Grand Canyon Village
What to See at the Grand Canyon Village
By Radu Timis
MATHER POINT. CANYON VIEW INFORMATION PLAZA. Mather Point took the name of the first director of the National Park Service: Stephen T. Mather. He was a retired millionaire, loved fast cars, outdoor activity, and western landscape. Franklin Lane, US Secretary of Interior in 1914 offered Mather the job of first director of the National Park Service, which he took in 1916.
The best view from this point is of the Tonto Platform, a thousand feet below, with a faint Tonto Trail running east-west and parallel with the Inner Gorge. The South Kaibab Trail is also clearly visible, flopping down from near Yaki Point, beside O’Neill Butte, and down toward Colorado River. Otherwise, the panoramic view is a bit obstructed by Yavapai Point in the west, and Yaki point on east. Even though not the best views, the Mather Point is in a very close proximity to the Canyon View Information Plaza, south and across the road from Mather Point’s parking lot. It is the first point where the motorists arrive, and can park, after entering the south gate of the Park. The Plaza is a modern visitor-interpretative center that should be the first stop in The Village to plan for activities. With a large and useful palette of information about Canyon’s geology, demographics, flora, fauna, history of development, “who’s who” in Village, trail maps, ranger led programs, weather, indoor activities, bicycling, orientation maps, the Plaza is reachable only by free shuttle bus or walking. In the large complex, there is a Canyon View center, a rich bookstore, souvenir shop, restrooms and vending machines.
YAVAPAI POINT. Yavapai Observation Station is the Village’s first interpretative center and museum since 1928 to 1957, half a mile west of Mather Point. At that time the north side of the station was open to elements. Today the station houses a bookstore, exhibits, sells souvenirs, and shelters an inside observation point with huge windows. The belvedere point thrusts into the canyon like a mythical fist, laying under one’s eyes an indelible view of the immensity, length, depth, width, and shape of the Nature’s wonder. Upriver, Wotan’s Throne and Vishnu Temple formations rise near North Rim’s Cape Royal. The Desert’s Palisades forming the canyon’s east wall, beyond Desert View, turns northward, toward Little Colorado River. Walking just a few yards west of Yavapai on the paved path, the greenish, lush Indian Garden is partially visible down in the chasm. Across the Colorado River, down in the inner gorge’s ravine, Phantom Ranch, a rustic, inner canyon resort can be seen.
SANTA FE RAILROAD DEPOT. A couple of hundred yards south of El Tovar Hotel the depot was completed in 1910 by architect Francis Wilson (Santa Barbara, CA), as a rustic complex in order to complement El Tovar Hotel. It is the only log depot surviving in USA. Today, it looks much as it did when built 97 years ago.
EL TOVAR HOTEL/VERCAMPS CURIOS/ HOPI HOUSE. Grand Canyon Railway commissioned architect Charles Whittlesey in 1905 to design and build El Tovar Hotel, four storeys, and as a combination between a Swiss chalet and a rustic structure. It cost $250,000 at that time, with 100 rooms, an elegant restaurant, art galleries, solarium, rooms for music, wine testing, pool/billiard, “rendezvous”, and a roof top garden. People were leisurely walking around, arranged guided trips along the rim, or 8-10 hours ride on mule train down to the river. Activity was bustling around the hotel with mule trains, horse drawn wagons, and Fred Harvey’s new cars used in touring the visitors. Today, El Tovar still offers a remarkable level of comfort and luxury. ( No pets. Call 303-29PARKS).
In late 1800s John G. Vercamp moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, in Flagstaff, AZ, and then in Village. In 1898 he started selling native crafts, artifacts, and souvenirs to tourists from a simple tent, just ten of yards east of El Tovar. Later on he built Vercamps Curios. The uniqueness of the building, for that time, was its roof designed inclined to collect rainfall into a special large recipient under building’s porch. John and Catherine’s descendants still own the shop today, being the only family owned concession on Grand Canyon National Park’s territory.
Hopi House (1905) was the first big architectural assignment of architect Mary Colter. She built it in the style of an ancient south-western pueblo (Navajo, Anasazi, and Pueblo), east of El Tovar Hotel and steps from Vercapms Curios, not at all in harmony with the new hotel’s style. In contrast with Charles Whittlesey, Mary Colter was, along with Fred Harvey’s and the railroad, a big promoter of the emerging southwestern indian arts and crafts. Yesterday, as today, The Hopi House is a stunning display of a phenomenal array of good tastes, imagination, and craftsmanship, and was the place where Hopi Indians worked and crafted their art.
BRIGHT ANGEL LODGE. The Bright Angel Hotel and a tent camp beside it were the Village’s first accommodations. They were built in 1896 by James Thurber. In 1901 he sold to Martin Buggeln, from Williams, AZ. A tent rent for $1.50-$2.00; a hotel room for $2.50-$3.00; attire, horse, guide, for $5.00. Santa Fe Railroad bought the hotel and tent camp in 1905, and architect Francis Wilson gave a new face to a new complex. Fred Harvey Co. administered and managed the complex as a budget alternative to El Tovar Hotel. A small and narrow wooden boardwalk was fixed over mud, livestock droppings, and dust, linking the tent camp with Bright Angel Hotel. In 1935 the railroad rebuilt the hotel, replaced the tent camp with guest houses, and changed totally the look of the complex, that was renamed The Bright Angel Lodge. The author of these changes was architect Mary Coulter, who remodeled the historic building as a one storey rustic lodge, and organized a complex of wooden cabins as guest houses, just yards west of the lodge. The changes were done at a cost of $500.000, while dramatic village refashioning was taking place: the road from El Tovar to Hermit Rest paved; Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) removed the boardwalk and asphalted the canyon’s rim, in front of the hotels, from Vercamps to Kolb Studio; masonry wall replaced the rail fence on the edge of the canyon; the overhead utility lines were buried, to avoid obstructing the view. Today The Bright Angel Lodge is bustling, as before, with tourist activity, people in awe from all corners of the world; the horses, buggies, wagons, and Ford-Ts being replaced by large, luxurious tours buses, and computerized cars; the large registers in reception area, with computers, telephones and Concierge desks. ( Open all year. No pets. Call 303-29PARKS).
THE LOOKOUT STUDIO was completed by architect Mary Colter in 1914, just a short walk west of Bright Angel Lodge, and is one of the many structures in The Village built by her, from 1905 to 1937. It is blending admirably with the surrounding ambient landscape, with stone walls, flat roof, log timbers. There are two lookout points. The gift shop sells rocks, fossil specimens, souvenirs, books, post cards, and photographic prints. Open 8 am- 7 pm in summer, and 9 am-5 pm in winter. Call 928-638-2631, ext. 6087.
THE KOLB STUDIO. Built by Ellsworth and Emery Kolb in 1904 on a Ralph Cameron’s mining claim, steps west of Lookout studio, at the Bright Angel Trail’s head, and just on the canyon’s very edge. The brothers did pioneer work ranging from help in construction of the Bright Angel Trail, photography (later filming), entertaining, canoeing the river, scouting the inner canyon, doing business in Village. The Emery Kolb family remained for decades in that house expanding it many times until 1926. After Emery Kolb’s death in 1976, the house was acquired by National Park Service, and a newer face was given by the Grand Canyon Association. The studio contains today a bookstore, an art gallery, selling post cards, posters, souvenirs, CDs.
MASWIK LODGE/VICINITY. Less than half a mile southwest of Bright Angel Lodge and Railway Depot Loop, once stood a small woody lodge structure surrounded by as many as 120-150 single, duplex, and fourplex cabins. All of them were torn down in 1926-1927 by Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey Co. They realized that a new automobile age is coming, and to meet the drivers’ needs, they built a “motor lodge”, in anticipation of today’s motels, calling it Maswik Lodge. The name is a Indian Hopi kachina (doll) guarding the canyon. Today the lodge has rooms and cabins with all the modern amenities. Just a small row of cabins, built before 1926, and renovated, still stand north of the main lodge.
West of the community center, close to Maswik Lodge, is Victor Hall, designed and built by Mary Colter in 1936 as Fred Harvey Co’s men dormitory. In the following year Mary Colter built The Colter Hall, dormitory for women, just below El Tovar Hotel. The two storey Community Building was erected in 1935 just north of Maswik and served as a public meeting hall, auditorium, and later in the 20th century as a movie theater. For Maswik call 303-29PARKS. No pets.
THE MULE BARNS/POWERHOUSE. A very few structures from the early 1900s remained in the village when the National Park Service took the administration. The horse and mule barns (built in 1907) are standing on their original foundations, along with the blacksmith’s shop (1908) across the road from barns and south of it. Then like today, the wranglers saddle the horses and mules early in the morning, going to The Bright Angel Lodge stone corral where guests, wranglers/guides and mules meet for a humorous habit: here the animals’ size and temperament are matched with the riders. The huge Powerhouse was built in 1926 by architect William Mohr just north of barns. The powerhouse controlled and regulated the flow of drinking water, brought by pipes from Indian Garden, 4.5 miles below the rim. Its enormous turbines produced the necessary electrical power and steam heat for the entire village. The Laundry plant (1926) immediately west of powerhouse, met the needs of the 5000 daily visitors. All these buildings were raised in Swiss chalet style, made of timber and rustic stone, as the railroad company’s dominant taste at that time.
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