Monday, April 6, 2015

The Grand Canyon, Williams and Mary Colter

We spent Easter Sunday in the Grand Canyon National Park.  We thought it might be a lite day for travelers visiting the park.  Boy, where we wrong.  There were scads of people seeking to see the wonder that is the canyon.  We have been to several National Parks recently and each one has presented different and magnificent views into the history and geology of this place that we call home.  The Grand Canyon was about to amaze us.  We entered the park from the Flagstaff side and took the first right after the entrance that was going to lead us to the Desert View Point.  A little further down the road we took another left and after driving a short distance it became apparent that the canyon was on our left and it wasn’t very far from the roadbed we were traveling on.  As you travel down the road the canyon runs parallel with you anywhere from several feet to several hundred yards.  The viewpoints along the way open as you drive up.

Our first viewpoint took our breath away.  There are no words to describe standing on the side of the Grand Canyon looking out across the vastness of it, looking down the see the river running through it and thinking about the tens of thousands of years that the river has been there creating such a wonder.
I took pictures, but like all great things, pictures don’t do justice to what has occurred in nature.  We stopped at several viewpoints and the results were always the same.  A complete lack of words to express how huge and wonderful the canyon is.  Unfortunately the day was cloudy and the views were not as sharp as they could be had the haze not been hanging along the edges of the canyon.  You just end up standing in awe.

We continued to the Desert View Point and found more spectacular views as well as a watchtower built to resemble a Pueblo Peoples Watchtower.  It is a circular design rising 70 feet above the cliff with four stories, each with their own special designs and ancient artifacts.  It was designed by American architect, Mary Colter and completed in 1932.  Surprisingly, we ran into another Mary Colter building in Winslow the day before.

Mary Colter died in 1958 at the age of 88 and she used her life to put the American Southwest on the map by creating the Fred Harvey Hotels for the Santa Fe Railroad and the Grand Canyon. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania her family traveled throughout the Southwest after the Civil War.  Colter began working for the Fred Harvey organization in 1910 and over the next thirty years, working in difficult conditions, she completed 21 projects for him.  From what I have read about her, each of her projects for the Santa Fe Railroad were designed after she came up with a fictionalized history of the structure.  One such structure exists today in Winslow, Arizona and has been painstakingly brought back to its rich past and today is the hotel La Posada.  Without realizing it at the time, we toured the hotel grounds and went inside to see some of the details.  Today the original wooden door frames still exist and there are very faded images on the glass surrounding them.  I asked one of the folks working there about them.  She was the first to name Mary Colter to me and she stated that Colter didn’t like blinds in public spaces so she had images painted on one piece of glass and then sandwiched the picture with another piece.  Today you can see the fade images in the glass next to the courtyard entry doors.

The following was taken from the home page of the La Posada hotel website.

Mary Colter always began designing her buildings by creating a rich fantasy about their history. She envisioned La Posada as the grand hacienda of a wealthy Spanish landowner, whose family lived here for 120 years, occasionally expanding the hotel until it finally resembled the structure we see today. This fantasy guided every aspect of her architectural design.
Don Alphonso de los Pajaros walked one last time among the peacocks. The market crash of 1929 had wiped him out. La Posada, his family home for 120 years, had been sold to the Santa Fe Railway. The childless Don Alphonso whispered goodbye to the birds and old trees, to the art and the furniture, and to the memories collected by four generations of his fabled forebears watching quietly from every corner of the hacienda. “Keep watch for me,” he murmured.
The estancia had been wrested from the wilderness before there were cattle, before the steam trains shattered the stillness of the high desert, by the stubborn will of Don Pajaro’s great, great grandparents.
The first Don and Dona, Spanish Basques by way of Mexico, arrived in the early 1800s with a collection of books and exotic birds in elaborate, wrought iron follies. They set about building La Posada as an oasis in this strange land of dancing katsina spirits and Navajos on Spanish horses courtesy of Don’s Tovar and Onate generations before.
The oldest part of the home—the central two floors—rose like a dream adrift in a sea of wild sage. The second Don Pajaro grew the herd to 20,000 head, watering greedily from the headwaters of the Little Colorado all the way to Grand Falls, and added the east wing (now the dining room and railway offices) as the ranch quarters. Here the empire prospered: Furniture was made, ranch hands bunked down, and the huge ranch kitchens produced everything from tallow candles to hides for the market at Santa Fe and for trade to the Indians.
To relieve the isolation, the family traveled and collected. The third Don fell from his horse at the age of 43, leaving the Dona to reign, queen of the painted desert, for 30 years. It was she, finally too old to travel, who sold land to the Atlantic & Pacific on the condition that their shiny trains pass the front door of La Posada and bring the world to her, a parade of steel and steam, passengers marveling at the grand hacienda on their way to fortune in California.
The fourth Don Pajaro was a man of great culture born to fabulous wealth and a million-acre ranch. He added the west wing—33 guest rooms for his friends—and built gardens that were the envy of the Arizona Territory. By 1920, the hacienda looked as it does today—72,000 square feet of wonders from around the world. By 1930, it was all over; everything was sold, and it was not enough.
The Harveys, who were contracted to run the hacienda as a new hotel, promised to maintain La Posada like a proud estate. The guest rooms would be rented. Travelers would dine beneath the Pajaro’s magnificent chandeliers, seated beside the Pajaro’s patron saints—planting, cooking, and building in their fragile and forgotten innocence.
The last Don bade quiet goodbye to his staff and beloved La Posada in the early dawn, walked out the door, with nothing but the ebony cane of the first Don and two parrots perched happily on his shoulders, and was never seen again.
Every spring, a flock of turkey vultures arrives, Spanish grandees in black satin, and watchfully circles until winter. Guests still claim to see the Don at twilight, quietly strolling the gardens in the magnificent Arizona sunset.

I could go into the geology of the area but you can look it up yourself on the Grand Canyon website or ask Google.  Everything is there to explain what happened to create this magnificent landscape.  We spent several hours inside the park, looking at different views from many viewpoints before leaving and heading down to Williams, Arizona. 

Williams is what Winslow hopes to be, calling itself, “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon.”  It looks as though they have made some changes that get prospects off the I-40 interstate and into their town.  Williams has the Grand Canyon Railroad that takes visitors to the Grand Canyon Village inside the National Park.  Route 66 traveled through the city.  It was the last town to have the their city bypassed when after several lawsuits they were able to get the state to provide three exits.  So the iconic Route 66 still exists in Williams and there are businesses that supply every possible Route 66 souvenir you could possibly want.  I wanted none.

Hope all is well and thanks for stopping by.

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