. Most important was his ability to inspire thousands of colleagues and the general public to follow his lead.

Ansel Hall was prolific in his writing and record keeping.  Thousands of documents, photographs, relics, and other materials are archived in more than 40 colleges, universities, and museums across the United States.  Extensive materials are located in the official National Park Service archives located in Harpers Ferry, WV.

In 1938, after 21 years of duty, Ansel Hall resigned from the National Park Service to purchase and operate the Mesa Verde National Park visitor concession, a parting that was not without controversy or intrigue.

The Lost Files Project

Most of Ansel Hall’s work is buried deep in government records, university archives and collective memory… until now.  Nearly a hundred years to the day after the founding of the National Park Service, a treasure trove of Ansel’s personal files was discovered.  He’d set aside thousands of documents, photograms, correspondence and other records with instructions that they remain sealed until at least 25 years after his death.  Ansel believed that the files would be destroyed or hidden by his adversaries.

The Lost Files of Ansel F. Hall, are in temporary storage at the Center of Southwest Studies (Fort Lewis College; Durango, CO).  Each record is a fascinating look into the early days of the National Park Service. Ansel’s poetic and passionate writing brings life to events and times forgotten until now.

Preliminary review indicates that there is a treasury of historical information relevant to the National Park Service, the Boy Scouts of America, the Rainbow Bridge Monument Valley Expedition, and southwest Native American tribes, particularly the Navajo nation.