Katie Pavlich delights in telling us the history of Northern Arizona and why her recent trip back to Arizona mattered. We think you’ll enjoy hearing about canyons and cliffs in Katie’s back yard, in northern Arizona. –the Editors
Katie Pavlich is sponsored by Volquartsen Firearms
The Grand Canyon was discovered in 1540 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado after he, along with a number of men, was sent on orders from the queen to find gold in the west. The river that cuts through its steep and layered walls did not go unnoticed and was named “Colorado” after its red, muddy water.
In 1870, a still widely unexplored and misunderstood landscape issued a challenge to Major John Wesley Powell, who lost an arm in the Civil War: Go where nobody had gone before to conduct scientific research, draw maps and establish a new frontier. So, to the bottom of the canyons he went.
“I came to the belief that the ‘Grand Canyon of the Colorado’ could be explored by descending the river in small boats,” Powell wrote in journal that year.
He started in Wyoming on the rivers that ultimately feed the Colorado and made his way south through crew mutinies, supply shortages, flipped boats, bad weather and more. He survived and ultimately mapped the rivers and canyons in black and white.
In 1959 when Glen Canyon dam was completed, the water turned clear, cold and green. The dam ensures it stays that way for most of the year. The exception is the summer monsoon season, which brings the water back to the red it was named for.
Before European discovery and predating any kind of modern construction, Native Americans lived by the guidance of the Colorado for generations. Although the color of the water has changed, the Grand Canyon and the canyons that precede it, like Marble and Glen, are as magnificent as ever.
As a kid who grew up in Northern Arizona, I’ve made my own discoveries in the Grand Canyon and the ones that feed into it. School semesters were spent studying its rock formations and field trips were often hikes along the trails.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I got a taste of that again with my family. We stayed in a house nuzzled up against the Vermillion Cliffs just a short drive from Marble Canyon’s edge. Instead of traditional turkey for our meal, we had Alaskan moose. My dad came back from a hunt in September and in his typical fashion, cooked it perfectly in a Dutch oven as we watched the sun go down, turning the rocks into silhouettes. We stood in awe as the Milky Way shot across the sky for as far as we could see.
The mornings were cold and chilly, but comfortable as we watched the sunrise over the landscape of cracked earth. Sitting with a cup of coffee near the front window, we could see Marble Canyon lead to the Grand Canyon, knowing all about the power of the river below. The evening smell of campfire seeped into our clothes, which I didn’t mind after spending months buried in the walls of a big city.
The day after our feast, we spent the day on a Colorado River Company raft drifting down from Glen Canyon dam to Horse Shoe Bend, where you can see tourists looking down and taking photos from the towering cliffs above. We stopped there, too, before making our way through the sandstone walls to get to the water below. The boats matched the color of the Little Colorado River, my favorite turquoise blue, and were geared up for their last day of the season. We had made it just in time.
Our Navajo guide told us stories about his traditions, sang songs and explained how his grandmother used to tend to her sheep on the riverbanks as a child. In his time off, he takes his own children hiking up and down the canyon walls in order to teach them about their heritage.
As we floated along with the mist of the river bouncing off the front of the boat and softly hitting our faces, we watched as an Osprey carried off a fish for a late afternoon meal. It brought back memories of my summers in high school, when I’d spent weeks on oar trips through the Colorado’s rapids. I always had the funky Teva tan lines and the blisters to prove it.
The Wild West is a big place, but northern Arizona will always have a special place in my heart – especially the canyons that carry the Colorado.
Want to find out more about the Grand Canyon and other magnificent sites in Arizona? Check out Visit Arizona and start planning your trip to see Katie’s back yard.