I’ve seen it from a plane, but nothing compares to seeing the spectacle that is the Grand Canyon up close. It reminds us that nature is a powerful force and one we need to respect and conserve. It seems contradictory that the ravages of wind, water, and fire can create such beauty. We can harness their forces, but never truly control them.
I was going to drive to the Grand Canyon but I was offered a discounted tour at my resort, so I opted for this option. I was able to enjoy a narrated trip with our tour guide, Lynn, and sit back and look at the scenery instead of the traffic. If you’re traveling alone, I’ve found tours allow me to appreciate the view and learn about the history and facts of the area while enjoying the company of others. I was the only single on the tour, but I didn’t feel out of place. I was able to wander off, taking the time to view scenery and shops at my own pace, as long as I returned to the van before it left. Lunch and the entry fee to the park were covered and Lynn was a valuable source of information about the Park, Native Americans, and history of the Canyon.
We started our journey in Flagstaff and motored across the beautiful, but often barren landscape toward some of the most stunning rock formations in the world. Along the way, we passed The Painted Desert National Park, a U.S. desert of badlands in the Four Corners area, located on land owned by the Navajo Nation but part of the National Park System. It’s known for its brilliant and varied colors, including red rock and even shades of lavender. It was named by part of an expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Seven Cities of Gold. After finding the cities weren’t golden, Coronado sent an expedition to find the Colorado River to resupply his men. On their way, they came upon the wonderland of colors. They named the area “El Desierto Pintado”, The Painted Desert. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Painted_Desert_(Arizona)
Farther down the road we passed the gas station featured in the movie, “Easy Rider”, and some Spanish Mustangs which are descendants of the horses that came with Coronado’s and other expeditions. We drove by the area near the Little Colorado River Gorge where Nik Wallenda crossed on a tightrope. Our first stop was at the Cameron Trading Post Gift Shop where I viewed Navajo art at their gallery. There is also a motel and food is available. https://www.camerontradingpost.com/shop.html
During the trip, Lynn told us about the Navajo Nation’s traditions and current way of life. It is a matriarchal society where property in inherited by the women with the grandmothers being the most respected members of their families and their own government. If a woman divorces a man, he’s left with nothing and must go to a Relocation Area since he no longer has a home. Since these areas have more up-to-date conveniences, some of the Navajo prefer to live there. That hasn’t always been the case though since both the Hopi and Navajo have been relocated in the past so their land could be used for other purposes by the government and settlers. The Native Americans have always fought for their rights in wars and the courts, but in recent times have found that educating their children in business and other areas has helped them create jobs and make money for their tribes.
These are just some of the bits of knowledge shared by our guide. She also told us that when it comes to the buying of products at the stands that dot the roadside, it’s preferred you don’t try to bargain unless it’s initiated by the owner. Another thing she mentioned was that Navajo children are not always named by their parents at birth since their family needs time to get to know them. They may have several names during their lifetime and if delivered at a hospital a traditional Anglican name may be given by the nurse who helped with the delivery. There was a time when Navajo children were forced to go attend boarding schools and not speak their language so couldn’t use their traditional name. That was another dark time among many others in the Navajo history.
Navajo Art in the Desert View Watchtower
We stopped at several viewing points to see the spectacular panoramic views of the beautiful sequence of rock layers that have been formed over time by the forces of nature. There’s rock that’s over 2 billion years old at the bottom of the canyon. It has been exposed over time by land masses colliding and drifting apart, mountains forming and eroding away, sea levels rising and falling, and the moving water of flash floods running off the surrounding mountains into the Colorado River. Since it’s located in the desert, little vegetation conceals the geology of the area, so the view from the rim shows all of its splendor. If you’re interested in the details of how the Grand Canyon was formed go to http://www.bobspixels.com/kaibab.org/geology/gc_geol.htm .
Our guide told us the typical person who most often falls off the rim or is bitten by snakes is a 25-year-old tattooed drunken man. Dying from heat or dehydration is a more common cause of death in the Canyon but it’s also the site of suicides and plane crashes. See http://www.mygrandcanyonpark.com/falling-to-death-grand-canyon/.
On June 30, 1956, The Grand Canyon was the site of a mid-air collision when a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 struck a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. All 128 on board both flights perished. According to the book “Blind Trust” by John J. Nance, the two aircraft approached the Grand Canyon at the same altitude and similar airspeeds. The pilots were likely maneuvering around towering cumulus clouds, even though Visual Flying Rules (VFR) required the planes to stay in clear air. As they maneuvered near the canyon, it’s believed the planes passed a cloud on opposite sides leading to the collision. It was thought both pilots may have been trying to give the passengers a better view of the canyon. This tragedy led to sweeping changes in the control of flights in the U.S. The location of the crash has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Many stories have come out of the building of the railroad and the rise of tourism in the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon was the Santa Fe Railroad’s main tourist destination. Fred Harvey’s Harvey Houses were instrumental in bringing ample food portions at reasonable prices in clean, elegant restaurants to the travelers throughout the Southwest. Harvey hired architect and designer, Mary Colter, a lifelong single, to build many of the Canyon’s landmark Harvey Houses. Colter blended Pueblo Revival, Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Rustic architectural styles along with Mexican carved-wood and hand-painted furnishings, and Native American artistic motifs to help create a style widely popular in the Southwest. It influenced a generation of Western U.S. architecture through the National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps for many years. She once had builders tear down several stories of the Desert View Watchtower because they didn’t place a rock according to her design. Colter’s buildings on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon included lodges, souvenirs shops, and special lookout points that are on the National Register of Historic Places. See https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/photosmultimedia/mary-colter—indian-watchtower.htm
In 1883, Harvey placed ads in newspapers throughout the East Coast and Midwest for “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent”. The girls were paid $17.50 a month (approximately $450 in 2017 dollars), generous by the standards of the time to start, plus room, board, and gratuity. The women had a strict 10 p.m. curfew, administered by a senior Harvey Girl who assumed the role and responsibilities of house mother. The skirt of their official starched black and white uniform hung no more than eight inches off the floor. The hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup was absolutely prohibited as was chewing gum while on duty. Harvey Girls were required to enter into a one-year employment contract, and forfeited half their base pay should they fail to complete the terms of service. This didn’t stop them from marrying though since there were few women in the Old West so marriage was the most common reason for a girl to terminate her employment. One of the older servers at the restaurant where I ate a Navajo Taco was a former Harvey Girl. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Harvey_Company
A preserved “Harvey Girl” uniform
See my Facebook Page, Single Boomer Life, for more stories about the Grand Canyon. If you delve into the creation and of this natural wonder and the history that surrounds it, you’ll find it’s more than just a giant hole in the ground like so many people think. The Grand Canyon and its lore make it a destination for all Single Baby Boomers.
Continue the Adventure!