Grand Canyon Initiation
Arizona is not a place between carefully drawn boundaries on a neatly colored map. Arizona, for the people who live there, is an experience — an ever-growing sensation of expanding horizons stretching between haphazardly strewn mountains, bottomless canyons, and color-crazy forests and deserts which swallow up space, and seem to go on forever. For a person who was born and raised in Arizona, this part of the world is even more expansive, especially if that birthing and raising happened on a 400-square mile cattle ranch, which took my father and his cowboys a day or more just to ride across in any direction, while playing nursemaid to 10,000 head of cattle.
My actual birthing was in a house in Globe. Papa’s two enormous ranches were somewhat south of there, and it was on the ranch that we spent much of our time and where nearly all of my early memories are lodged. All of the Gibson offspring were daughters — the eight Gibson girls of Globe, we were called —but that did not stop us from riding the range. I was the seventh child. My older sisters were full-fledged “coyboys,” and could ride with the best of the cowpunchers. Mae, our oldest sister,
often went with papa and the other cowboys to deliver cattle to the Apache Indians far to the north. By the time I came along, papa had probably given up all thought (or at least had given up hope) of having a son, and he had been too occupied teaching the tricks of the ranching trade to my older sisters to be able to take on a new pupil. But I did learn to ride really well. Papa always cautioned me, however, that if I should fall behind and become lost while riding along with the others, I should just give the horse the reins and he would take me back to the ranch. That happened to me once. I remembered my instructions, and did just that!
Albert and Rose Gibson, with their first babe (my oldest sister, Mae), came by covered wagon from New Mexico. Mama and papa, with their separate families, had come by covered wagon from Texas to New Mexico — papa from the Hill Country, and mama from the Galveston area. They had met at a cowboy dance. Hard times in New Mexico gave this new couple an excuse to move farther on — and Globe became their destination.
Hard times came again while I was still a young girl. Papa sold his two ranches and transferred to what must have seemed a “tiny tiddledywink” of land — just a 250 acre ranch northeast of early day Phoenix.
There were more hard times, and papa sold that ranch a few years later; financially speaking he probably sold it too soon. That 250 acre spread is now part of one of the wealthiest cities in North America — Scottsdale, Arizona. The old ranch house still stands, on Hayden Road, an historic architectural landmark.
Few persons have ever had a father more understanding and considerate, more “Christian” in the true sense of that word, than I. Just one thing I had held against him We were Arizonans. Yet he never took me, or any of our family, to see Grand Canyon National Park.
For years I had secretly wondered about this. But then I made a discovery. When I was born — and for some years after — there was no Grand Canyon National Park. In fact, Arizona —the Grand Canyon State — did not exist. At the time of my birth, Arizona was a territory.for most Arizonans — just an extra wide gap in the earth. It probably never even crossed papa’s mind to take us there.
He might eventually have taken us to the Canyon. But by the time the concept seemed plausable (of course it was several hundred miles from Globe to the South Rim, over wretched roads) we had to move yet again.
This time to Driggs, Idaho, at the foot of the Grand Tetons. Thank goodness that did not last long. Thin-blooded Arizonans, used to searing desert heat, are not acclimated to 30 and 40 below zero Idaho winters. One such ice-packed, snowdrifted winter was enough, although our reason for having to depart was a sad one. Papa was appointed executor of the estate of his brother, who had died over near Arcata, on the coast. We moved to northern California, to a house overlooking the Pacific beach — where Francis and I first met.
To that query which Francis and his brother had put to me that January day, “Tell us about Grand Canyon,” I had had to confess my ignorance of it all.
Shortly after his first Grand Canyon visit, in which he and Winfield hiked nearly every trail below the Rim, he had written me a long descriptive, mouth-watering letter about the Canyon’s lure.
Another such letter came after he and his brother had run down to the Colorado River from the South Rim.
After that, his letters were filled with other things than descriptions and impressions of the Canyon. They were filled with loneliness, and a whole series of such letters finally wore down my resistance; I quit college at Santa Barbara State and went back to visit his family in Michigan. We could be together at last.
Just before the time came for me to return to California —on May 1, 1927 — we became engaged.
One year later (I returned to Michigan for the event, since Francis was just finishing college and had also started a business with his brother, which he could not leave) — on May 1, 1928, we were married.
It was just like Francis; he wondered if the ceremony could be at 7 o’clock in the morning, so we could get an early start for our honeymoon trip to the Mammoth Caves and the Lincoln country of Kentucky. A year and a half after that our business was sold to Winfield. Francis and I moved to California on Oct. 29, 1929, and we rented a house in the small city of Ontario. Next day the stock market crashed, and the great depression began.
Depressions did not bother us — then or now. We began early learning to live simply. In 1931, with a thousand dollars from the money which Winfield had paid in buying out our share of the business, we started on a trip which would take us across America and up to Montreal by car, across the Atlantic by ship, and across Europe and North Africa, by train. Two hundred dollars was still in our purse upon our return seven months later.
On that trip we took in the sights of our own land, we saw most of the castles and cathedrals of England and the continent, we visited the mysterious walled city of Carcassonne, journeyed by narrow gauge from Brig, Switzerland up to Zermatt, a mountain-enclosed village, then walked along the mountainside until we had a glorious view of the Matterhorn; we explored remote ice-scarred passes of the Alps, and crisscrossed the Mediterranean Sea from Marseille to Majorca to Algiers in search of its exotic wonders. And as a native Arizonan, I am proud and joyous to say that one of the grandest experiences of them all was my initial visit to Grand Canyon. That was almost the first great sight we experienced after leaving home — and the last upon returning. It was among the world’s best. I said a prayer of thanks to my father that he had not taken me there before; I was able to see and experience it, for the first time, with Francis.
As usual, whenever anyone is with him, things at once began to happen.