Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Sunset at the Grand Canyon
 All the words in Webster's cannot describe the majestic beauty of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. Its own name doesn't do this massive gorge justice; 277 miles long, 4-18 miles wide and over one mile deep, my eyes couldn't take it all in.  Our first view of the Canyon was just as the Spanish explorers first spotted it 500 years ago: walking through the forest terrain and then, BOOM! It unfolded before our eyes taking our breath away.

I won't attempt to relate the canyon (I'm not that great of a writer and even my pictures can't capture it all), but I will  recount our stay on the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village and the visitor's paradise created there a hundred years ago.

Grand Canyon Village began in the late 1800s as first miners then tourists flocked to the area.  The Canyon and the land surrounding it have been home to the Havasupai Tribe Indians for hundreds of years, but with the discovery of silver in the Canyon miners swarmed.  The government controversally restricted the Havasupai tribe to 518 acres at the bottom of the Canyon essentially cutting them off from their food sources on the southern rim in winter.  After many years of legal battles, the tribe were returned 251,000 acres of their native land in 1975.
View of Village from Hopi Point

Miners soon realized they could make more money from tourism than silver and a spur line of the transcontinental Santa Fe Railroad was built running from Williams, AZ to the South Rim.  Seeing a need for comfortable lodging for east coast visitors, Fred Harvey built the El Tovar Hotel in 1905 and installed his Harvey Girls to serve thousands of visitors each year.  In the 1920s, Harvey hired one of the first female architects, Mary Colter, to redesign the Bright Angel Lodge.  Her design encompassed the feel of Native American architecture and the natural beauty of the southwest, very different from the Norwegian hunting lodge design of the El Tovar.  Today, she is credited for creating the southwestern style of architecture and interior design.

Adventure seekers, such as the Kolb Brothers, were among the first settlers along the rim.  The Kolbs' 1902 cabin still stands on the rim's edge as a museum and gift shop open for visitors to be wowed at these two men's tenacity, or insanity, of building this home and trekking into the Canyon numerous times creating the first film of traversing the Colorado River in 1911.  These filmmakers and National Geographic photographers were two of the first travel writers attempting to capture the devastating beauty of the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado River that created the gorge lies far below in the center of the Canyon.

No coats, but we bought cool new hats.
Fittingly, our kids began their junior park ranger work at the Kolb's cabin.  As with other national parks like Forts Sumter and Pulaski, the Grand Canyon has free learning activities, ranger talks and badges for students, ages 6-16.  As we traversed the South Rim Trail and the Trail of Time, the kids found answers to questions and completed their booklets.  By the time we reached Verkamp's Visitor's Center, the kids only needed to attend a ranger talk to earn their junior park ranger badges.  Choosing the history talk, our 30 year veteran park ranger held his lesson outside citing that a 50 degree February day should not be wasted.  Literally sitting on a ledge with a mile drop behind us, we listened and learned that people first came to the Canyon 10,000 years ago, but not until the Ancient Pueblo (the Havasupai Indians ancestors) arrived over 1000 years ago did people stay.

Getting tested by Grand Canyon Park Ranger
Kids carding wool at the visitor's history center.
Today, the Grand Canyon National Park (established in 1919) receives over 5 million visitors a year and most of the buildings along its South Rim are on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.  Essentially, the hotels, shops and restaurants within the village are living museums beside a natural wonder of the world.  Who wouldn't want to come?

We were fortunate to stay inside the park at the affordable Maswik Lodge, just around the corner from the Kolbs' cabin and Bright Angel Lodge as some hotels within the Park fill up a year in advance.  The entire historic village was within walking distance and we spent most of our time along the South Rim Trail.  We did not venture down into the Canyon as there was fresh snow on the ground and we did not have a death wish.  

The only time we got in our car during our stay was to travel up the Hermit Road to get a better sunset/sunrise view at Hopi and Mariposa Points, respectively.  As we wound our way up the mountain, we encountered a herd of elk grazing in the roadside forest.  I had never seen elk in the wild before and, honestly, they looked kid of goofy.  Long-legged and Antler-less, they meandered along enjoying their evening meal.

The Sunset Show did not disappoint the hundred or so people gathered on the rim's edge with the only sound the flickering of camera lenses.  Our lucky 50 degree weather quickly disappeared with the sun.  At dawn, it was a frigid 16 degrees as I exited the car for a quick Clark Griswold nod to the majestic Canyon and a wave farewell, but not goodbye.  

I now agree with our park ranger when he said most people come to the Grand Canyon three times in their lives.   The Grand Canyon is a family field trip worth repeating over and over and over... We'll definitely be back.

1 comment:

  1. The last picture says it all. After 9 months of 24/7, if you two can still be that close, smile that big, and not be tempted to push each other over the railings, you can make it through anything life throws your way.Congratulations!


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