Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim
on January 14, 2019
Standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to feel insignificant.
The ancient curves of red rock draw the eye toward the hallowed waterway below. Stunning and ever-changing light bounces off spectacular geologic formations, reflecting the winged shadows of raptors floating overhead.
And then, there is the human history, the stories of those individuals, brimming with an irrepressible pioneer spirit, ingenuity and steadfast commitment that laid the groundwork for how we experience the Canyon today.
In 2019, Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its Centennial. However, the underpinnings of what would become a national treasure and wish list destination began to take shape more than a century ago.
The enterprising Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1901 and soon after, in 1905, El Tovar opened and quickly developed a reputation as the fanciest hotel west of the Mississippi.
VARIETY OF VISITORS & HORSES BY FRONT ENTRANCE TO EL TOVAR HOTEL. TOURING CARS. CIRCA 1922. FRED HARVEY PHOTO
The Fred Harvey Company, now named the Xanterra Travel Collection, was hired to manage the hotel. They knew how to address the needs of intrepid but comfort-seeking tourists lured to the West by the railroad’s promotional images of the extraordinary Grand Canyon.
The company soon needed help keeping pace with the increasing number of adventuresome travelers eager to explore the Western landscape and turned to a former St. Paul, MN art teacher for assistance. She obliged with a captivating and groundbreaking style.
A true trailblazer, Mary E.J. Colter, who would become the chief designer and architect for the Harvey organization, drew inspiration from Native American and Spanish Colonial design. Rather than mimicking European architecture, her creations were meant to blend in with or enhance their surroundings. She was responsible for the design of 23 buildings, including Hopi House, Bright Angel Lodge, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest, and The Watchtower, during more than four decades with the company.
Today, Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, operated by Xanterra Travel Collection, welcomes guests on the South Rim with iconic accommodations like El Tovar and Bright Angel and encourages guests to steep in the area’s rich history.
The National Park Service has long relied on partnerships with concessioners, like Xanterra, who have the experience and expertise needed to offer guest services and a spirit of hospitality, while preserving some of our nation’s most precious assets.
A critical part of Xanterra’s long term agreement involves the historic upkeep of the buildings and lodges, which often means rebuilding, and working closely with the Park Service along the way.
Further, Xanterra considers its leadership role in practicing sustainable business in its operations at Grand Canyon National Park, as vital to the future of the Canyon.
Great effort and thought go into operational decisions with the goal of leaving a soft footprint on the Park and the planet. At the same time, Xanterra looks to the National Park visitor as a partner in preservation.
By encouraging the use of reusable water bottles, respect for wildlife, recycling, and the simple act of turning off lights when not in use, guests can help preserve the sensitive natural environment and retain its resources, cultural history, and historic structures for future generations.
The Fred Harvey Company, in the earliest years of the nineteenth century, envisioned that the El Tovar Hotel, resting on the canyon rim, would enable people from around the world to experience the wonder of the Canyon. That vision is now a reality. And with meaningful public-private partnerships, like the one Xanterra shares with the National Park Service, that vision will prevail to benefit the travelers of tomorrow.
How to Explore
The best way to experience the Grand Canyon is to spend a night or longer at one of the Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, the premier in-park lodging with six distinctly different lodges. From the El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find accommodations to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.