Our first stop on our recent road trip to the Utah national parks was the Grand Canyon. We only stayed here one night, but arrived early in the day and enjoyed walking around the rim, near our hotel location.
We did encounter restrictions of some sort our entire trip, due to COVID. At the Grand Canyon it really only involved keeping our masks handy for inside use. However, the excursions they generally offer were not available.
Because I made reservations so long in advance when canceling and rescheduling from last May, we were able to reserve lodging inside each of the parks that offered it. Because of the convenience and the enhanced experience, we both felt it was well worth it. At the Grand Canyon we stayed at the Thunderbird Lodge. The path around the rim, the two restaurants, as well as the book store and gift shop were all within easy walking distance. We had a partial canyon view from our room.
Once we arrived, we discovered we could not check in for at least another hour. We also discovered parking is VERY limited. We had to circle around the short Village Loop a couple of times before finding suitable parking near our hotel. Our hotel was on the canyon edge, so we walked around for a while until we could check in.
When we left the next morning, we were able to easily find parking at all of the viewpoints along Desert View Drive until we exited the park and headed off to Zion.
One key aspect of the park is Phantom Ranch. My great grandfather managed Phantom Ranch for many years around 1940. Although I’ve visited the park one time previously, this time I felt an increased interest in Phantom Ranch and how my great grandfather was involved. I purchased a small book in the book store in hopes of learning a bit more. Below the canyon photos I’ve included some information about Phantom Ranch and a few old photos I have of my great grandfather. Oh how I wish I had learned more about my great grandfather before my grandfather passed away. Sadly, I was a teen when he and my grandmother passed.
We were blessed with beautiful weather that helped showcase the vast magnitude of the canyon. Photos do not do it justice, but may give an idea of the majesty of the canyon.
I learned in my small booklet that Phantom Ranch (named after nearby Phantom Creek) opened in 1922, soon after the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919. The architect was Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (an architect for the Santa Fe Railroad). She created the resort to blend into the natural surroundings of the canyon. The original plan called for five buildings, at a cost of $20,000, and all of the materials, except for the stone, was hauled down by mule!
Mary Jane Colter was well liked and respected, she contributed to the design of several other buildings at the canyon.
Still today, Phantom Ranch is only accessible by foot, mule, or raft. The trail down to the ranch is eight miles long, descending a depth of one mile down.
A generator installed in 1926 produced electricity for the ranch. The book “Phantom Ranch Grand Canyon National Park” by Scott Thybony, describes many of the hardships of laying trails, mapping the canyon, building bridges to cross the river, and hulling materials down to the canyon floor by pack mule. Both men and mule lives were lost in the process.
In the 1930s Company 818 of the Civilian Conservation Corps came in and built footbridges, a mule corral, and a cabin for the park service, as well as a camp for themselves. They replaced the original phone line and dug the swimming pool at Phantom Ranch. The pool was difficult to maintain and was filled in during the winter of 1972. Much of the CCC’s efforts were focused on improving the inner-canyon trail system.
Each year about 10,000 riders enter the canyon, and backpackers spend about 50,000 nights camping in the central corridor. The ranch operations are quite impressive. The mules haul down about 2.5 tons of food each week. The ranch runs a compost system that handles up to eighty pounds of garbage a day. It takes a staff of seventeen, doing several different jobs, to keep the ranch running smoothly. The employees work for ten days straight before going “upstairs” to the rim. To get to the top, they walk. However, some staff choose to say at the camp.
To stay at the ranch today, you must reserve 15 month in advance, and it is done by lottery ticket. Currently dorms (for hikers) are not available (due to COVID), but cabins are. They are actually quite beautiful and accommodating. To find out more and to view photos, checkout their website here: Phantom Ranch | Grand Canyon National Park Lodges (grandcanyonlodges.com) You can reserve a steak dinner for $52.16, and if you wish to have your duffle bag hauled in, it’s only $77.50 each way. 🙂
I find the entire process quite fascinating. I know it will not be something I experience in my lifetime. But oh what a memory for those who do.
If only I could sit down and chat with my great grandfather today 😢. I did my best to do some quick research, but was unable to find any specific information from the 1940s when he managed the ranch.
Below are a few photos. My dad checked for more information at the Grand Canyon when they visited some time back. They were told a fire destroyed their documents and actually asked if my parents would send them the photos below to help them rebuild their archives.
You can see the pool and the stone cabins in the background below. My great grandmother is on the far left, my great grandfather on the far right:
Below are two other photos I have of great grandfather down at the ranch:
My last photo is the two of them together at the canyon rim.
My understanding is that he managed the ranch for many years. Some years back my aunt had the guitar that grandfather has above. She ended up giving it to my brother, which he still has today. Below is a photo of that guitar!
“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson