Travel 20 miles west of the South Rim Village at the Grand Canyon and a dramatic transformation takes place. The greenish Tonto Plateau disappears and is replaced by the reddish Esplanade, a broad terrace characterized by a smooth exposed sandstone layer that sits atop the Supai formation.
It is the very definition of a hardscrabble land with little soil and a scarcity of water. And getting around on the Esplanade involves miles of travel weaving in and out of major canyons, minor canyons, side canyons and ravines. But these hardships are more than offset by the wondrous landscape.
It’s Thanksgiving, the weather is perfect and I am off to spend five days on the Esplanade in the vicinity of Fishtail Mesa. I am joined by two young veterans of canyon hiking – Jamie Campos, who is one of a handful who have “through-hiked” the canyon from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead, and Haley Johnson, who has become a nexus for Grand Canyon enthusiasts and backpackers.
We began our trip by descending to the Esplanade on the Sowats Trail in the Kanab Creek Wilderness. Then we headed towards Fishtail Mesa, which lies about 35 miles northwest of the South Rim Village. Our objective for this day was Indian Hollow, which lies along the north side of Fishtail.
Like Flagstaff, the canyon has received virtually no precipitation over the past couple of months. As we crossed dry ravine after dry ravine the water situation was starting to be a concern. As we neared the end of the day we finally found a very slight water source stretching for maybe 30 feet along the bare rock. It was so shallow that I could only pull out about two ounces at a time with my cup. It took quite a while to get the couple of gallons the three of us would need to carry us through another day.
We found some good camping spots above the water where we spent the next three nights. Our original itinerary was to hike around Fishtail Mesa and back to the rim via the Old Thunder River Trail. But the difficultly of travel and the water uncertainties led us to change our plans and instead do some day hiking from this camp and then get to the other side of Fishtail through the saddle between it and the north rim.
In exploring the surrounding terrain we found signs of both historic and prehistoric use. Kanab Creek, into which Indian Hollow drains, is well known for its ancient pictographs and petroglyphs and we found a number of such panels here on the Esplanade. Tucked away under protective overhangs, they can stay well-preserved.
Backpackers to this area are quite likely to see many of these symbols of a bygone people (whose descendants still live in and around the Grand Canyon) and based on our observations do a great job of preserving and protecting them.
We also found a great deal of barb wire fencing here, which is not unusual for this part of the canyon. Despite the generally poor conditions, there was a time when cattle were grazed in these canyons, especially over the winter months. The fencing may mark grazing areas or used to keep cattle away from a reliable water source.
In continuing our exploration of the area we came upon an old cowboy camp. Smaller camps dot the Esplanade, but this one was more extensive as among its refuse of bottles, cans and horseshoes was an old cast iron stove. Under a couple of overhangs nearby we came across the inscription, “Walapai Johnny,” who was a well-known local trail guide, muleskinner, story teller and cowboy. He seemed to have appropriated this nickname due to his dark skin from all the time he spent outdoors and would refer to himself as the last of the “blue-eyed Indians.” He roamed about these parts of the canyon for decades following his service in World War II.
On our third day we left camp for a day hike to Racetrack Knoll, a formation that dominates the lower portion of Kanab Canyon. It is unusual in that its summit is in the Hermit shale, with its deep red coloring providing quite a contrast with the vistas here. Up and down ravines, past some more barbed wire, through the bone-dry main bed of Indian Hollow, back and forth through a couple of side canyons and finally we were ready to climb this small peak.
I opted to only go up about halfway and left the summit to Jamie and Haley. It was a full day for us. We didn’t return to camp until just before dusk. The temperatures were warm during all of the days of our trip, with little or no breezes. After sunset it would get quite a bit cooler but we were never awfully cold.
On our fourth day we broke camp and headed up the main Indian Hollow drainage to a point where we could scramble up a steep brush-covered slope to the Fishtail saddle. Descending down the south side has the advantage of a faint use trail that we could follow but the disadvantage of lots of loose rocks and a very steep slope.
Once back on the Esplanade we made our way to the east arm of Fishtail Canyon. We found a good place to camp for the night and emptied our packs. There is a spring deep in this arm and even though I have been to it twice before, the route is quite a challenge. Sometimes there is the vestige of a real trail, but more often than not you must hunt around for a well-placed cairn to direct you through the next cliff band as you make your way almost to the bottom of the Supai formation.
We started down this route with backpacks full of empty water containers at a bit past 3 p.m.. Over two hours later, after many fits and starts, we made it to the spring. We took barely 10 minutes to fill up with water, to be purified later, before heading back up. Darkness soon befell us, which complicated our route finding. We reached our campsite at 8 p.m. and an hour later I was finally ready to start my dinner.
Our last day began with a quick hike over to check out another of Walapai Johnny’s hangouts, called the “Bean Cave.” We found the usual camp trash here but also some older inscriptions from visitors dating back to the 1920s. Then we packed up our camp and hiked across the plateau to visit another site called “Ghost Rock.” Here there are two interesting ghostly white figures painted on the wall, seemingly full-sized, about eight feet off the ground. The cowboys also used this area based on the old cans lying around.
With our packs back on we headed toward the Old Thunder River Trail, which begins on the rim in Indian Hollow. This trail is not used much these days as most visitors come down the Bill Hall Trail, saving a few miles of hiking.
As we approached the bottom of the Coconino formation we were finally able to intersect the trail. It had been five days since we were hiking on real trails and it felt good to be back on one. It took us less than a half hour to reach the rim and 20 more minutes to reach the trailhead where we had parked one of our vehicles.
We had not seen any other hikers during our Thanksgiving trek. We were accompanied only by other footprints, the ghosts of ancient inhabitants and the spirit of the “blue-eyed Indian,” Walapai Johnny.
As the holiday season makes its way through the mountains, Flagstaff is getting into the spirit with the Second Annual Window Decorating Contest sponsored by the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance, with more than 20 downtown Flagstaff businesses participating.
But for Cornish Pasty, its window display has turned a few heads.
“We thought it would be a funny joke, but I guess to a lot of people it wasn’t,” said Cornish Pasty co-owner and general manager Ryan Hays.
The painting is a cartoonish rendition of a woman, nude save for a red Santa hat on her head, holding a mug of beer. Covering up her nipples are two pasties (pronounced pass-tee), as in the English baked pastry, being used as pasties (pronounced pay-stee), as in adhesive coverings for breasts. The joke, according to Hays, is that customers often mix up the two.
“I was just trying to make a good joke about pasty [and] pasties. It’s just a pronunciation thing, but it’s just kind of funny to us. Like pasty, pastie, what’s the difference? Well there’s the difference. Those are pasties, and we serve pasties.”
When Cornish Pasty posted a photo of the painting on its Facebook page, it provoked a considerable response from the community, some supporting the painting and some opposing. Within a few hours, Cornish Pasty’s Facebook was flooded with comments. For some, the joke was apparent, even harmless.
An associate at another participating business in the competition, Zani Cards and Gifts, who wished to remain anonymous expressed their view of the painting, saying, “I think it’s funny. I went there last night and thought it was great. I don’t really think it’s that big of a deal.”
For others, the joke cut deeper, with many arguing the painting should be removed. Among those who opposed the painting was Flagstaff resident Luna Südekum-Thompson.
“Cornish Pasty’s decision to feature a painting of a naked woman with pasties covering her nipples on the window of their business purports the commodification of the female body – specifically a sexualized, hairless, thin, white body – as a means of advertising and encouraging profit,” said Südekum-Thompson in a written response to the Daily Sun.
Hays, however, said the painting was not intended as a marketing tool.
“For me, it was for fun. It’s not so much ‘look at this woman, come buy a pasty,' or 'look at this woman, here’s our beer special.’ I just thought it would be a funny joke," he said.
Though the joke was meant to be harmless, many took offense to its portrayal of women, some asserting it was pornography and that Cornish Pasty was perpetuating a culture of rape and mistreatment of women.
“Viewing this window painting as harmless, as separate from the realities of people’s lives, means rejecting the fact that the images we consume and the contexts we use them connect deeply to systems of power operating within our society,” said Südekum-Thompson. “The consistent sexualization and objectification of women within the media we consume purports and parallels rape culture, commodity culture and the marginalization of women.”
For Kari Watson, owner of The Garden Thrift, which is also participating in the competition, she feels the conversation is complex.
“I think there are just so many aspects. I mean, parents with teenage sons, they have to walk past that. I have a teenage son, too, so I understand, but they do have a right,” Watson said. “It’s not what I would have done, but it’s kind of genius. There were no rules. They were allowed to do it, and everyone has a right to freedom of speech.”
While many voiced their opinions or concerns on the Facebook thread, one voice was absent from the discussion: the artist’s, Kathy Darby. For Darby, the female form has always been artistic.
“I just think it’s something that will never go out of style as far as being beautiful,” she said.
When Cornish Pasty approached Darby about painting something for the window decorating contest, she was upfront about what she wanted to draw.
“I said, ‘well, I draw naked women, so that’s what I’m going to paint,’ and they said it was OK. It was supposed to be a joke, and that’s kind of the main thing I want to put out there. The fact that it was taken to this level, I think it’s absurd,” Darby said.
Darby, who took inspiration from the painted woman on the Sweet Nothings Lingerie and I Do I Do Wedding Boutique’s sign, said she understands the arguments about modesty in a family restaurant, “but what people are saying about rape culture and all that, it’s just people are arguing to argue.”
The Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance did not comment specifically regarding Cornish Pasty’s window decoration, but executive director Terry Madeksza expressed the goal of the window decorating competition is to bring a spotlight to all of the businesses involved.
“At the DBA we don’t offer directions; the business chooses. [The competition has] a total of 22 businesses, so we’re trying to generate positive exposure for everybody involved.”
Less than a week after posting the image of the painting, Cornish Pasty has responded to the criticisms and has since changed the painting to include definitions of both types of pasties, more Christmas presents and larger pasties to cover up the woman’s figure, and a rendition of Danish metal musician King Diamond. The new image, Darby said, is a way to make everyone feel comfortable and safe in Cornish Pasty while attempting to keep the humor and edginess of the original.
“I feel bad that I offended any families or anyone that would want to walk around downtown in peace without seeing that kind of stuff,” Darby said. “The fact that an image that I’ve drawn can provoke so much emotion throughout town is baffling, but I have to stick up for what I paint and what I draw because it is my art and no one else’s.”
The Flagstaff City Council took the first steps to approving a series of changes to the city’s transect zoning code Tuesday night.
The amendments were developed in the hopes they would prohibit a future development like The Hub, which residents and elected officials have criticized for being too massive and out of place in the neighborhood where it is being built.
The most significant change in the first round of amendments the council has deliberated is removing the “commercial block” building type from T4 zones. The Hub, a commercial block building, is being constructed in both a T4 zone and a T5 zone.
Much of The Hub’s controversy stemmed from an inconsistency in the zoning code about whether commercial block was allowed in all T4 zones or only in specific subzones within the T4 zone. In the code, commercial block is not included in the list of allowed building types for the subzone where The Hub is being built. However, a table later in the code lists commercial block as allowed in T4.
The Flagstaff Board of Adjustment ruled in a 3-2 vote that because commercial block was included in the later table, The Hub is allowed to be built. A visiting Pima County Superior Court judge confirmed the board’s decision when the case was appealed.
Commercial block will still be allowed in T5 zones, which the zoning code describes as a “main street” type zone, which serves as the transition between the lower numbered residential zones, and T6, the downtown zone. Because The Hub spans both a T4 and T5 zone, the portion in the T5 zone could still be a commercial block building.
In order to continue to allow commercial use buildings in T4 zones, the council also chose to modify another building type, called live/work. Previously, the live/work building required both uses to be completed by the same occupant, meaning if someone built a live/work building and wanted to use the bottom floor for commercial uses, like a shop, the upper floor, or the area behind the shop, must be used for residential by the same occupant.
The amendments allow the building to provide a mix of uses and remove the requirement for one of the units to be a dwelling unit.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Jim McCarthy proposed that the amendments include requiring a separation between live/work buildings that are placed on the same lot. McCarthy said if the separation was not required, even though each live/work building would have a separate entrance, a developer could create a series of buildings with the same continuous width as The Hub.
The council agreed to requiring space between each live/work building, and also to limit the width of a live/work building to 50 feet in all zones. The council said if a developer wants to make a larger commercial building in a zone that allows it, T5 or T6, the developer can still make a commercial block building.
The council also opted to require larger commercial block buildings to have architectural breaks, like using a different type or color of material on the façade of a building.
Even with the amendments, some councilmembers said the underlying problem could be that the zoning maps that define each transect were not done correctly. Some areas are zoned T4, which is designed to “reinforce established neighborhoods and to maintain neighborhood stability in walkable urban areas, while allowing such areas to evolve with the integration of small building footprints and medium density building types.” Some councilmembers pointed out even if some places are zoned to allow the medium density buildings, the area may be more suited for T3 zoning, which does not have a commercial building type allowed, based on the amendments to the code.
Dawn Tucker, the executive director of Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, said in a letter that by reconciling the zoning assignments with what exists in the neighborhoods, rather than what could exist in the future, sensitive areas like the Southside could be protected from some of the overdevelopment.
Tucker suggested the city go into neighborhoods and ask what property owners want to see done in their communities and make the changes based on owners’ feedback. If one owner does not want to buy into the change, that person can get a waiver for their property to protect it from “down zoning,” which is required by Arizona’s Prop. 207. The law prohibits a city from taking away property rights from an owner without compensating owners who oppose the change for the loss of value. However, Prop. 207, which was passed by the voters in 2006, only applies to those who own the properties when the change is enacted.
Reviewing the maps and discussing possible rezoning could come in later stages of the transect zoning amendments.
The second reading of the amendments will be at the council’s Dec. 19 meeting.