Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grand Canyon: day two

I took a little time to relax and collect my thoughts this morning, and as a result didn't arrive at Grand Canyon National Park until early afternoon. I decided to check out Grand Canyon Village, where the bulk of the shops, onsite hotels, and studios are located. This was a mistake: the village was teeming with people, and I was a little annoyed and overwhelmed. (Word of advice: if you're looking for solitude at the Grand Canyon, walk the 1.3 mile stretch of the Rim Trail between the ludicrously overcrowded Mather Point and Pipe Creek Vista. I did so yesterday afternoon, and once I got away from Mather Point I saw only a handful of people until I reached Pipe Creek Vista. If you're not up for a 2.6 mile walk, you can make the return trip on one of the free shuttle buses operated by park personnel.)

I then tried going down into the canyon itself on the Bright Angel Trail. The views (see above) were stunning, but my fear of heights kicked in after about ten minutes, and I had to turn back and walk through Grand Canyon Village.

Irked as I was by the crowds, I'm glad I got to see the Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar, and Hopi House (above), all of which were designed by Mary Colter. Colter, who was professionally active during the first half of the twentieth century, enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished career at a time when female architects were few and far between; however, given that Julia Morgan was also working at roughly the same time, perhaps the West afforded women architects opportunities that simply didn't exist elsewhere. Her buildings at Grand Canyon National Park were inspired by the vernacular architecture of the region, and they are stunning.

Once I got out of Grand Canyon Village and retrieved my car, I headed west on Desert View Drive. I stopped at a couple of overlooks and viewpoints and at the Tusayan Ruins. About eight hundred years ago, approximately 15-20 people lived in this small pueblo village. They lived in five small rooms, kept food and supplies in small storage rooms (see above), held religious ceremonies in kivas built for that purpose, and raised crops nearby. What happened to this community is a mystery.

Adjacent to the Tusayan Ruins is a tiny museum housing some artifacts relating to the Native Americans who lived in this region. The highlight of the collection is pictured above: these small twig figurines, which were found in caves in the canyon, are 2,000-4,000 years old. Owing to the darkness of the caves and the aridity of the climate, they are in astonishingly good condition.

I then drove to the Desert View viewpoint, which is home to the Watchtower, another stunning Colter building. Colter was inspired by the watchtowers built by the Anasazi, but her design differs in many respects from the original. Some critics regard this structure as Colter's masterpiece.

The paintings inside the Watchtower were done by Hopi artist Fred Kaboti, who drew inspiration from traditional Hopi iconography and pteroglyphs found in the surrounding area.

Like Grand Canyon Village, the Watchtower is a hustling, bustling place. I had to wait several minutes in order to capture this shot of from the ground floor of the building; people kept running in and out of the shot.

So what is there to see from the Watchtower? Oh, not much, just more staggering beauty. Note the Colorado River --which is chiefly responsible for the Grand Canyon's existence -- wending its way through the canyon. For the most part, you can't see the river itself from the top of the South Rim.

I ended the day at Lipan Point, but I'll deal with that in a separate post.

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