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People of Grand Canyon

As spectacular as is the Grand Canyon, the experience of a visit there is only enhanced by the observation, stories, and study of the people who in time past–or in time present–have moved through the area.

Making a unique contribution to the settling of the West was Fred Harvey who came to be known as the “Civilizer of the West.” Born in London, he came to America at the age of 15 and finally became a railroad man.

“He clerked for the first mail train and was a traveling freight agent for the Burlington. His fastidious English tastes revolted at the unpalatable dry biscuits, the greasy ham-leather and the week old coffee. The dirty, fly-ridden quarters and the all-too-prevalent custom of fleecing travelers ‘who wouldn’t be back anyways,’ made Harvey angry enough to change things.”

He established hotels and unique restaurants along the route of the Santa Fe through Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. “Rivaling the good food and modern accoutrements that Fred Harvey brought to the West were his “Harvey Girls”–pretty, well-trained waitresses. The girls were recruited from good homes in the East and had a major part in taming the West. The Harvey Girls brought culture, refinement and romance.” Territorial News

The lovely El Tovar where Jerry and I had lunch was built in 1905 and was one of the original Harvey Houses.

I’ve already told you of Buckey O’Neill who was in great part responsible for bringing the railway to the Grand Canyon, and I promised a little tale about his cabin there. It stands along the main Rim Trail that Jerry and I walked to the village, and just outside his cabin is a placard–typical kind of thing that identifies the structure and gives a bit of its history. Jerry stood reading there, and I followed the short walk up to the cabin. It has those doors that are split so that the top half can swing open while the lower part is still closed.

The top half of the door was ajar, and because I wanted to see all the way inside, I swung the door completely open. They are really making this place look authentic, I was thinking, for there were clothes piled around the floor and a general appearance of dissaray. Something is not right here, I felt and then I noticed candy bar wrappers and other modern day notions…hmm.

I closed the door, walked a few steps to the other door of the cabin that was styled in the same way, swung it open and there stood a man. A television was playing, and his eyes were stuck on the screen, then slowly he lifted them and looked at me. He didn’t smile. I didn’t smile. I closed the door, turned around and walked to stand beside Jerry.

When Jerry reads this it will be his first knowledge of this dark secret. The reason I didn’t tell him is because he is always saying I wander off too much, and it is an accurate observation that I have been known to explore in places that were best left undiscovered. Truth be known, I just wasn’t in the mood to confess that evidently I had intruded into someone’s personal space.

Well, anyway, it wasn’t my fault, for there for nothing to indicate the cabin as being anything other than a historical building–the cabin of Buckey O’Neill. No signs, no warnings. Later, though, in some material I read that they sometimes rent out the cabin. …(sorry about that, somebody.)

The last person I want to mention is Earl, who was the host of our railroad car for the return trip to Williams. Probably in his seventies, it was obvious from the beginning of our little more than two hours together that he was an exceptional person. He was kind and loving. He bent low over the seats and hugged the children and told simple jokes. About 15 minutes out of Williams he pointed to a road where it intersected the railroad and told us he lived up that way in a small community.

“It’s a good place to live,” he said. “We look out for each other.”

Before we left the train he walked the full length of the car, shook hands with everyone there, and hugged the children again.

“Thank you for riding my car today,” he spoke into the microphone just before we pulled into the station. “Thank you. I love you. God bless you.”

Earl…I may never see him again…chance points to that…but somehow that Saturday evening, I believed him. I believe he has the capacity to really love people, people he doesn’t know and will likely never see again. For a couple of hours that Saturday as Jerry and I concluded our anniversary trip, Earl loved us, too. I think I love him back.

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My devotional blog is here.

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Train, Terrain and Thistle

 

 

The Territorial Times says it “wasn’t the cowboys and it wasn’t the cavalry, but the iron horse that finally conquered the West’s great wilderness. And there’s no better example of hidden treasures revealed by the locomotive’s journey west than the Grand Canyon.”

It is Bucky O’Neill who is responsible in great part for making the original Grand Canyon Railroad a reality. Possessing a number of copper claims near Williams, AZ., he also had staked several in the Grand Canyon area, and actually had built a cabin there. (I’ll tell you of my experience with that cabin later.)

He began lobbying for such development in Chicago and New York, and finally, in 1901,  after many delays and disappointments the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Company opened the legendary Grand Canyon Railroad. In addition to hauling copper and ore, the train became the preferred method of transportation for tourists interested in visiting the Grand Canyon. The railroad line thrived.

Unfortunately Mr. O’Neill never saw the fulfillment of his dream. Serving with great distinction as one of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Rough Riders, he was killed by a Spanish sniper and today rests in Arlington.

The Railway revolutionized the canyon, sharing its natural wonder with the general public. In its heyday, Grand Canyon Railway had two scheduled arrivals per day at the South Rim, but as many as six special trains might also arrive at the Grand Canyon in one day. Notable, famous people traveled this rail.

And then came the automobile and “as America fell in love with the automobile, the locomotive’s romantic wail faded like an Arizona sunset.” (Territorial Times)

“The final rays of golden sunlight disappeared June 30, l968 as Train No. 14, a diesel locomotive pulling only one b aggage car and one coach car left Grand Canyon Depot with just three people aboard. Beginning the 65-mile trek to Williams, the engineer gave the horn two short blasts heard only by those aboard and canyon wildlife. No one was present to send the train off, or to celebrate the contributions the Railway had made.

As the last passenger train traveled out of sight, the tracks grew quiet and stayed that way for nearly 20 years.” Territorial Times

Then in 1989, after an initial investment of 15 million dollars, Max and Thelma Biegert brought back the powerful pull of the steam locomotive to the Grand Canyon National Park. Since then it has transported more than 2 million people, and every year now offers the joy of the restored Railway to 225,000 passengers.

When we arrived in Williams on Friday morning, I was surprised to see the large number of cars and to learn that the train is not a narrow guage as we had ridden in Durango last year, but a full sized train  including an observation car, a cafe car and one with first class, white glove treatment. Ours was an air conditioned coach that rode smoothly for the 2 hour and 15 minute trek to the Grand Canyon.

We had a charming young woman as hostess who passed around soft drinks, and answered any questions about the Canyon, tours and best places to eat. Then a fiddler entered our car and regaled us with humor and excellent blues type fiddling.

The terrain I observed through the large windows was rather scrubby, but shortly before we pulled into the depot at the Grand Canyon the appearance changed somewhat. The altitude at the South Rim is 7000 and there is little rainfall in this semi-arid high desert area which gives to rather scrubby plant life.

As Jerry and I walked around the canyon area, I spied this strikiing, cottony looking plant. I have no idea of its name, although it resembles thistle blooms.

Cactus abounded.

 

…and trees, their clear green leaves fluttering in the cool breezes.

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My devotional blog is here.

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Check in Here for Perfection

From time to time we humans spend hours that in the earthly scheme of things can only be rated perfect. Such were our days–Jerry’s and mine–this past Friday and Saturday on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

The signal for the trip was rare, and its lofty nature of such significance that within our minds spun an expectation of pleasure and harmony beginning with the earliest moment of  planning. On Friday Jerry and I stepped over another milestone in our lives as we embarked on our 53rd year of marriage.

The Grand Canyon is surely one of the most spectacular places on earth. In 1893 it was established as a forest reserve by President Benjamin Harrison, and in 1919, by President Theodore Roosevelt, was designated a national monument. The park is 277 river-miles long, an average of ten miles wide, and to reach the canyon floor requires a plunge one mile deep. Snaking a thin line at the base of the cliffs is the thundering Colorado River, without which there would be no Grand Canyon. It’s cool waters lunge and roar exploding in spume and foam…and then, again, lie placid and in a soft meander.

We always have this conversation, Jerry and I: What do you suspose was the reaction of the first person or group who viewed such a stunning place?  How in the world did they feel as they stood before this gaping chasm?  We never have an answer, of course, and as overwhelming as it is to view after hearing of it and even at prior times seeing it, we shake our heads as we think of the staggering awe that must have settled on those early explorers as they stood before that bucolic shrine. 

We had visited both the south and north rim of the Grand Canyon many years ago when our children were young, and we viewed it as not only beautiful and awe inspiring, but as educational both for them and for us. As was true then, so now remains my frustration when I reach to describe that world-wondering scene. I grapple with words–is it that I need new langugage?–to write the land lay, the pitch of bird caw and the beating of wings. The rustle in the wind-brushed pinions meld with squirrel scramper and the faint sizzle of green lizard on white boulder.

Ultimately, such grandeur could only be carved by Almighty. Doubtless, He used geological forces and wind-swept eons, but the sight and sound of such magnificence demands a Creator, One whose thought and ways are impossible to comprehend. Words to tell are shy and impaired.

Laid atop such undergirding were two days of sublime rest and celebration. We checked in and found perfection.

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My devotional blog is here.