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Great Lodges

Great Lodges of the National Parks

Canyon Lodges: Grand Canyon

Lodge | Setting | Trivia


The Grand Canyon Lodge is a legendary structure with a colorful past. The surrounding Park also has an amazing history. Here you can explore a few of the more curious bits of Grand Canyon lore.

Naming the Colorado
It was 1776. In the East, the American nation was being created. Out West, the Spanish controlled vast expanses of territory, and the Catholic Church was actively trying to convert the indigenous people. It was also the year that a Spanish missionary, Padre Francisco Tomás Garcés, would visit the Havasupai Indians at the Grand Canyon, and name the Colorado (colored) River. Although little else is known about Padre Garcés, it seems likely that he was a courageous fellow, having traveled alone and unarmed from a mission 300 miles to the south.

Grand Canyon Lodge Burns
Excerpts from old articles in the Phoenix Gazette offer a contemporary view of the 1932 fire. "Shooting flames and billowing smoke, visible across the 13-mile wide chasm of the Grand Canyon aroused National Park headquarters and South Rim tourists this morning, as the central dining room and two deluxe cabins of the palatial Grand Canyon Lodge burned on the North Rim. The fire, started by flying sparks, was fought by Grand Canyon national Park employees and those of the Utah Parks Company, operator of the lodge. Guests and employees joined their efforts. M. R. Tillotson, Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, with headquarters here, who fled across the canyon in a government plane to investigate, sent back word there had been no loss of life or injuries."

The Lady Ranger
Pauline "Polly" Mead (1904- ) came to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1927 as a botany student. She returned in 1928 to work on her master's thesis. In 1929, she became the first female Ranger at the Grand Canyon, and the second woman Ranger in the NPS. Polly wore the standard NPS uniform, tailored to her figure, but topped her outfit with a soft-brim hat, similar to hats worn by the Harvey Girls. In 1931, Polly married the Park's Assistant Superintendent, Preston "Pat" Patraw. Sadly, when he asked her not to work, she gave up her pioneering career.

The Grand Canyon Crash of 1956
On June 30, 1956, a United Airlines DC-7 and a TWA Constellation were both flying from Los Angeles to Chicago. Both pilots had requested permission to fly into the Grand Canyon's airspace in order to provide passengers with a better view. The planes collided directly over the Canyon, killing all 128 people on board. As a direct result of this crash, President Eisenhower ordered the creation of the FAA in 1957, to help provide safe separation of aircraft through the use of radar.

Getting Around on Two Wheels
In 1902 the first car made it to the Canyon rim – but cars weren't the only wheeled vehicles visiting the Park. In 1896, seven members of the Flagstaff Bicycling Club pedaled 160 miles (round trip) over a rough and rutted stagecoach road in order to reach the South Rim. The first motorcycle reached the Canyon in 1905, the same year that the El Tovar opened. The rider was a Doctor P.A. Melick, from Williams, Arizona.

Grand Canyon's Biggest Liar
John Hance's name is everywhere in Grand Canyon. There's a Hance trail, creek, canyon, spring, mine, rapids, and even Hance's Cove. Captain John Hance had served in both the Confederate and Union armies, and later became a miner, trail builder, and hotel operator at the Grand Canyon. He was famous throughout Arizona as an affable and reliable liar. Tourists were his preferred targets for tall tales. He would earnestly explain that sometimes the Colorado River got so muddy the only way to quench his thirst was to cut a piece of water off and chew it. He also claimed the Canyon fogs were so thick that he used to ski across the Canyon on the mist, but gave up the habit after the fog started to lift while he was in the middle of a crossing.

Dramatic Search and Rescue in 1944
There are several different versions of this story, probably because so many agencies got involved in the incident. All sources agree on the following facts. An Air Force bomber was flying over the Grand Canyon when the plane had some sort of difficulty. Three crewmen bailed out, landing just below the edge of the North Rim; one crewman remained aboard and landed the plane safely. The Air Force flew over, dropping supplies and radios to the stranded men. The remote location made rescue difficult. The men waited for 10 days while the Air Force, NPS, and even the Coast Guard, came up with various rescue schemes. Meanwhile, the press had recast the over-anxious parachutists as national heroes, and each was awarded a special decoration.

The Bright Angel "Tram Camp"
In the fall of 1919, the Park Service established a camp at the mouth of Bright Angel Creek, below the future site of Grand Canyon Lodge. From this base camp, Rangers worked on the Kaibab Trail leading up to the North Rim. The base was called "Tram Camp" because it was sited near the only Colorado River crossing of the time. The crossing consisted of a single cable, running 300 feet from cliff to cliff, and hanging 60 feet above the river rapids. Rangers crossed the river by sitting on a small board slung from a pulley, and then pulling themselves forward hand-over-hand. Explorer John W. Powell named Bright Angel Creek for its contrast to Dirty Devil Creek.