As we approached our next Arizona destination, the anticipation built up. The Grand Canyon is an experience like none other. We walked along the South Rim, trying to comprehend the enormity of the geological spectacle in front of us.
Arizona is home to much of the immense Grand Canyon, with its many layers of red rock, a testimony of millions of years of geological history. We hit some of the highlights along the South Rim trail, such as Mather Point, Yavapai Geology Museum, and architect Mary Colter’s buildings.
From Mather Point, way down below, Colorado River snaked between the red rock towers. We could see the Kaibab Suspension Bridge in the distance. Built in 1928, the 440 ft bridge was the only connection over the river within 700 miles from Moab, Utah. Materials had to be carried down into the canyon by horse or mule. Forty-two men, mainly members of the Havasupai tribe, carried the 2,300 pound cable 7 miles down the treacherous Kaibab trail.
Our next stop was the Yavapai Point and Geological Museum, which is a must-see if you wish to learn more about the different layers of rock forming the Grand Canyon (namely the Basement, Supergroup, and Paleozoic layers). The large topographic map and 3D models give you a better insight into what lies outside the panoramic windows. While you’re there, pick up some good books about Native American history.
Farther down the trail, we visited the Hopi House, a Native American arts and crafts shop; modeled after Hopi homes by architect Mary Colter in 1905, the dwelling housed local artisans who lived and were paid to create traditional pottery, rugs, blankets, and artwork. The young architect broke tradition and followed her vision to create something unique, valuable, true to the land, and timeless—all inspired by the Grand Canyon. As a full-time architect in the Fred Harvey Company, Mary Colter built six buildings on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona (Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest, and Desert View Watchtower), all declared National Historic Landmarks in 1987. The amazing architect retired at the ripe age of 79.
Located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon, El Tovar Hotel contrasts Mary Colter’s work by staying within the time’s expectations and standards of architectural elegance (a cross between Swiss chalet and Norwegian villa). Many considered Charles Whittlesey‘s creation the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River. Built in 1905, the hotel offered European comfort to wealthy visitors, including indoor plumbing! The hotel is operational today and offers even cushier amenities.
In contrast to the lavish El Tovar, Colter built a more down-to-earth and affordable lodge: Bright Angel Lodge. Take a look at the impressive fireplace in the lobby! Known as the “Geologic Fireplace,” the stones were put together in the same geological sequence as the rock found along the Bright Angel trail, while the overall look mimics the cliffs and buttes of the canyon.
Nearby, find out about the first permanent commercial photographers’ studio at the canyon: Kolb Studio. The Kolb brothers who built the studio documented the canyon and its fun side, while the women of the household ran a successful commercial business.
Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio stands on the ledge of the canyon, and by design, it looks one with its surroundings. The building emulates its surroundings and was constructed using local stone and wood while mimicking 12th Century southwestern Native American construction styles. The Lookout provides great opportunities to view and photograph the canyon from its many openings and covered observation deck. The interior is now a museum/store and the shopkeeper told us about about Mary’s favorite hideaway place: a rock bench just off the steps and to the right of the building, a great place for meditation.
Hermit’s Rest has an unpolished look and it was designed to resemble a dwelling constructed by an untrained mountain man using the natural timber and boulders of the area. Check out the Navajo rug room!
After the long walk, our old dogs were done for the day. We made a dinner stop in Williams, Arizona, a Route 66 town, then headed back to camp.
The Grand Canyon is just to vast to comprehend in one trip. To really get the full experience, one must hike down and take some time to explore.
As seasoned and impressive as it may be, the Grand Canyon still needs our help. You can support the conservation efforts through a donation or purchase from the Grand Canyon Conservancy Store. The funds go toward the preservation of Arizona’s famous dark skies, different tribal cultural heritage sites, and hiking trails through the canyon.