Grand Canyon 2020

Who was Peter Berry, and how did tourism start at the Grand Canyon?

Imagine, it’s 1895, Peter Berry is riding a dark brown mule up a trail.  The curvy and narrow path connects a mine by Horseshoe Mesa, at the bottom of the canyon, and Grandview, where Pete built a house and an operational center on the south rim.  He named it Grandview, a fitting name for the big vistas and panoramic views.  Sun rays shine through the clouds to light up the Grand Canyon’s north rim, far on the opposite side.  It’s a thick sunny day, and the silence is endless.  Pete’s eyes are gazing at the scenery’s beauty; he is never tired of it.  The canyon is a range of purple and orange shades extending into the horizon and anchored by the vivid blue Colorado River.  Pete and his fellow partners named the mine Last Chance Mine.  “We did a good job!” he thinks to himself, filled with pride, “we did it just by the book.”  “We built this trail, 3-miles long, the finest in the Grand Canyon.”  Indeed, things worked out well for Pete and his fellow miners, Ralph and Niles Cameron.  They began making long trips to the Grand Canyon in 1888, prospecting for valuable minerals.  After the hard ten-hour horse ride from Flagstaff, their quest would last weeks, sometimes months of non-stop searching.  In 1890 they located a rich vein of copper on Horseshoe Mesa.  They proceeded to register their claim, quickly built the trail, and started excavation.  And ‘boy’ it paid off!  The ore’s quality was very high, 15-30% clean copper.  “Two years ago, we even received the top prize at the World’s Fair in Chicago for the copper ore’s purity, making a name for our little mine and to the Grand Canyon.”

Pete is holding the harness with his left hand and the whipping stick with his right hand.  His grip is tight and ready for action.  Delilah, his mule, “the unruly” as everyone calls her, needs to be whipped from time to time.  She has this annoying habit of wiggling her head up and down, side to side, shifting the harness position to her right side.  She also does not hesitate to stop for a little shrub’s whiff and a bite.  Ten mules are in Pete’s caravan, including old Joe riding at the back.  All mules are from Tennessee, supposedly the best breed, strong and steady.  Some are black, others are dark brown, and only one is white with dark spots.  Each mule is hauling two large sacks, one at each side of their body, with 200 pounds (90 kg) of sorted copper ore.  Tomorrow they will carry food and other supplies back down the steep trail.  Up and down the canyon, they march every day.  “I just wish the transportation cost to the processing center in El Paso, Texas, was cheaper.  It bites deep into our profits.  Those greedy bastards at the Santa Fe Railroad company are going to raise prices again.   It might take us out of business.  I wonder how long we will be able to continue.  The good ore is depleting.  Everyone can see that.  It ain’t what it used to be three years ago, that’s for sure.  I need to make a plan and discuss it with Ralph and Niles.” 

A fiery sun stands over the canyon with striking pink and purple clouds, layers of gray and red rock above the turquoise river.  Pete is a tall, lean man with an erect posture.  His face features are sharp, intense, and accentuated by a bushy imperial mustache.  But it’s all in the eyes, as the saying goes.  His are small, penetrating with willpower.  Peter Berry is 37 years old, and this is the fifth year since he moved to live full time at Grandview.  He is wearing dark-colored clothes, high leather boots, gloves, and a wide brim leather hat.  He is a pioneer, and he unquestionably looks like one.

“If only half my business success mirrored my marriage situation, boy, that would have been fantastic.  But it is not.  Instead, it’s all drama, filled with sorrow and heartbreaks.  The kind of material that could make a good novella, but it’s not a novella.  It’s my life.  Besides, when was the last time I read a novella or any other book?!  Pete is mulling as Delilah keeps a steady ascent up the trail.  “I know I was not the most present husband or the best one, but to do what she did? I don’t know!  Yes, I was away from Flagstaff often and for many days, prospecting the canyon and all of that.  But having an affair while I was working my ass off, and of all things with this low-life Frankforter, who used to work for me, I don’t know.  It was not love between us anyway; I just did my duty when my brother John was killed at his Saloon in Flagstaff.  He was brave, my little brother; I miss him.  Why he had to intervene in that brawl, I don’t know, and to be killed from a stray bullet, I am not sure it was stray at all.  He and Mary had three kids.  I left everything in Colorado, came over, took over his saloon, kids, and wife.  No, it was not love, but she had her talents, no doubt about that, at least I had a chance to shoot and wound Frankforter before they took off.”  In long, unpunctuated sentences, Pete drifts into his internal reverie, the way the mind is constructing thoughts, with no beginning or end.          

“A good story,” he muses, “maybe the best in the wild west, but hell with all of that, now she is gone with the kids, and I am here, in this canyon – a God-given beauty.  Hooray!”  A high peached shriek came out of his chest.  Delilah thinks it is meant for her and speeds up, but it’s not; it’s about life.

“I need to think ahead,” Pete ponders, “I have these two crude lodging rooms, which I sometimes rent to the few and brave visitors.  Bold they are, coming here on a 12-hr stagecoach ride from Flagstaff.  They always look so rattled and exhausted when they step down from the carriage.  And they always ask for food and gear I do not have to offer.  I could make bank if I set it up.  Maybe I should even build a lodge.  It will be the first at the Grand Canyon, with a dining-hall and a gift store.  Today, there aren’t many visitors, but if I build it, they will come.”

At present, close to 130 years later, visitors keep coming.  They never stopped.  Estimates range from 4 to 6 million visitors per year.  Peter Berry, with his new wife, Martha, opened the Grandview Hotel in 1897.  Thus, tourism started at the Grand Canyon.  He expanded his operations, offering mule tours down the Grandview trail.  Until 1901 Grandview was the Grand Canyon’s most popular tourist destination.  It was advertised as the “only first-class hotel at the Grand Canyon.”  Things changed after 1901, when the Santa Fe Railroad reached Grand Canyon Village, 11 miles west.  Few tourists opted for the Grandview’s jolting stagecoach ride.  Today, little remains of Peter Berry’s lodge on the rim.  Yet, when you visit the Grand Canyon and drive eastward, along the south rim, do not miss a stop at Grandview’s observation point; it’s absolutely grand!

If you wonder about Peter Berry’s story’s accuracy, rest assured it is based on facts readily available on the cloud.  The only indulgence is the description of Delilah, who was my mule on a recent descent to the Grand Canyon.

Touring the Grand Canyon, options and suggestions

The Grand Canyon is a place that no picture can ever fully capture its size.  Even while you’re standing at the top staring down, you can’t discern how far away the bottom is.  You can view the canyon from the south or north rims; both are breathtaking.  The north rim’s elevation is 1000 ft (300 m) higher, but the south rim is the more popular side.  When viewing the canyon from the south, the sun will be at your back, making it favorable for photography.  Four trails lead down to the river from the south rim and one from the north rim.  You can choose how far down to go before making the turn; no permits are required.  However, if you wish to go all the way down and camp overnight before proceeding back, a permit is required.  You can reserve it at the National Parks website.

Venturing down into the canyon to gaze up at the massive rock walls or feel the crisp Colorado River is not a simple endeavor.  Still, anyone in decent physical condition can experience at least a few miles of the spectacular trails.  If you have the full trip on your bucket list or just feel up to the challenge, I suggest going down on the South Kaibab Trail, stay at Phantom Ranch for a couple of nights and climb back up on the Bright Angel Trail.

South Kaibab Trail Descent – This is the fastest route to the river, descending 4,780 feet (1,457 m) in 7 miles.  It is steep, and there is no water available anywhere on the trail until the canyon’s bottom.  This trail gives the best views of the Grand Canyon – the big vistas and panoramic views are like no other, and the sun being at your back is perfect for photography. 

Phantom Ranch – Overnight options at the canyon floor are limited to the Bright Angel Campground and the historic Phantom Ranch.  Booking a sleeping spot at one of the picturesque stone cabins needs planning.  A reservation can be obtained via lottery at Xanterra’s website 12 months in advance.  I suggest a two-night stay, as you will arrive late in the afternoon, and the body could enjoy a good day’s rest before the climb back.  The booking package includes meals.  They serve great steak or vegan chili for dinner.  You could opt to hike towards the north rim on your rest day, enjoy a lazy beach stay, and take a dip in the ice-cold river.  Also, you could take it easy, rest, and make watercolor drawings. 

Bright Angel Trail Ascent – This trail ascends 4,380 feet (1,335 m) in 10 miles.  Compared to the South Kaibab route, Bright Angel offers a more gradual climb, more shade, and, most importantly, several points with fresh drinking water.  The trail is made of endless switchbacks, giving epic views that are framed by massive cliffs.  The last couple of miles are very steep.  This section has quite a bit of shade that provides relief from the sun in warmer months but can generate additional difficulty in the winter due to lingering ice.

You can do the route on top of a mule; see this short video.  For reservations, check Xanterra’s website And then, the admired few can run the entire course in a single day, like the ones in this short video. 

Final words of advice.  Pack light and wear good shoes.  Be prepared for the canyon’s temperature differences between top and bottom.  And most important, condition your body for the hike.  There is no phone service nor Uber rides from the trail.  Listen to your body as there is a fine line between a worthwhile endeavor and a miserable trip.