The National Park Service — the government agency charged with overseeing and protecting America’s national parks, monuments, historic sites and recreation areas — is celebrating its 100-year anniversary of the agency this year.
On Aug. 25, the park service will hit the milestone, as it came into being on that date in 1916. Though several national monuments had already been proclaimed, the formation of the park service as an entity helped cement was has been coined as “America’s Best Idea.”
To help celebrate the big year, we wanted to share a handful of favorite books — 10 in total — that are about or in some way related to the Grand Canyon, our big centerpiece national park of the region.
We put an added focus on some titles that might have been overlooked along the way. We’ll set aside guidebooks, photography and art books this time (of which there are many great ones) and focus on some notable readers.
“Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West — One Meal at a Time” by Stephen Fried (2010). Going alphabetical order by title, it seems fitting to start off with a book on Fred Harvey here in the heavy visitor season of summertime. Harvey defined what it meant to travel and explore the American Southwest in its early days, as his restaurants and hotels, partnered with the railroad, laid the groundwork for regional tourism generally and Grand Canyon specifically.
Fried’s book is a sturdy account and enjoyable read of Harvey, his ideas and his company. “Appetite for America” digs into the man’s biography in ways that have not happened in previous books. “His eating houses and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad (including historic lodges still in use at the Grand Canyon) were patronized by princes, presidents and countless ordinary travelers looking for the best cup of coffee in the country,” notes a description of the book. A satisfying read on a fascinating time in local history.
“Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery” by Wayne Ranney (2007). From the latter human history of tourism development to the deep-down history of the Grand Canyon geology, “Carving Grand Canyon” is a must-have book for anyone who is trying to get their brain to comprehend the rocky complexities of one of the world’s great natural wonders.
Wayne Ranney, a longtime Flagstaff resident and canyon geologist, brings an open-minded and educational approach to sharing the canyon’s ancient history and clues and evidence toward its formation. The book is beautifully laid out and illustrated and always keeps the science interesting and accessible. It gives a lot of different ideas their due.
For a related title, “Grand Canyon: Solving Earth’s Grandest Puzzle” by James Lawrence Powell (2005) is also one to consider for a second look. It doesn’t bring quite as much geology, strong pictures or imagery to the table. But it does have some interesting views on the history of geologic understanding, as well as reminders of how much we’ve wrangled over time with understanding this landscape.
“I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People” by Stephen Hirst (2006). Flagstaff author Stephen Hirst penned the definitive book on the Havasupai tribe and its fight to restore original land back to them from the park. It’s a crucial, must-read part of the Grand Canyon’s history.
Hirst, whose relationship with the tribe spans back to the late 1960s, tells the spellbinding story of how the tribal members went to Washington and campaigned to get land returned to them. The fight dated back to the 1880s, when the reservation was carved down to a postage stamp.
However, in 1975, the tribe convinced the government to return 265,000 acres of south rim land to the Havasupai — 185,000 acres in reservation trust and a further 80,000 acres of the adjacent inner canyon held in a unique trust by the park service. It’s the largest return of native land in history. And this book does a great job telling the tale.
“Grand Ambition” by Lisa Michaels (2001). One of the most captivating mysteries of the Grand Canyon comes with the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde. In 1928, the honeymooners set out to travel the river through the Grand, in a time when Bessie would have been the first woman to do so. However, the couple never made it through. Only their boat was found, while their bodies were never located.
Author Lisa Michaels takes this fascinating story and turns it into a page-turning novel. She has to speculate about Bessie and about Glen, while also divining their fate. But the book is more than a recount of history, but also a tale of love and survival.
For a related title, consider “Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde” by Brad Dimock (2001). The Flagstaff river-runner and author brings in the deeper story and fascinating facts of this doomed couple that have haunted Grand Canyon lore for nearly nine decades. Both books cast a fascinated eye on the tale.
“Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of the Grand Canyon” by Elias Butler and Tom Myers (2007). One of Grand Canyon’s ardent on-foot explorers was Harvey Butchart. The Northern Arizona University professor dedicated decades of his life exploring the deepest of backcountry. Estimates put his hiking mileage around the 12,000-mile mark over the span of 42 years, which resulted in some iconic guidebooks.
“Grand Obsession” could be a title that both references Butchart and the authors, Elias Butler and Tom Myers. They spent years working on the book and poured through tons of documents — and made several trips — to bring the near-500-page book to life. It remains of the best biographies of a canyon explorer outside of the John Wesley Powell canon.
The thorough research and dedication make it a great canyon book to add to the collection. And it’s exciting to drop into the madness of Butchart and his wild and restless life. The book was a 2008 National Outdoor Book Award winner that deserves a second look.
“In the Heart of the Canyon” by Elisabeth Hyde (2010). A last great American adventures that people can take by simply reserving a spot with a credit-card number is the river trip through the Grand Canyon. And, for anyone who has survived a commercial river trip, they can attest that the adventure is not just in the running of rapids but in surviving a trip that is — most times — a gathering of strangers.
In the novel "In the Heart of the Canyon," Elisabeth Hyde creates a book on the premise of tracking people on a commercial trip. On the surface, this seems like an all-too-easy plot contrivance, to pick and choose characters to pair on a trip for optimum drama and tension. But Hyde is much smarter than that.
She plays with people’s perceptions on this variation of people stranded in one place together. She also deftly captures with sharp observations the realm of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.
“Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” by Michael Ghiglieri and Tom Myers (2001). Lightning struck for Michael Ghiglieri and Tom Myers when “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” hit the bookshelves 15 years ago.
This book has since become the bestselling title about the famous gorge by a canyon mile. It has fed off the morbid fascination of anyone who has ever wondered how many lives the Grand Canyon has claimed.
The 400-page-plus tome details more than 500 documented deaths in various chapters and manners of perishing: falls, dehydration, floods, the Colorado River, air crashes, freak accidents, suicides and murder are just a few examples.
The book also becomes not just a cautionary tale, but a collection of cautionary tales of all stripes for readers to ponder (though, in some cases, the deaths are just bad luck).
For a related title, the just released “In a Better Place: Cemeteries & Gravesites of Grand Canyon” by Kern Nuttall (2016) makes a nice bookend pairing with “Over the Edge.” Nuttall chronicles the resting places of the deceased. The book is a thorough and thoughtful look at these sites and the history behind the people buried there.