Wonders await in Arizona | TheUnion.com

Wonders await in Arizona

My husband’s desire to see the Grand Canyon and my wish to see the desert in bloom made a trip to Arizona in April a winner. We traveled with a study group and learned more than I wanted to know about the geology of the area, but we also saw many interesting sites and learned about the fascinating people who made Arizona what it is today.

We began our trip in Phoenix. We were impressed by the size of the city and adjacent cities. At present there is enough water for the population, but articles in the papers were expressing concern for the future. We experienced a little of the rainfall that one may expect in the spring, so everything was clean and beautiful.

A visit to the Desert Botanical Garden with a terrific docent helped us learn the unique characteristics of desert plants. We saw Giant Saguaro, Cholla, Organ Pipe, Prickly Pear, Fish Hook Barrel and Ocotillo. Many were in bloom. Birds were nesting in the Saguaro.

We also visited the trail where displays of the people and their relation to plants were documented. The many uses of Yucca were demonstrated. A modern home built to best serve people living today in the desert gave us useful information. We also enjoyed seeing some of the wildlife that lives here all year, such as the Gila Woodpecker, Desert Spiny Lizard and Anna’s Hummingbird. Walking through a butterfly pavilion filled with butterflies concluded our visit.

The Heard Museum introduced us to the pottery and katsina dolls of some of the Native Americans of the area. A special exhibit on the experience of these people through the boarding school education years was very heart-rending. Through pictures, artifacts and stories on tape, one learned how demeaning this endeavor was for the children, who were taken and forcibly educated far from home for long years.

Many were away from home for more than four years at a time. (It should be noted that a few did choose to attend these schools.) Although the injustices are noted, so are the good things that came out of this process. Today, schools allow the native languages and the culture is again being taught.

We traveled north to Montezuma’s Castle. This cliff dwelling is well preserved and allowed us to learn about the people who lived here. The women plastered and kept up this building. The tribe raised corn, squash and turkeys. They traded with others for items they needed.

This group had salt to trade and traded for medicinal plants and pigments for paint. The corn grinding resulted in worn teeth and the number two cause of death for older women was abscessed teeth. The Hopi clans still come here for secret ceremonies. They regard these people as some of their ancestors.

We all had heard of the Anasasi, who left these areas when a long drought came, about 1250. The name is a Navajo-Apache word meaning “ancient enemy.” We learned that the Hopi are descended from people who came from the south and the Navajo and Apache from people who came from the north. Trade routes went down into Central and South America.

We learned that many of the theories about where the people came from and how long they have been here has been changing. With linguistic studies, we can track where different tribes originated. Carbon dating has been putting the arrival of these early people back to earlier and earlier dates.

Some suggest that people may have been in South America as early as 25,000 years ago. When we visited the Cameron Trading Post, our leader told us that a Russian speaker told him he could understand many of the Navajo words – they were similar to Russian words. This made the land bridge idea and the belief that the Navajo came from the North more real.

A stop at Walnut Canyon introduced us to the Sinagua – people without water. The homes in the cliff can be entered after a climb. These homes were used for several hundred years before the people left, about 1400. Other types of homes and a small museum made this an interesting stop.

Our stop in Sedona allowed a visit to the Church of the Holy Cross and the Schnebly Hill, as well as views of Cathedral Rocks. Our drive through Beautiful Oak Canyon made Sedona a place I would like to return to in the future. The combination of running water, green trees and red rock is unbeatable.

In Flagstaff, we visited the Lowell Observatory. Our guide was a young man who left school early and is self-educated. He is writing a book and doing drawings by hand. He works alone each night in the observatory.

The air is still clear here, so Lowell was recently granted a large grant by the Discovery Channel to do some important new research. The hands-on museum would be of interest to children.

We also visited Riordan Mansion State Park. The Riordan brothers developed a lumber business and were leading citizens of Flagstaff in the early 1900s. They built this double house for their two families in 1904. The house was designed by the creator of Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Lodge. The museum, as well as the house, gives you a picture of life in the early 20th century.

We also visited the Northern Arizona University Museum.

Three large bowls from the cliff-dwelling era were shown to us. A touring helicopter group recently discovered them. By the time the find had been reported to the university, a fourth bowl had disappeared.

When at last we reached the Grand Canyon, my husband was totally pleased. We arose early to see the sunrise and to listen to the bird life come alive. During the day, we enjoyed a spectacular Condor show as four of the giant birds flew over us many times while we were on the Canyon Village Rim. The newspaper noted that two pair were nesting. There are presently about 36 living here. Rangers throw out road kill to supplement their scavenger diet.

The Canyon Village has eight sites of interest to visit. The first is the Santa Fe Rail Station. We watched a train come in with a large group of passengers. The railroad opened up the Grand Canyon. A display of the history of the Harvey Girls is located at the Bright Angel Lodge.

Providing meals to travelers from the train made Mr. Harvey wealthy and the travelers happy. A woman, Mary Colter, designed the Bright Angel Lodge. She also designed the Desert View Watchtower and Hopi House. She used the colors and materials of the desert. Obviously, women in the West in the early 1900s made their mark.

Curio shops are a part of all tours and the first at the Grand Canyon was Verkamps, begun in 1898. A more formal building exists now. Buckey O’Neill’s cabin (of Rough Rider fame) and the Kolb Studio with art gallery are other sites of interest.

The El Tovar Hotel was built in 1902 by the railroad and is named in honor of Pedro de Tovar of the Coronado Expedition. It is described as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norway villa. A sunset dinner here was a perfect ending to our introduction to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.


Linda Marschall lives in Grass Valley.

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