Grand Canyon Is In Our Blood
My first meeting with Francis resulted from a chain of coincidences. Had he and his brother not been persuaded — on their hiking odyssey around the United States — to take the side trip up California’s Redwood Highway, we never would have met. (See Chapter 3) If they had been able to shave in the salt water of Arcata Bay at Eureka, they would not have stopped to shave in the tiny stream in front of my home; our paths would never have crossed. A dozen “ifs” on that day resulted in bringing us together.
Another coincidence — a rather insignificant one on another occasion — also changed our lives completely, leading us into our lifelong profession, and helping to bind us even more strongly to the Grand Canyon. In the years of the great depression, as a present, I gave Francis an inexpensive 16mm motion picture camera. That gift turned our lives completely around.
Without benefit of lessons, Francis discovered that he had a natural knack at shooting superior motion pictures, which at the same time told a story. I found that I had a special ability at editing them. Our “home” movies were sought after by service clubs, women’s clubs, elementary schools, high schools, and junior colleges in the area where we lived. Almost nightly we were kept busy showing our films, accompanying them with commentary.
“Helen, a bee is buzzing in my bonnet,” Francis commented one day. “We can’t go on showing films and lecturing every night, for free. We and our calendar would both soon be exhausted. Let’s make a full-length color motion picture that we can charge for.”
Without realizing what lay ahead, and with almost no knowledge of the then fledgling travel-adventure-lecture business, we were groping toward something that would occupy our lives for 40 years. We were about to make a lifetime profession out of a backyard hobby.
At first, the whole world was our workshop — Lapland (in winter), Finland, England, Holland, Japan, China, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Hawaii. Then, in the war year of 1943, Francis followed a herd of sheep, for 40 days, as their Mexican herder drove them from winter pasture near Phoenix, to the cooler summer range in the mountains of north-central Arizona. The resulting “Sheep, Stars, and Solitude” became the leading lecture film in America, eclipsing everything else that we had done. Seldom again did we go abroad for film production. Western America became our cinematic workshop. And partly because of its strategic location in western America, but more particularly because of its cinematic lure, and our love for it, the Grand Canyon became a principal centerpiece of our filming endeavors.
“Seven Wonders of the West.” In that hour-and-a-half long production, Grand Canyon stood at the top.
“Road to Grandeur.” In following U.S. 89, America’s most scenic highway, from the Canadian Rockies to Arizona’s Mexican border, the adjacent national parks, such as Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon, all became grist for our cinematic mill
“Navajo, A People Between Two Worlds.” Grand Canyon National Park adjoins the vast Navajo reservation along its western border and was a part of the story. Probably 50 times we visited the Canyon, enroute to or from the reservation.
“This Is Your America” had to include a reference to the Canyon.
“Southwest Story” was centered in southern Utah and the Arizona “strip,” including the Kaibab Forest and the North Rim.
“Best of the West” was a resume of our travels in Western America; the film ended with the best of all — the Grand Canyon.
We filmed the West, but most of our showings — at travel-adventure lecture series, at universities, museums, libraries, and schools — were in the Midwest and East. When one or both of us would travel from our California home to a series of such engagements, in the autumn and in the spring, we would often stop at Grand Canyon’s South Rim for relaxation.
On the many transcontinental flights which we had to make, never once did we sit anywhere except at a window seat. While fellow passengers slept or read, we would watch America’s scenery unfolding below. We knew the landscape by heart —almost every road or important landmark west of the Rockies. Even at 30,000 feet aloft, we often made out the suspension bridge over the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch. Or El Tovar. Or the Bright Angel Fault. Or Lake Mead at the Canyon’s western end, or Lake Powell (after Glen Canyon Dam was finished) at its eastern extremity. At 30,000 feet the details disappeared and blended into a mightly panorama of color and master design.
In our earliest visits to Grand Canyon’s North or South Rims, we always camped out. Francis’ first visit to the North Rim was before there was a lodge, or any formal visitor accommodations there. In later years we began using the cabins, which afforded better shelter for our photographic equipment, and gave us better lighting for reading and writing at night. On one special occasion we stayed in the Presidential Suite of El Tovar Lodge, but camps and campfires or rustic housekeeping cabins suited our needs much better.
Often we have been asked, “How many times have you visited Grand Canyon?” Our answer has to be, “Not enough.”
The Canyon is in our blood. New experiences are there awaiting us. There is still so much to see. We have scarcely scratched the surface. And the surface is so large .. .