Grand Canyon -South Rim IS different|
By Bonnie Parmenter and Fred Baines
- American Roads Travel Magazine
Photo Credit NPS
The road from the North Rim leaves the trees and crosses next to red rumba skirts of desert cliffs, scrubby gray-green vegetation marking the stream beds’ meander and mysterious, smooth dull green hills that look like great buried sea mammals. The hills are weathered layers of ochre, umber and maroon. Gatherings of small buildings, often including a hogan or two, seem almost startling on the dry landscape, like finding a cluster of mushrooms pushing up in the middle of a cement parking lot. Native American trinket/craft lean-tos hover next to the highway every few miles, many empty this early in the season. Near Cameron Chief Yellowhorse has a stand similar to the one at the west entrance to the area, announcing in a Burma Shave series of signs that you have missed the biggest chance of a lifetime if you don’t stop and give Chief Yellowhorse some of your money. We do stop of give some of our money to the Trading Post at Cameron, which has grown even bigger than last time we saw it.
RAINBOW IN THE GRAND CANYON AS SEEN FROM NEAR MATHER POINT ON THE SOUTH RIM, GRAND CANYON N.P. NPS PHOTO
As we drive I read from Stephen J. Pyne’s How the Canyon Became Grand. He gives a detailed summary of cultural attitudes behind the early Conquistador’s sightings, the early Mormon’s knowledge and finally the Army Corp of Topographic Engineers. The canyon was a discouraging, inconvenient impediment to travel until the realization (invention?!) of geology and standards of beauty that “understood” a canyon so huge. The peak moment: “In 1903 Teddy Roosevelt, then President of the United States, rode a train along a specially constructed spur track to the opulent El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim and proclaimed to reporters of the New York Sun that the landscape before them was one of the ‘great sights every American should see.’ ” We took this same train---well, a train on this track---our first day Williams.
THE GRAND CANYON RAILWAY OFFERS DAILY SERVICE BETWEEN GRAND CANYON N.P. AND WILLIAMS, AZ. NPS PHOTO.
Thinking about the significance of the Canyon while we are here is fun. The book is an amazing challenge with vocabulary and sentence structure that has been a sizzling brain jolt with sentences like this:
Coming three years before Copernicus published De revolutionibus, the symbolic prolegomenon to the scientific revolution, only twenty years after Magellan’s fleet first circumnavigated the globe, and nearly thirty years before Mercator synthesized the known geography of the terra nova orbis with his famous projection, the Spanish had little context for the revelation of the Canyon.
Whew! Williams, the beginning of that “specially constructed spur” is a very small (except for all the tourists passing through) Western town with a loop of two one-way streets that create a ten-block long downtown area. Other than that and the railroad depot, that’s about it for Williams, but we really fell in love with it in our nine days’ stay. There are no traffic lights. Route 66 is the east-bound section where most of the historic motels are. Restored and to-be-restored 50’s cars share the streets with trucks carrying huge water tanks or bladders. Unless you live in town, you haul your own water or have it delivered. Real Estate descriptions include the note of a 2,000 gallon underground water tank. (How many showers could you take with that???) The dry air and stiff wind, along with the old brick and adobe buildings, create a real “old West” feeling. Quaint shops like the Rustic Raspberry and the Mothball Antiques flank Cruisers Barbeque and Twisters Soda Fountain.
LOOKOUT STUDIO (1914) DESIGNED BY MARY COLTER, IS PERCHED ON THE EDGE OF THE CANYON IN THE SOUTH RIM HISTORIC DISTRICT, GRAND CANYON N. P. NPS PHOTO.
The owner at The Red Garter chatted with us for about an hour about (1) his building, which was a bordello with even a two-story outhouse. It was built so well that it has been the stopping wall for three different fires over the last hundred years. (2) The local political temper---locals sometimes want one thing, tourist business another. The Grand Canyon train is the major employer and what has kept Williams on the map (see www.thetrain.com). After its inauguration in 1901, and Roosevelt’s famous stop here, it flourished until the “car period”. In 1968 the last train went to the Canyon with only three passengers. For twenty years the track was idle, until Max and Thelma Biegert re-established the service in 1989. Rather than write off the section of the rail that had been sold to them as a bad investment, after a consultation with Disney planners, they went on to build the track up and add a hotel, restaurant, aquatic center, Youth Recreation Center, and a multitude of jobs for Williams. Today was the beginning of two separate trips a day---we can see the train pass the RV park from the back of JJ. Fred loves steam engines---and diesel, too---and we upheld the RV park tradition of running out to wave at the train each time it came past. Waving at a train is a uniquely satisfying experience. In addition, to our surprise, we saw the American Orient Express, pulled by AmTrak engines. Only about $6,000 dollars for a 7 day tour of the National Parks.
We took the train up to the South Rim our first day here. From the Observation car we had a great view of the Ponderosa pines, cedar, pinyon and dry grasslands. One of the things about the Grand Canyon is that you can’t see it until you actually get there. It’s not like approaching a mountain. We could imagine why early explorers would avoid this dry and empty land. The Grand Canyon Train is the only full-time employer of musicians in this area and we were serenaded by Colonel Jim Garvey (They Call the Wind Mariah, Ghost Riders in the Sky----lots of Western classics) and a Native American, Clarence Clearwater, who pointed out that his sisters have PhDs but he has the job. Our time at the Rim seemed very short, and of course, dealing with so many PEOPLE, even this early in the season, is a major issue. We went up on our own later in the week, and still felt the same. From the porch at Bright Angel Lodge we could see a sea of eight tour buses along with the Park’s shuttle buses and tourists’ cars. The North Rim was a spiritual experience and there is probably some of that for the hoards of people on the South Rim, but I actually found myself wondering why on earth so many people had come from so many miles away, what mystic urge is this that draws so many?? Why is the Canyon Grand?
MARY COLTER'S BRIGHT ANGEL LODGE (1935) GRAND CANYON N.P. NPS PHOTO
As I finished the book about the Canyon, and traveled onward across the West, I began to have more perspective and found that I had fallen in love with Her. Carl Sandburg said, “Each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon.” I don’t know that I see myself, but I see how She moved from an obstacle to travel---at first because you couldn’t get across and then because you couldn’t get up or down the river, and then how She became a key exhibit in the realization that the earth was, in fact, VERY old and that perhaps evolution was true (I know, we are still arguing that one, huh). Then She became a source of pride and wonder for America, and the river a symbol of freedom and wilderness. I have seen the North Rim and the South Rim, and to really know the Grand Canyon, someday I want to ride the river (a calm part, please, but some part in that deep gorge). So maybe what I see of myself is that there is always more to see, more to do. Yes!
Bonnie Parmenter, author
Fred Baines, photographer and navigator
Bonnie and Fred travel in a Dolphin RV during the summer months each year throughout the Western states with their three cats. Bonnie is a retired teacher, Fred is retired Air Force.
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