Early Visitors to the Grand Canyon

Without a doubt, this early Grand Canyon visitor has an amazing viewpoint. Unencumbered by handrails, he just drove right up to the edge. Even

The stars are out at the Grand Canyon

THE METZ AUTO PARKED AT THE RIM OF THE CANYON. DRIVER IS SEATED ON THE EDGE WITH HIS LEGS HANGING OVER THE CLIFF. CIRCA 1914. WING.

Without a doubt, this early Grand Canyon visitor has an amazing viewpoint. Unencumbered by handrails, he just drove right up to the edge.

Even then, that was not close enough.  He left his car and was dangling his legs over the edge.  This hardy fellow was just the beginning of the history of the Grand Canyon visitor.

Most of the first people to come to the area to sightsee were transcontinental travelers, who disembarked in Williams or Flagstaff and came to the canyon via stagecoach on a journey that took two days. Here they stayed in primitive tent camps around a central lodge for several weeks at a time before heading back to the train to continue their way west. In 1901, a spur railroad line connected Williams to the South Rim and shortened the one-way journey from two days to three hours. With the coming of the railroad, the nature of the tourist changed from hardy, adventurers willing to rough it, to the wealthy elite who were used to traveling in luxury.

In the 1920s, America’s society boomed and the people who could afford to travel expanded as well. Suddenly, the automobile replaced the train as the primary method of transportation, and middle-class travelers began heading to the nation’s national parks, democratizing its tourist demographic. Less ostentatious accommodations and campgrounds sprang up to cater to the changing clientele but the Great Depression brought an abrupt end to those early Golden Years.

Travelers still share much the same reaction to the canyon as their early predecessors, however: awe. But the differences are stark. One hundred years ago, they came with little to prepare them for the size and scale of the canyon. They came to a place where visitors numbered in the thousands, not millions. They came without the jaded, cynicism of modern society and left with a sense of being changed by the experience. As one man wrote in 1909:

“From the rim one gets two impressions, so strong that they seem almost too big for the soul to hold, like the soul-smiting terror that comes to one who gazes long at the stars. The two impressions are of numberless infinitely-reaching horizontal lines and of eternal silence?”

Today, the Grand Canyon still elicits those same feelings of awe and inspiration.  Come and see for yourself; the canyon awaits.

Photo courtesy of www.fourchambers.org

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