The Grand Canyon - just amaz­ing!

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

For years now peo­ple have been telling me to visit the Grand Canyon. When I would ask them why I re­ceived the al­most uni­ver­sal re­sponse of, “It’s just amaz­ing” which, hon­estly, did noth­ing to in­spire me to go. Many sites and ex­pe­ri­ences could be de­scribed as ‘amaz­ing’, af­ter all, but not worth the time or ef­fort. I could tell you, for ex­am­ple, that I find it amaz­ing when my dogs So­phie and Monty ac­tu­ally come when I call them in­stead of star­ing off into space and ig­nor­ing me - but I wouldn’t ex­pect you to travel 3342 km to see it hap­pen. To say some­thing is amaz­ing is such a sub­jec­tive state­ment; there is re­ally no way to use it to ac­cu­rately de­scribe to some­one what the ex­pe­ri­ence one is so ex­cited about might be like. This habit of peo­ple de­scrib­ing the Grand Canyon as amaz­ing - and just leav­ing it at that - an­noyed me for all the years I en­dured it un­til I fi­nally trav­elled there my­self and un­der­stood: there re­ally are no words to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence of the Grand Canyon.

We were out in Ari­zona cel­e­brat­ing my dad’s 80th birth­day with a trip to the canyon and en­vi­rons through the ex­cel­lent Road Scholar pro­gram he had signed us up for. The fam­ily, and the other trav­ellers in our group, from all over the United States, were enor­mous fun and made the trip all the more in­ter­est­ing. Be­gin­ning in Phoenix, Ari­zona we trav­elled through the re­gion with overnights at Mar­ble Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Peach Springs to­ward the fur­ther end of the Colorado River. Ari­zona’s land­scape is al­most sur­real in how the land lays flat for miles to abruptly rise in huge, in­tri­cately-carved cliffs which ei­ther jut straight up to tower over the land or rise gen­tly into hills which then am­ble slowly away to­ward the hori­zon. It never ac­tu­ally be­came cool there in the early Oc­to­ber morn­ings or evenings; it just be­came less hot - but it was a very man­age­able heat and one could hike or stroll paths with­out any great dis­com­fort.

As I con­sid­ered the ter­rain and the tem­per­a­ture, and al­ways in mind of the past, I found my­self won­der­ing what it had been like for the early in­hab­i­tants and then the first Euro­peans, and then Amer­i­cans, who came to the re­gion. It must have been quite an ex­pe­ri­ence mov­ing across the enor­mous con­ti­nent of what would be­come the United States of Amer­ica into this strange land of arid desert and rock, walk­ing long miles in this very dry heat, to then find one’s self con­fronted with the sweep­ing enor­mity of the Grand Canyon. The Na­tive Amer­i­cans who once lived in the area, and the im­mi­grants who came later, were fre­quently on my mind.

The his­tory of the canyon, as far as hu­man in­volve­ment goes, is not that long. The Grand Canyon was formed, ac­cord­ing to the most ac­cepted es­ti­mates, some 17 mil­lion years ago through ero­sion by the Colorado River which runs through it now about 6700 feet be­low the rim. The first hu­man habi­ta­tion came c. 1200 BC with the Pue­bloan peo­ple (also known as the Anasazi) and the Co­conino tribe who were an­ces­tors of the Yu­man, Hava­su­pai, and Wala­pai peo­ple. The Dine (Navajo), Si­nagua, and Paiutes also lived - and many still live - in the re­gion and, to­ward the south, the great Ho­hokam cul­ture thrived and made the Ari­zona desert around Phoenix a ver­dant agri­cul­tural plateau through their in­tri­cate ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems so per­fectly graded and ef­fi­cient that they were later used for the sys­tems still in use to­day.

Th­ese Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes were still liv­ing in and around the canyon when the first Euro­pean, Cap­tain Gar­cia Lopez de Car­de­nas, came upon the south­ern rim of the canyon in 1540. Fol­low­ing his ex­pe­di­tion was that of two Span­ish priests, Fran­cisco Atana­sio Dominguez and Sil­vestre Velez de Es­calante, in 1776. Th­ese two priests, with their Hopi guides, de­scended into the canyon and found a way to cross the Colorado River, a cross­ing which, for cen­turies, would be known as the “Cross­ing of the Fa­thers” and which would be the only way to tra­verse the river un­til the 1870’s when Lee’s Ferry be­gan op­er­a­tion. Lee’s Ferry would be the main cross­ing un­til the Navajo Bridge was built in 1928. James Ohio Pat­tie was the first Amer­i­can to visit the canyon in 1826 but there are no oth­ers recorded un­til the Mor­mon mis­sion­ary Ja­cob Ham­blin ar­rived in the area in the 1850’s. Be­tween 1850 and 1900 the Grand Canyon re­ceived quite a bit of at­ten­tion. The Amer­i­can Civil War ma­jor John Wes­ley Pow­ell was the first to nav­i­gate the en­tirety of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in 1869 and the first to call it the Grand Canyon (it had pre­vi­ously been re­ferred to sim­ply as ‘Big Canyon’ which is not nearly so im­pres­sive). Amer­i­can in­ter­ests at the time were largely fo­cused on land use, not land ap­pre­ci­a­tion, and if a mile of land could not be built on or laid over with rail­road tracks it was not con­sid­ered of much use. The Grand Canyon posed, lit­er­ally, a huge prob­lem

to de­vel­op­ers who could find no eco­nomic gain in this gi­ant gap­ing hole in the earth which was too long and too broad to run a bridge across and too deep, with sides too steep, to de­velop vi­able hous­ing in. It was at this point that Ralph H. Cameron, a prospec­tor from South­port, Maine, en­tered the story. Cameron had read Pow­ell’s ac­count of his ex­plo­ration of the Colorado River and al­most im­me­di­ately trav­elled across the coun­try to Flagstaff, Ari­zona and then made his way to the south rim to ex­pe­ri­ence the canyon for him­self. Al­though other busi­ness­men were al­ready at work try­ing to ex­ploit the area for fi­nan­cial gain, it would be Cameron who made the great­est im­pact and the most money.

Ralph Cameron recog­nised the nat­u­ral beauty of the canyon and un­der­stood how best to make use of it: peo­ple would pay for the ex­pe­ri­ence of a visit and, he thought, they may as well pay him as any­one else. He set up a toll booth on what would be­come Bright An­gel Trail and charged peo­ple to go down into the canyon which, be­fore, they could have walked on into for free as the Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes had been do­ing for cen­turies. Once Cameron set up his busi­ness in the area he at­tracted oth­ers such as the dy­namic Kolb Broth­ers, two pho­tog­ra­phers who would go to any lengths for the per­fect shot, as well as land prospec­tors, mer­chants, and, fi­nally, the rail­road. Fol­low­ing the rail­road was an en­trepreneur named Fred Har­vey (best known for his Har­vey Houses, a pre­cur­sor to the mod­ern mo­tel/restau­rant staffed by his fa­mous Har­vey Girls) who pro­vided lodg­ing, food, and sou­venirs to trav­ellers. What­ever one may think of Fred Har­vey’s con­tri­bu­tion to pop­u­lar cul­ture, he was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing to na­tional at­ten­tion one of the most bril­liant ar­chi­tects of the time and an artist whose work re­mains an en­dur­ing trea­sure: Mary Jane Colter. When you go to the Grand Canyon you’ll hear the guides point to a build­ing as ‘a Colter de­sign’ or say ‘this is an­other of Colter’s works’ and they say this ca­su­ally with­out fur­ther com­men­tary, ne­glect­ing to elab­o­rate on what an ex­tra­or­di­nary artist this woman was. A visit to the canyon, and the build­ings which largely make up Grand Canyon Vil­lage on the south rim, is much more in­ter­est­ing if one knows who Colter was and what she

ac­com­plished. It is a fas­ci­nat­ing, if dis­may­ing, fact of his­tory that when the Euro­peans ‘dis­cov­ered’ the New World - a land of un­bro­ken, pris­tine, land­scape un­like any­thing they had ever seen - they fairly quickly set about trans­form­ing it into the old world they had left be­hind. The build­ings which were con­structed around the south rim of the Grand Canyon were very like the ho­tels and cab­ins one would find built by those of Euro­pean de­scent any­where else; un­til Mary Jane Colter ap­peared on the scene.

Colter (1869-1958) was born in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia but her fam­ily moved to St. Paul, Min­nesota when she was young. Af­ter high school, she at­tended the Cal­i­for­nia School of De­sign in San Fran­cisco, study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, and then moved back to Min­nesota to work as an art teacher at the high school. At this time, Fred Har­vey was busily stak­ing out his empire of ho­tels and eater­ies through­out the south­west and one of Har­vey’s daugh­ters, Min­nie, was friends with Colter. Min­nie got Colter a sum­mer job with the Har­vey Com­pany do­ing in­te­rior de­sign work on the Al­varado Ho­tel in Al­bu­querque, New Mex­ico in 1901. Fred Har­vey took no­tice of her at­ten­tion to de­tail and skill at de­sign and even­tu­ally asked her to join the com­pany full time as ar­chi­tect. Colter did the in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tions on the El To­var Ho­tel, a Har­vey-run en­ter­prise, in 1904. This ho­tel, which opened in 1905 catered to guests trav­el­ling on the Atchi­son, Topeka, Sante Fe Rail­way and was de­signed to meet their ex­pec­ta­tions. The El To­var - still one of the most fa­mous land­marks of Grand Canyon Vil­lage - was de­signed by Charles Whit­tle­sey, the chief ar­chi­tect of the rail­road, and is a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of early 20th-cen­tury Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture; but it is not re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent from ho­tels one would have found (and can still find) across the United States built on the tra­di­tional forms and lines of Euro­pean build­ings.

In 1904, fol­low­ing her suc­cess with the in­te­rior of El To­var, Colter was given the task of de­sign­ing a build­ing of her own close to the ho­tel which would serve as a sou­venir shop fea­tur­ing arts and crafts by lo­cal Na­tive Amer­i­cans. She re­jected any sug­ges­tion of cre­at­ing a build­ing which mir­rored El To­var’s de­sign and in­stead fash­ioned a grand pueblo in the style of the Hopi peo­ple of the area which came to be known as the Hopi House. Colter was a per­fec­tion­ist who needed ev­ery de­tail of the fin­ished build­ing to match the im­age she had of it in her mind. She de­signed the Hopi House with­out in­te­rior stairs but with ex­te­rior lad­ders of wood, the rungs laced

Con­ces­sions and com­pro­mise were not Colter’s strong point and those around her came to rec­og­nize this in­creas­ingly as they worked with her

to the braces with rough rope, in the tra­di­tion of an ac­tual Hopi pueblo. The Har­vey firm re­jected the de­sign, how­ever, recog­nis­ing that guests would balk at hav­ing to climb the ex­te­rior se­ries of lad­ders be­tween the first and third floors and so Colter made one of her few con­ces­sions and added stair­wells in­side.

Con­ces­sions and com­pro­mise were not Colter’s strong point and those around her came to recog­nise this in­creas­ingly as they worked with her. Artist Fred Kabotie, who worked with her, re­marked, ‘ Mary Colter was tal­ented, with strong opin­ions.

We got along well... most of the time.’ In 1914 she de­signed the stone lodges of Look­out Stu­dio and Her­mit’s Rest and con­trolled ev­ery sin­gle as­pect of the con­struc­tion right down to hav­ing the large fire­place in the cen­tre room of Her­mit’s Rest scorched to make it ap­pear a lonely her­mit had been liv­ing in the stone cot­tage at the edge of the canyon for decades. When a work crew came to fin­ish up de­tails on the build­ing they of­fered to scrub the fire­place to make it look new and Colter for­bid it, say­ing, ‘ You can’t imag­ine what it cost to make it look this old.’

Both Look­out Stu­dio and Her­mit’s Rest seem to grow or­gan­i­cally out of their set­ting, pre­cisely as Colter wanted them to. She was not in­ter­ested in trans­plant­ing Euro­pean style ar­chi­tec­ture in the new and wild ex­panse of the area around the Grand Canyon but in cre­at­ing some­thing unique to the re­gion which would tell the land’s story in the style of that area’s own peo­ple. In 1922 she de­signed the build­ings of Phan­tom Ranch at the bot­tom of the Grand Canyon, an­other project she su­per­vised care­fully, and in 1932 cre­ated the fa­mous Desert View Watch­tower which is ar­guably her mas­ter­piece as far as those she con­structed around the Grand Canyon go. Colter wrote of the tower that, ‘ Time, the lost prin­ci­ple in much mod­ern con­struc­tion, was taken to se­lect each rock.’ The four-story watch­tower rises 21 me­tres (70 feet) and of­fers a com­mand­ing view of the canyon. Colter de­signed it to mir­ror the watch­tow­ers of the Pueblo peo­ples who lived in the area but on a much larger scale. The in­te­rior is dec­o­rated with mu­rals, paint­ings, and pet­ro­glyphs of Hopi artists Fred Kabotie and Fred Greer and the whole is very care­fully de­signed to pre­cisely mir­ror a Pueblo watch­tower’s de­sign, right down to the Kiva room (a space used for re­li­gious rit­u­als) on the first floor. Colter was con­cerned that guides would not be able to prop­erly in­ter­pret the watch­tower for guests and so she wrote the guide­book her­self, the Man­ual for Driv­ers and Guides De­scrip­tive of the In­dian Watch­tower at Desert View and its Re­la­tion, Ar­chi­tec­turally, to the Pre­his­toric Ru­ins of the South­west, in 1933. The ti­tle of the book gives one an idea of how pre­cise Colter was in ev­ery as­pect of her work. In 1935,

To­ward the end of her life, Mary Colter claimed she had lived too long as she saw some of her best pieces, such as the El Navajo Ho­tel in Gallup, New Mex­ico (which she con­sid­ered her mas­ter­piece), de­stroyed in the name of progress but dur­ing her time she cre­ated an en­dur­ing body of work which still sur­vives and con­tin­ues to in­spire and im­press

when she re­designed the Bright An­gel Lodge in Grand Canyon Vil­lage, she wanted the fire­place to re­flect the ge­o­log­i­cal lay­ers of the canyon pre­cisely from floor to ceil­ing. When she found the work­ers had failed to insert the cor­rect strata at the proper places she had the work dis­man­tled and done over ex­actly as she en­vi­sioned it in her de­sign.

Colter’s build­ings to­day are in­ter­spersed with oth­ers through­out Grand Canyon Vil­lage on the south rim but there is no mis­tak­ing her style of cre­at­ing an ex­ten­sion of the land­scape through her work. The Maswik Lodge, a 1960’s 250-room mo­tel com­plex five min­utes’ walk from the vil­lage, took its cue from Colter and is mod­estly de­signed so it ap­pears al­most a nat­u­ral out­growth of the Pon­derosa Pine for­est which sur­rounds it. Al­though Colter only de­signed three of the struc­tures still ex­tant in the vil­lage, the ranch at the bot­tom of the canyon, and the watch­tower, she in­flu­enced the de­signs of those who came af­ter her. To­day, you can walk from Maswik Lodge (which, also in keep­ing with Colter’s vi­sion of hon­our­ing the unique qual­ity of the area, is named for the Hopi Kachina spirit who is said to guard the canyon) to the vil­lage and, through the very ef­fi­cient trol­ley sys­tem, vis­i­tors can over­look all along the south rim of the canyon quite eas­ily. If you take the red line out from the Vil­lage Route Trans­fer you can get off at any of the stops along the way such as Trail­view Over­look, Mari­copa Point, Pow­ell Point, Hopi Point, Mo­have Point, The Abyss, Mon­u­ment Creek Vista, and Pima Point; the last stop is Her­mit’s Rest where you are greeted by Colter’s strangely beau­ti­ful stone archway which ap­pears some­how in mo­tion, in a mo­ment of col­lapse, while at the same time giv­ing the im­pres­sion of time­less en­durance. The view of the canyon from Her­mit’s Rest is among the most strik­ing, es­pe­cially at sun­set, and Colter’s in­sis­tence on work­ing in stone ac­cord­ing to Na­tive Amer­i­can cus­tom cre­ates the il­lu­sion of a nat­u­ral cave half-hid­den in tum­bled rocks of­fer­ing a rest­ing place to the trav­eller. Her­mit’s Rest seems as nat­u­ral a part of the land­scape as the strange, grey-sil­ver twisted trees, caught mid-dance, which sur­round it.

Al­though best known for her work at the Grand Canyon, Colter was ac­tive in de­sign­ing build­ings and ho­tels through­out the south­west and her in­no­va­tive blend of Na­tive Amer­i­can with Euro­pean de­sign fea­tures gave birth to the south­west ‘Sante Fe’ style of ar­chi­tec­ture so widely used in the United States to­day from coast to coast. While many of her build­ings else­where have been de­stroyed, those at the Grand Canyon have been pre­served, in one col­lec­tion, as a Na­tional His­toric

Land­mark. To­ward the end of her life, Mary Colter claimed she had lived too long as she saw some of her best pieces, such as the El Navajo Ho­tel in Gallup, New Mex­ico (which she con­sid­ered her mas­ter­piece), de­stroyed in the name of progress but dur­ing her time she cre­ated an en­dur­ing body of work which still sur­vives and con­tin­ues to in­spire and im­press. As a woman work­ing in a man’s pro­fes­sion in the mid-20th cen­tury, she needed her male sub­or­di­nate to sign off on her projects and never reg­is­tered as an ar­chi­tect.

She worked ex­clu­sively for the Fred Har­vey Corporation for forty-eight years, dy­ing in 1958 at the age of 88. Said to be a chainsmoker who en­joyed her whiskey, Colter also de­signed her own el­e­gant ash­tray along Hopi lines as well as the chairs and table­ware of the El Navajo Ho­tel right down to the salad plates and pitch­ers. The care she put into the de­signs for the most com­mon­place of her cre­ations can be ap­pre­ci­ated in her larger works around the south rim. Writer, ar­chi­tect, artist, and per­fec­tion­ist in all things, Mary Jane Colter’s work at the Grand Canyon com­ple­ments, in­stead of dis­tract­ing from, the nat­u­ral won­der of the canyon it­self and that canyon is an ex­pe­ri­ence which de­fies de­scrip­tion.

Look­ing out over the Grand Canyon from the stone pa­tio at Her­mit’s Rest you are sim­ply in awe at the enor­mous ex­panse of the canyon’s cliffs spread out in front of you and, the most in­ter­est­ing as­pect of this, you can’t even say why this is. Yes, the canyon is huge but it is not just the size which is af­fect­ing and, yes, the dif­fer­ent colours of the strata of the rock in the light of the dy­ing day are in­cred­i­bly vi­brant and beau­ti­ful, but you would not say that is what is most mov­ing ei­ther. It would be easy to say that the canyon makes you feel small, puts life in per­spec­tive some­how, hum­bles you in the face of such an an­cient and nat­u­ral won­der but none of those ob­ser­va­tions are ex­actly true and seem some­what trite at­tempts at de­scrib­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence which can­not be cap­tured in words. The early Span­ish priests who vis­ited the Grand Canyon in the 18th cen­tury sent back re­ports of their ex­pe­ri­ence say­ing sim­ply that it was “pro­found” - which is very like the re­port I heard from those who had made their own vis­its and urged me to go. And now I’ve joined the ranks of those peo­ple say­ing you re­ally need to visit the Grand Canyon. Why? It’s just amaz­ing.

Pre­vi­ous pages: View of the Grand Canyon (Im­age: © The Ul­ti­mate Travel Com­pany) Left: Wil­liam Bell’s pho­to­graph of the Grand Canyon, taken in 1872 as part of the Wheeler ex­pe­di­tion. (Im­age from the U.S. Na­tional Ar­chives and Records Ad­min­is­tra­tion) Right: View of the Canyon from Pima Point (Im­age: Chen­siyuan GFDL)

Above: View of the Canyon from the South Rim (Im­age: Roger Bol­sius, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Left: Fred Har­vey

Right: Ralph Cameron (Im­age: Li­brary of Con­gress Prints and Pho­tographs Di­vi­sion, Har­ris & Ewing Col­lec­tion)

Above: The Hopi House (Im­age: © Karen Sim­mons)

In­set: Mary Jane Colter aged 23 Right: In­te­rior of the Watch­tower (Images: © Karen Sim­mons)

Left: Watch­tower and its panoramic view (Im­age: Vladsinger, CC BY-SA 4.0) Above: The Look­out Stu­dio show­ing its faux ru­ined ef­fect and mulit­ple lev­els (Im­age: Ah­watu­keeBauer , CC BY-SA 3.0)

In­set: An ash­tray de­signed by Mary Colter in­spired by Na­tive Amer­i­can mo­tifs

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