The popularity of the Grand Canyon was partially created by a copper mine. It was called the Anita Mine. It was located about 15 miles from the Grand Canyon South Rim and was small but profitable. However, it was difficult to ship the ore from the mine to where it could be processed.
Enter Bucky O’Neill, the Sheriff of Yavapai County and the Mayor of Prescott. O’Neill was able to convince investors to build a railroad from the Anita mine down to Williams, Arizona – a connecting point for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.
Eventually, this mine railroad became a 64-mile railroad carrying tourists to the South Rim of the Canyon. It opened for this purpose in 1901. Santa Fe eventually took over the operation of the railway. It is in operation today.
At first, there was very little infrastructure on the canyon rim. Tourists camped on the rim of the canyon, captivated by the spectacular view. There were no sleeping facilities or food service.
To serve the increasing number of visitors, the Santa Fe brought the Fred Harvey Company into the picture to build a hotel, restaurant and other facilities. I’m certain that when these things were built, some lamented that the place would never be the same. But development of this part of Grand Canyon is one of the reasons that the most visited areas of the Canyon are on the South Rim.
How much development is good? How much development is too much? The Grand Canyon faced this issue in 1901 and is facing this issue today.
When I stand on the rim of the Canyon, I look out over a spectacular vision. The view changes constantly as the sun changes its angle. When I am there my vision and senses seem as one with the natural environment. It is easy to be enveloped in the mood and spirit of the Canyon.
What about a glass and steel circular path, jutting 70 feet over the canyon edge, so that people can have the thrill of looking down to the bottom of the canyon, suspended in air above it? . Would that change the mood? Well, the Hualapai People have built it just outside the boundaries of the National Park.
What about a gondola ride from the top of the canyon to the bottom, in plain view?
Would that interfere with the visual appreciation of the Canyon?
What about building two hotels, a restaurant, a cultural center?
What about a modern elevated walkway to get a better view of the old river?
Would these additions break the spirit of the Canyon or reveal the wonders of the Canyon to larger crowds of people? These are hard judgments that have to be made.
Developer R. Lamar Whitmer thinks a new hotel project in an untouched, pristine part of the Canyon, just outside the Park, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, is a fine idea.
The project is named The Grand Canyon Escalade. An “escalade” means a military assault on fortified walls…in this case, the walls of The Grand Canyon.
Whitmer thinks the Escalade would be a good thing for visitors and for the Native Americans, who live there.
“If they’re going to sustain their people and preserve their culture, they have to create some jobs,”Whitmer says. “Fifty percent of the Navajos are living off reservation now. The ones that stay live on the impoverished – if not the most impoverished – place in the State.”
For that reason, some Navajo are in favor of the development, but other Navajo, along with Hopi and Zuni people, consider the empty land sacred.
Opposition to the project is organized by Save The Confluence, composed of Native Americans, who believe the proposal is the wrong kind of economic development near The Confluence (http://savetheconfluence.com/).
Right now, the land around the junction of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado is pretty much the same way it was when John Wesley Powell first explored it and described it in his book, ‘The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons,” which I have recorded as a Listen2Read audiobook.
Powell described it:
“This stream (the Little Colorado) enters through a canyon on a scale quite as grand as that of the Colorado itself……I climb several hundred feet at one place and can see for several miles up the chasm through which the river runs……discover a trail deeply worn into the rock…I see no evidence of its having been traveled for a long time. It was doubtless a path used by the people who inhabited this country anterior to the present Indian races, the people who built the communal houses…
I return to camp about three o-clock and find some of the men have discovered ruins and many fragments of pottery; also etchings and hieroglyphics on the rocks.”
If the Grand Canyon Escalade is approved, you and I will be able to view the area from the comfort of an elevated walkway, possibly without getting dust on our shoes. The etchings and hieroglyphics might be preserved in a temperature and humidity controlled cultural center.
We will perhaps be able to gaze at the Canyon through the windows of our air-conditioned hotel rooms, with flat screen TVs and minibars. Perhaps we will be able to find that old worn pathway Powell wrote about – if it’s still there and not in the way of the bulldozers.
Oh, and in case we are hungry, there will be a restaurant available to us, probably with a bar with several satellite TV’s, showing us all the games in case we get bored with looking outside. Every creature comfort will be right there.
Of course, we can enjoy these civilized comforts anywhere. But there is only one Grand Canyon – one of the great wonders of the world. – an almost spiritual place, honoring nature.
We can only hope that the Escalade is not the assault on the Grand Canyon that it’s name implies and that the bulldozers don’t destroy the essence of what people have come from all over the world to witness and appreciate.
We can only hope Grand Canyon developers remember Theodore Roosevelt’s comments in 1903, when he visited the Canyon and stayed at the El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim:
“I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country-
to keep this great wonder as it is now…I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loveliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it.”