Notebook Journey on Rim and Trail
Think tanks are the mode these days — places set aside where cogitators can prop their feet up on desks and let their minds float free, perhaps to snag some new scientific or psychological truth.
This Grand Canyon is the big brother of all think tanks. Whether feet are propped on a log by the Rim, or slowly trodding a silent trail in the Canyon depths, thoughts float in from every aspect. These are some stray concepts which have come to us in this manner:
The Canyon Rim is one of the finest places on earth to get a bird’s eye view while standing on the ground.
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Even today the Grand Canyon is in an isolated section of America. It is almost impossible to understand how this remote New World landmark could have been discovered in 1540, 80 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
The Rock at Plymouth has been fenced in to afford it protection. A fence to encompass the winding borders of Grand Canyon Park would have to approach a thousand miles in length.
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Grand Canyon’s granite gorge has a birthday party coming up. Bob Hope’s 80th birthday was celebrated with a TV spectacular. George Burns rated a celebration every time he added another year. The United States, in 1976, had a “bombs bursting in air” two hundredth birthday extravaganza that lasted for a year.
Park rangers and geologists, for some time, have been saying, “The Vishnu schist at the bottom of Grand Canyon is approximately two billion years old.”
An approximation is not enough. We may be off by a few years — who can say — but we have come to the conclusion that the year 1990 should be declared the official two billionth birthday of those serrated walls in the granite gorge.
The entire year of 1990 should be a time of celebration —but not of frivolous trivialities. No fireworks will be needed; the Canyon will provide its own magical displays of lightning, accompanied by drumbeats of rumbling thunder.
Decorations of Japanese garden lanterns will be unnecessary; Grand Canyon has a long-term arrangement with the night sky to hang out a complete canopy of stars, and occasionally a moon. By day, the sky will spread cumulus banners and cirrus streamers over the scene.
No confetti please; nature has already arranged for that. Millions of pounds of it, shaped like snowflakes, will filter down to make the narrow granite gorge seem like Broadway under a snowstorm of ticker tape.
There need be no birthday presents. Granite gorge has its own gifts of rocks which shine like diamonds, and jade, and rubies. What is required, more than celebration, is dedication — a dedication to the proposition that the Canyon will endure. Not necessarily another billion years but — more to the point —another thousand. Humankind can easily upset the entire process. A dam could wipe much of it out in a decade. A bill has been before Congress to create an enormous lake in the Canyon’s depths. Thousands of tourists, entering by boat, could enjoy leisurely closeup examinations of the Canyon walls. Environmentalists responded: “Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?”
Uncontrolled tourism along the Rim could desecrate much of its grandeur in one generation.
Unregulated coal burning plants could further dull its sparkle and pollute its air.
Grand Canyon’s birthday celebration in 1990 should be, to coin a phrase, a time for concentrated consecration.
Francis, who cut his teeth on the writings of Thoreau, is glad that Helen has taught him to saunter along the trails, rather than always being in a hurry.
Saunter, as Thoreau explains, comes from the “idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,”1 to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a ‘Sainte-Terrer’ ,” a Saunterer, A Holy-Lander. We have become Grand Canyon saunterers. We make no haste on the trails, but laze along, looking at every little thing, or writing in our journal, or taking pictures of some towering formations, or small flower lodged in a stone wall. We feel at home here, as the other meaning of the word saunter suggests — “sans terre,” meaning having no home, but equally at home everywhere. And in a sense we are treading on a Holy Land! So why hurry — we are already there!
Most mountains are climbed from the bottom up. If you can get up Mt. Whitney, or Rainier, or even Everest, you are fairly sure of getting down. The hard part — the real challenge —comes first.
Not so Grand Canyon. Many an unaware (and unskilled) hiker has blithely made the descent to the Tonto Platform, or even to the river itself, usually in the cool of the morning.
But then! The Grand Canyon is a mountain upside down. It has seduced you, enticed you, got you in its grasp. And now she may not let you go — at least without much more effort than you might have thought would be required.
The Grand Canyon is a mountain giant standing on its head!
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A thousand-blossomed shrub is perched on the Canyon brink, each bloom and petal absorbing the grandeur below. Who knows, that plant’s beauty may result as much from absorption of the view, as from nourishment sucked from the rocky soil.
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In the past two years we have met half a dozen couples whose married life together began on Grand Canyon’s Rim. This is not only an extension of the current desire for outdoor weddings; it clothes each such wedding in a symbolism which may be a large ingredient in its permanence.
It will surely be harder for a couple, at the first disagreement, to nurse thoughts of separation or running home to mother, if they start to think of the setting for their marriage. The very stuff of the Canyon — the endurance and permanence of those two-billion-year-old rocks — become a part of the vows.
“Do you take this woman/this man for your lawfully wedded spouse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, or worse — as long as you both shall live?”
The very rocks in the Canyon’s depths echo the response.
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When we tell our friends that we are going to Grand Canyon again to celebrate our wedding anniversary, many of them wonder why. Our reply is that we can never get enough of it. There is so much to learn. The Canyon is an encyclopedia of history, geology, archaeology, philosophy and religion, and it will take years to understand it all. We come to celebrate our life together in a different dimension. Life is a mystery and it takes years even to understand all that the Great Spirit has to reveal and teach us. The Grand Canyon is as good a yardstick as we will find. Each year our hiking has opened new visions of what life is all about, and our part in it. We find that the Canyon needs to be savored. One taste is not enough. So back to the Canyon.
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The debate continues: Which Rim is better, scenically and livably — the North Rim or the South? There is no answer; it is like comparing oranges and apples. They are different.
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The Grand Canyon is the love child of Mother Nature and Father Time.
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Michelangelo looked at a great block of raw marble and said: “Inside that block is concealed an angel.” With chisel and hammer, he began revealing his dream.
The God of the outdoors once surveyed a vast sloping plateau, which we now call the Kaibab. “Beneath that stretch of earth,” he must have whispered, “is hidden a Sleeping Giant.” With tools he began his work. The Sleeping Giant has been revealed.
When we look at Grand Canyon, we think of Michelangelo. The Grand Canyon is the world’s masterpiece of sculpture. Thoreau put it well, in a slightly different way:
“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.”
At any one of the Canyon’s view points, an Eastman Kodak stockholder could smack his lips in glee, then rush to the nearest gift shop to buy more souvenirs out of the profit he anticipates from the sale of all that film.
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Spread before us is one of earth’s most awesome displays of rocks. Rocks are the ingredients of greatness. David slew Goliath with a rock from his slingshot. Jesus advised homebuilders to “build your house upon a rock.”
Rocks are symbolic: “The Rock of Gibralter.” “As solid as a rock.” “Rock of Ages.”
The Grand Canyon is clothed in greatness in the very nature of its ingredients. It is a 200 mile panorama of ROCK. It is a mile deep gash into and through the very foundations of the earth —ROCK. It is a ten-mile-wide rock-lover’s paradise.
Every year, thousands of rockhounds gather from across the world at the tiny crossroads town of Quartsite, Arizona, southwest of Grand Canyon, to display gems and swap yarns about rocks. They could profitably adjourn each such annual session to the South Rim, to ponder the greatest rock collection of all.
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The majority of all passengers arriving at Grand Canyon’s airport are from overseas. One quarter of the park’s visitors are foreigners. Japanese and German are heard, next only to English, along the South Rim. Hikers on the trails come from Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, and the Americas. Grand Canyon is a magnet for the people of the world.
And now it has become more than that. In the open air patio of the visitor center a large metal plaque on a native rock tells the story. The Canyon is no longer just American. It has been designated as a world heritage site. The plaque reads: THROUGH THE COLLECTIVE RECOGNITION OF THE COMMUNITY OF NATIONS EXPRESSED WITHIN THE PRINCIPLES OF THE CONVENTION CONCERNING THE PROTECTION OF THE WORLD CULTURAL AND NATURAL HERITAGE GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK HAS BEEN DESIGNATED A WORLD HERITAGE SITE AND JOINS A SELECT LIST OF PROTECTED AREAS AROUND THE WORLD WHOSE OUTSTANDING NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES FORM THE COMMON INHERITANCE OF ALL MANKIND OCTOBER 26, 1979
Fred Harvey — and El Tovar, Bright Angel, and the other South Rim lodges operated by the company he originally formed — had an important role in the lore of Grand Canyon.
Fred Harvey migrated from England in 1850 and began his career as a dishwasher in a New York restaurant. Later he became a railroad passenger agent and mail clerk. Food and food service along the railways were bad; he thought he could do better, and sought permission from the Santa Fe to open eating places along their route. These Harvey Houses expanded. “Harvey Girl” waitresses by the hundreds were brought West to serve the tasty Harvey meals. Judy Garland took the part of one of these girls in a 1949 movie. Will Rogers said that Fred Harvey “kept the West in food and wives.”
The Santa Fe extended a branch rail line to Grand Canyon in 1901; the Harvey Company came soon after. El Tovar Hotel was built at a cost of $250,000, just one-twentieth the cost of a remodeling job completed there in 1983.
In 1905, the Harvey Company built the Hopi House, and hired Indian craftsmen to demonstrate their skills for tourists. The original Fred Harvey, who died in 1901, is said never to have seen Grand Canyon. But “Fred Harvey” has bedded down Canyon tourists, provided mule transportation to the Canyon’s depths, and prepared food for millions, in the more than three-quarters of a century that the company has been the principal Grand Canyon host.
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The Bright Angel Trail provides a symphony of sounds: the fragile, plaintive fluting of woodwind notes by unnamed birds, or the canyon wren trilling up and down the scale, like a Lily Pons. The cliff swallows, darting swiftly, chasing like children, gleefully, dipping and twittering, cutting the air, making their impression on this ancient handiwork of nature. People who have gotten acquainted as they pass and repass along the trail, chatting like old friends, as they gather at Indian Gardens, or rest along the way. Lasting friendships are begun. Deep, deep breathing of both mules and hikers as they ascend Jacob’s Ladder, that set of tortuous zigzags. And finally the hurrahs of climbers as they top out on the South Rim. The sights and sounds leave one breathless.
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Geologically, the changes at Grand Canyon are imperceptible over the course of 50 years. The chasm has grown perhaps half an inch wider and a quarter of an inch deeper in the last half century. Economically, the changes in the prices for food and facilities in that same 50 years have been titanic. An El Tovar room today may cost $60 or $70. According to our 1940 Works Progress -Administration Arizona guidebook, a room — along with three meals — at El Tovar totaled $4.25. Bright Angel Lodge rooms, in 1940, were $1.25 a day, breakfasts 50 cents up, and dinners 85 cents up. A night at Phantom Ranch, including meals, went at $6.00. An all-expense overnight Phantom Ranch mule trip was $18.00. All of which demonstrates that the Grand Canyon is just keeping up with the times.
Mystery. That is our feeling as we stand at the ruins of the Anasazi Indian pueblo of Tusayan, a short distance back in the forest from the Canyon’s South Rim. Probably no more than 30 of these early inhabitants dwelt here. To the south, their view took in the San Francisco Peaks where, in all probability, they witnessed the volcanic eruptions which lit the skies there during the twelfth century. The deep gorge of Grand Canyon, a moment’s walk to the north, was their constant companion.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Grand Canyon National Park
Season: South Rim, open all year; North Rim, June Sept. 3o, or later if roads are clear.
Administrative Offices: South Rim, Grand Canyon Village; North Rim, it miles south of entrance gate, address Kaibab Forest.
Admission: $z entrance fee for automobile, motorcycle, or trailer. Transportation: (South Rim) Santa Fe Ry., train or bus from Williams. (North Rim) busses of. Utah Parks Co., subsidiary of Union Pacific R.R. from Jacob Lake. Independent busses connect with Utah Parks busses at Jacob Lake.
South Rim Sightseeing Trips: West Rim Drive, $3. East Rim Drive, $6., combined $7. All-expense overnight mule trip to Phantom Ranch, $t8. All-expense 3-day mule trip to Phantom Ranch and Ribbon Falls, $28. Cross-canyon, 2-day all-expense mule trip, $30. Hermit Basin and Dripping Springs 1-day all-expense horse trip, $6. Supai motor-pony trip: private cars may be driven to Hilltop; taxi service, $21 a person round trip; Indian pony, Hilltop to Supai, round trip, $5. Accommodations at Supai limited, telephone for reservations; bed, $1.50, meals, 70 each, ponies, $1.5o a day. Also independent camping trips. Saddle horses: 2-hour trips in charge of guide, $1.5o a person. Horses 2 hours, $1.5o, day, $5. Special guide, full day, $5. Tuba City and Moenkopi 1-day all-expense automobile trip, $zz a person. Also chartered automobiles.
North Rim Sightseeing Trips: from Grand Canyon Lodge to Cape Royal and Point Imperial, $3 a person; from Grand Canyon Lodge to Point Sublime, 3 person minimum, $5 a person.
North Rim Trail Trips: 1-day all-expense mule trip to Roaring Springs, $7 a person; 2-day all-expense mule trip to Phantom Ranch, $20 a person; 2-day cross-canyon mule trip (see South Rim). Saddle horses: 2-hour trips with guide, $1.50 a person. Saddle horses without guide z hours, $1.5o, half-day, $3. Guide, half-day $3, full day, $5. Also camping trips.
Airplane Service: Grand Canyon Airlines, Inc., airport near each rim, 90-mile flights, including 6o miles of Grand Canyon, 2 person minimum, $8.50 each; cross-canyon flight, 2 person minimum, x way, $to each; round trip, indefinite stopover, $15 each. Also charter flights.
Accommodations: South Rim: El Tovar Hotel, Am. plan, from $4.25 a day. Bright Angel Lodge, E. plan, from $1.5o a day; breakfast, 5o0 up, luncheon, 750 up, dinners, 850 up. Public camp, $1.25 and $1.75 a day; housekeeping cabins, $2.25 a day, bedding extra. Phantom Ranch, bottom of canyon, Am. plan, $6 a day. Free camp site with wood and water at auto camp and Desert View. Rowe’s Well cabins, $1.25 and $2.50. North Rim: Grand Canyon Lodge, E. plan. rooms from $2.25. Breakfast and luncheon, Sr, dinner, $1.25. Housekeeping cabins, $2 to $4.50. A few 2-cot tents, $1.70. Free camp sites with water and fuel. Cafeteria at auto camp; breakfast, 70, luncheon, 750, dinner, 9o0.
Climate: South Rim: Air dry, evenings cool, summers hot with occasional thunder showers. Snow in winter. Lower canyon usually 20° warmer than plateaus. North Rim: June and Sept. evenings chilly, July and August warm, with frequent thunder showers. Deep snow during winter.
Clothing and .Equipment: Warm clothing in winter; warm wraps for evening in summer; long sleeved shirt, sun hat, and boots for trails. Riding clothes and shade hats rented at all hotels.
In 1940, prices at Grand Canyon were low, as shown by this page from a W.P.A. Arizona Guidebook.
As one views the Canyon today it is important to realize that this was home to some of our original Americans.
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Few things about Grand Canyon are conventional. One aspect of it is so nonconformist and filled with mystery that it is officially designated “The Great Unconformity.” At South Rim’s Yavapai Museum this can be observed, as a ranger-geologist explains it.
Looking across to the North Rim you see Paleozoic layers resting directly on the Vishnu schist — that hardest layer of the Canyon, through which the river flows. But you also see other places where a layer of Hakatai shale intervenes between these two. What caused this Hakatai layer — in some places — to disappear completely? This layer, perhaps five hundred million years old, has vanished.
The explanations are somewhat uncertain and tentative. Where has that half-billion-year-old layer gone? That’s a mighty gap! That’s a mystery.
Once you’ve seen this Unconformity, you can never unsee it — it makes you ponder. It makes you say, “How great that there are still mysteries to confound us!”