Humphreys Peak

another interesting ancillary fact about the site of the Tusayan ruins is its location on a slope coming down from the rim of the Grand Canyon, which allows a clear view of the highest peak in Arizona, Humphreys Peak (reaching an elevation of 12,637 feet above sea level). Humphreys Peak was (re)named in 1911 for a Union General who served a a civil engineer prior to and throughout the Civil War. following the war, he served as chief of the Army Corps of Engineers until his retirement in 1879. he was also one of the men who incorporated the National Academy of Sciences.

known in Hopi as Aaloosaktukwi, it is part of an extinct volcano chain that last erupted some two million years ago. the peaks, now known as the San Francisco Peaks and within the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, are sacred to over a dozen tribes, including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. the peaks are said to contain abalone inside and be secured to the ground by a sunbeam. Humphrey’s Peak is associated with the Aalooska deity of the Two-Horn Society, which was based in the Hopi village in which the Spanish established a mission.

while native peoples have inhabited and worshiped on the land around the peaks for millennia, the first Europeans arrived in the mid-16th century and began building settlements in the 17th century. in 1629, a group of Spanish friars established a mission in at Awatovi (one of the largest Hopi villages and center of the Two-Horn Society); in the following century their successors named that mission in honor of St. Francis. in the 1870s, a follower of Brigham Young claimed land around the only reliable spring in the area, on the western side of the peaks and built a stockade to house workers toiling on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad.

the area first became protected federal land (as a forest reserve) by direction of President McKinley at the behest of Gifford Pinchot. local reaction was hostile but had no impact on the protection status of the land; further developments on the peaks during the last century have sparked further protest and debate. today, those debates center around the varied development plans of recreational venues throughout the peaks.

Tusayan Ruins

visiting the Grand Canyon at the end of January proves an understandably more subdued experience than making a trip in the height of the summer tourist season. off the main track on the road to the eastern entrance to the park, it’s a bit hard to imagine more than a handful of people exploring the Tusayan ruins on a given day during the peak of the year. that said, I am thankful we took the 20-odd mile trek to find it before heading back to Vegas.

storage rooms

people have inhabited the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years, first as hunter/gatherers, and later in established settlements, like Tusayan or those at Mesa Verde, as subsistence agriculture became the norm. people constructed this pueblo site around 1185 C.E., based on tree-ring data. at any time during the twenty years in which the site was inhabited, somewhere between 16 and 25 individuals lived in the pueblo. the excavated ruins consists of a series of living chambers, storage rooms, and a kiva. down the hill from the structure, a small parcel of farm land has also been identified. compared to the farms near which we live, it’s interesting to consider how a community of nearly two dozen people could subsist on a plot of that size, supplementing their diets with gathered plants and what animals they could hunt or trap.

evidence on the site suggests that a small, timber-construction kiva burned down and was replaced at some point with a much larger, stone one in the southeast corner of the compound. used for ceremonial activities, both kivas are larger than any other room in the complex. it’s large enough to for the entire community to gather comfortably, perhaps when colder winter weather kept them inside and the living quarters (really only large enough for sleeping) might prove a bit to close for comfort. the kiva ruins have a bench lining about half of the interior of the structure, with posts set into them to help support the roof of the kiva. entrance to the kiva was via a ladder that descended through a main hole in the roof; early kivas were often located underground, but by the time the Tusayan kivas were constructed, kivas were becoming more elaborate and were more likely to be constructed above-ground.

ruins of the larger kiva

there is no clear evidence as to why the inhabitants of this pueblo abandoned it after only twenty years, though it may have had something to do with conflict with other people nearby. charred timber ruins at other once-inhabited sites around the Colorado Plateau suggest that fighting among bands of people in the region was likely common. whatever the reason, Tusayan was largely left alone until the early 20th century, as tourism to the Grand Canyon became more popular. in 1928, a “trailside museum” sponsored by Laura Spelman Rockefeller (wife to John D. Rockefeller) in the style of a Hopi structure was erected to introduce tourists to the site. two years later, a group from the Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation of Globe, Arizona (founded by a New York stockbroker) began investigating and excavating the site further. preservation took place in 1948 and again in 1965, and the government placed the site on its National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Trail of Time

as the snow thwarted our plan to hike down into the canyon, we opted to walk along the rim instead. starting near the Grand Canyon Village, the “Trail of Time” introduces visitors to the geological stages and rock formations that make up the Canyon. bronze markers embedded in the trail every meter indicate the passage of one million years of geologic time, from about 2 billion years BCE to the present and examples of various rock formations march along the side of the trail.

the oldest rocks of the Canyon lie more than 3,000 feet below the rim and aren’t visible from the rim. the Elves Chasm Gneiss is only found near the Elves Chasm and while its origins aren’t precisely known, some geologists suspect it was part of an old continental crust. the oldest rocks visible from the rim are the Vishnu basement rocks, which consist of ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks formed deep beneath the earth’s surface when island arcs (like those found off Asia today) collided with a continental mass. the Vishnu formations are primarily crystalline in structure — schist, gneiss, and granite — which differs significantly from the layers of Canyon above it, which are primarily sedimentary in composition.

the Grand Canyon Supergroup, layers of rock that have tilted, make up the next set of geological features of the Canyon. both sedimentary and volcanic in nature, the layers of the Supergroup formed over some 400 million years as continents separated and a new ocean basin formed in the new space between. precise dating for the Supergroup proves somewhat challenging; normally fossil records would aid in those determinations but these layers formed prior the diversification that resulted in hard skeletal structures of creatures.

above the Supergroup are a series of sedimentary layers collectively known as Layered Paleozoic Rocks. despite being lumped together, each layer illustrates unique characteristics that resulted in its formation — the presence of coastal sand dunes, the bottom of an ocean, etc. they show similar characteristics so some of the other National Parks found nearby and which are also part of the Colorado Plateau (Zion, Bryce, Arches, etc.) — an area of mostly flat-lying sedimentary rocks that were elevated thousands of feet above sea level some 70 million years ago (when the Rocky Mountains formed) and were then carved out by erosion. it’s easiest to see the effects of this erosion in these layers; each type of rock deteriorates in its own manner and the result is the recognizable stepped-pyramid look of the Canyon walls. shale erosion forms slopes; sandstone and limestone, cliffs; metamorphic, steep slopes as seen in the Vishnu basement rocks near the river.

the layer that forms the rim was the most recent set down. the Kaibab Formation formed in a shallow, warm sea about 270 million years ago — before dinosaurs roamed the earth. it covers a huge portion of the southwest, stretching from Northern Arizona into Utah, Nevada, and California.

the trail ends at the Yavapi Museum of Geology, originally dedicated as an observation point for studying geology in 1928. it now houses various interpretative exhibits, a topographical representation of the canyon, and binoculars to give people a chance to glimpse the river rushing  along at the base of the Canyon. it was also rather sweltering, trying overly hard to keep the bright, sunny, 40-ish weather outside.

Grandview Hotel

on our way back from the Tusayan ruins (about which more to come), I took driver’s prerogative and stopped at several vistas to snap pictures and admire the Canyon. one of those locations was the site of the former Grandview Hotel, one of the first lodging options for tourists at the Grand Canyon.

in 1886, a rancher named John Hance opened his land up to visitors. thought to be one of the first non-Native American residents of the Grand Canyon area, after failing as an asbestos miner, Hance developed trails and took groups of visitors down into the Canyon. he sold his ranch to a couple of miners working around the point in 1895 to focus on guiding and serving as postmaster. he died the year the site became a National Park and was the first man buried in the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

while successfully extracting copper, gold and silver, from claims just below Grandview Point, miners Ralph Cameron and Pete Berry improved the hiking trail into the Canyon by partially following an existing Native American path and employing mules to transport goods and people along the route. Cameron and Berry capitalized on the growth in tourism, developing services for visitors including a lodging at both Grandview Point and farther along the rim near what is now the Bright Angel Trailhead.

between 1892 and 1897, Berry and his wife, Martha, put his share of the mine profits into a rambling, rustic lodge they named the Grandview Hotel. they aimed for an “authentic” Southwest quality, using Ponderosa pine for construction and featuring Native American crafts throughout the lodge. when the Santa Fe Railroad completed a line to Williams in 1901, the Berrys offered free stage transportation to their hotel to encourage visitors. they sold the Grandview property the following year, however, to a mining company from Chicago and set up a new hotel on their homestead property nearby.

competition heated up in 1905 when the Santa Fe Railroad built the extravagant El Tovar Hotel across from their new depot (and which still stands today at the heart of Grand Canyon Village). the Berrys struggled, eventually dividing and selling their property in an effort to foster a community to rival the growing Grand Canyon Village. the venture failed but when Santa Fe offered to buy their property, the Berrys refused, opting instead to sell to William Randolph Hearst in 1913 pleased with the idea that a wealthy man had thwarted the corporation that put them out of business. Hearst closed the hotels, however, maintaining the properties as a family retreat in the short term; the Berrys served as caretakers for the property until their retirement in 1919. when Martha and Pete died, in 1931 and 1932 respectively, they were buried in the Grand Canyon cemetery along with John Hance.

despite leaving the Grandview and Berry properties as family retreats, Hearst did harbor aspirations of developing a grand tourist resort on the land, which the budding National Parks Service, which assumed supervision of the Park in 1919, found troubling (I wonder how much the railroad lobby had to do with that …). the Parks Service successfully concentrated tourist services management under the aegis of a single concessionaire — the company responsible for the Santa Fe-owned hotels. after this, while Hearst retained ownership of his property, he let the buildings fall into disrepair before finally dismantling the Grandview and selling some of the beams. in 1941, the Parks Service gained control of the Hearst property through condemnation; he did not take lightly to this challenge and waged a typically searing (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign against the government in the press. the Parks Service finally dismantled the Summit Hotel in 1959, though some of the mining structures left from the Hearst property remain as historical artifacts on Horseshoe Mesa.

Kolb Studios

the morning after our arrival at the Grand Canyon, we’d hoped to hike part way down the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon. unfortunately, the snow that had fallen in previous days had packed down on the shaded trail and both signs and rangers warned that crampons or some other method of “traction control” were strongly recommended.

disinclined to fork out the inflated price for Yaktrax, we opted to hike along the South Rim instead, from the Kolb Studio at the Grand Canyon Village back to the Visitor’s Center. I’m glad we made the effort to trek around the construction blocking access to the Bright Angel Trailhead, at the top of which perches the Kolb Studios.

Studio from the Bright Angel Trailhead

for those of you familiar with the Wisconsin Dells, the Kolb Brothers (Emery and Ellsworth) were to the Grand Canyon as H.H. Bennett was to the Dells, taking remarkable, breathtaking daring shots of the natural wonder of the Canyon and Colorado River. the brothers arrived at the Canyon in 1901 and 1902, one working as a bellhop in the lodge and the other hoping for work in an asbestos mine. fortunately for Emery, the mine had closed by his arrival and he stumbled upon a photography shop for sale in Williams; having previously dabbled in photography, he took the risk of the sale and began snapping shots of visitors winding their way down the Bright Angel Trail on mule trains.

initially, they operated out of a tent studio on the rim of the canyon. with the success of their business, however, allowed them to carve a shelf out of the canyon rim and construct a permanent building, which stands today as the core of the studio and museum. the studio grew through several additions including, most importantly, an auditorium in which the brothers screened the film that made them famous. though Ellsworth moved west to Los Angeles in 1924, Emery continued to run the studio and screen the film until his death in 1976, making it the longest, continually-running motion picture in the history.

the Kolb Brother’s canvas boat with cork life vest

after enjoying wide success from unique photos from the base of the Canyon and along the River, in 1911 the brothers undertook to navigate the Green and Colorado Rivers, through the Grand Canyon, eventually ending in Needles, California. the expedition took two months and they took the resulting moving picture show, the “Grand Canyon Film Show,” on tour across the country, playing to packed houses from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City. upon returning from the screening tour, Ellsworth bought another boat and rode the spring flood from Needles to the Gulf of California, and recounted the entire adventure in the still-in-print Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico.

as I said, Emery stayed and worked in the studio until his death, continuing to photograph the Canyon and Rim as it became increasingly popular with tourists, changing and growing around him. proceeds from the studio and his photography helped support the entire family.

for more images of the studio, as well as the current exhibit in the studio on the Kolb Brothers, check out the National Park’s photostream.