Category Archives: Et Cetera

Q&A: New Book Explores Grand Canyon’s History

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park | I-Ting Chiang

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park | I-Ting Chiang

A new Grand Canyon book has hit the scene, but this one has a twist.

Suzanne Silverthorn, the co-author of Grand Canyon: Past and Present, is an avid collector of vintage postcards featuring scenes from the national parks of the West. According to Silverthorn, her interest in postcards and national parks is drawn from her experiences summering in her family cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado, as a child, and a train trip she took with her grandmother to the Grand Canyon when she was 10 years old. Years later, she discovered an old box of brochures, maps, and postcards she had sent to her family in that time. So began the process of sorting through other family possessions and collecting other souvenirs from her trips to the West’s national parks.

“As I began acquiring these postcards,” Silverthorn says, “I was immediately struck by the grit and determination of the early-day sightseers and what was required to reach the parks — first by dusty stagecoach and horseback trails, then the more comfortable, but exclusive train excursions, and later by auto — the great equalizer. I became fascinated with the evolution of national-park tourism and the men and women who devoted their lives and fortunes to create the camps, lodges, roads and other visitor services to accommodate this new industry.”

The result is a compilation of photographs and keepsakes of the Grand Canyon that serves as a timeless account of the park’s significance, not only for its beauty and grandeur, but also for its focus on society’s contributions to the park in its transformation as a tourism destination over time. “The combination of past and present images shows an evolving landscape within a man-made environment and its juxtaposition with the incredible scenery,” Silverthorn says.

We asked the author a few questions about the process of compiling this unique collection of Grand Canyon memorabilia.

A postcard of El Tovar, circa 1906. The sender describes the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon from the hotel. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A postcard of El Tovar, circa 1906. The sender describes the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon from the hotel. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

Q: Describe the format and contents of the book.
A: The book uses a combination of postcard images and present day photography to offer a timeless account of the park’s scenic and historical significance. With chapters on the South Rim and North Rim, the book introduces readers to the park’s early promoters, including prospectors and homesteaders. Also featured are the significant contributions of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads. It’s a pictorial account in which historic postcards are paired with award-winning images of today, courtesy of landscape photographer I-Ting Chiang. Scenes include dramatic rim views and rugged trail-side settings, plus El Tovar and other historic properties once operated by the Fred Harvey Co., as well as the stone-sculpted visitor facilities crafted by Mary Colter. Together, these images tell the story of the development of modern tourism in the Grand Canyon. The book is a treasured keepsake for history buffs and an inspiration to others who marvel at the adventurous spirit of the early entrepreneurs.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A vintage El Tovar decal, produced by the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Co. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A vintage El Tovar decal, produced by the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Co. | Courtesy of Suzanne Silverthorn

A: What I find remarkable about the Grand Canyon is the timeless appeal it has on our souls. It’s an emotional and spiritual connection that transcends our ancestry and culture. And while those who came before us weren’t particularly well traveled, their instincts told them this was a special place — a place to be shared with others. The inspiration for the book comes from an admiration of the early-day pioneers that devoted their livelihoods to share the park with those who had longed to see such a site while paving the way for today’s visitors. The past and present images demonstrate the park’s scenic timelessness while also illustrating the progression as a tourism destination. While many readers will connect with the book to reminisce about earlier visits, my hope is that new visitors will not only be moved by their own experiences associated with the park’s majestic views, but will use the book to appreciate the park’s fascinating cultural history and preservation efforts.

Q: What did you enjoy most about the process of compiling this book?
A: I enjoyed the research associated with the book, which led me to connect with some wonderful people who graciously offered their help and support. The list includes author Michael F. Anderson, an expert on the park’s history; Wayne Ranney of the Grand Canyon Historical Society; Michael Quinn with the National Park Service; Julie Herrick with BNSF Railway; and Patricia LaBounty with the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. I thoroughly enjoyed poring over old brochures and pamphlets published by the railroads and the National Park Service. The material in these early publications included lodging rates, what to wear, what to do, how to get there, etc. The postcards, too, offered an interesting glimpse into the past with first-hand accounts of early travels to the Grand Canyon. I also found the reference librarians at my local library to be extremely helpful in assisting in the research of elusive dates and other details. It was a great reminder of the tremendous resources and personal assistance offered by our local libraries.

Q: What were some of the challenges or surprises you encountered in compiling this book?
A: Before I began researching the book, I had no idea of the contributions of Mary Colter and her design influences throughout the Southwest. She was clearly ahead of her time in the way she approached the design and construction of Hopi House, Phantom Ranch and her other projects within the park and is only now receiving the kind of recognition she deserves as a pioneering architect. Look for additional discussions on the Fred Harvey/Mary Colter fan page on Facebook.

Q: Do you have any more projects lined up?
A: This month, a yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of Rocky Mountain National Park will be taking place. I’ll be working with the libraries in Grand Lake and Estes Park, Colorado, to help commemorate the anniversary later in the year. I’ll also continue to add to my postcard collection. My goal is to acquire postcards of every lodge from every decade from every national park.

Q: Where can the public find out more about you and your new book?
A: The Grand Canyon book is the fourth in a series of past and present books; the other books are profiles on Glacier, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Ask your local library to obtain copies of any of these books from the interlibrary-loan program. Copies are available for sale at or

— Alexandra Winter

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ASU Gammage Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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More than 50 years ago, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright walked the Arizona State University campus in Tempe with then-ASU President Grady Gammage. At the time, Gammage was looking for a way to make ASU a cultural center for the Phoenix area. Wright, meanwhile, had recently designed an opera house for Iraq’s King Faisal II, but the king had been assassinated before the building could be constructed, and Wright was looking for a new use for the design.

At one point, Wright put down his cane and said he had found the place where he would build a building with outstretched arms that said, “Welcome to ASU.”

That building became Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, which begins its 50th-anniversary season this month. Neither Gammage nor Wright lived to see the building completed, but Colleen Jennings-Roggensack says both would be proud of how the building (since rebranded as ASU Gammage) has evolved.

“What’s happened in the last 50 years is exactly what they thought would happen,” says Jennings-Roggensack, who has been ASU Gammage’s executive director since 1991. “It’s become the leading cultural center in the Southwest and the leading Broadway touring house in the country.”

Interestingly, she adds, Wright once said that all of his buildings should fall down after 50 years. But thanks to Gammage’s continuing evolution, it’s remained relevant and become an important part of the identity of ASU and the Phoenix area. That’s even more remarkable when you consider that the venue receives no financial support from the university.

Jennings-Roggensack helped bring Broadway shows to Gammage; the first time The Phantom of the Opera came there, it sold out in seven minutes. That change required extensive renovations to the Gammage stage, as well as the addition of ramp systems and accessible seating for disabled patrons. A national study showed that Broadway shows at Gammage pump $50 million into the local economy each year, Jennings-Roggensack says.

Gammage has been a place for political theater, too: A 2004 presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry was held there. Before that, in 1998, 30 sitting U.S. senators and former first lady Nancy Reagan came to Gammage for the funeral of Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater. And President Bill Clinton first gave his “Bridge to the Future” speech from one of Gammage’s trademark arms.

Jennings-Roggensack also includes a less famous event among her favorite Gammage moments. At a Camp Broadway event in the venue’s lobby, she met a young girl who told her that her grandfather, who also was attending the event, had been one of the building’s construction workers. “I went over and met him,” she says, “and he said that he was one of the workers, but he had never been inside Gammage. I took them into the house and had them sit down, and I had their granddaughter get up on stage. She sang The Star-Spangled Banner. And we cried.”

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, ASU Gammage is hosting three residency projects:

  • A developmental workshop on BASETRACK, a multimedia performance based on the real worlds of modern-day Marines and their families;
  • Another developmental workshop on Lemon Andersen’s ToasT, a new play about Willie Green, a.k.a. “Dolomite”; and
  • A residency by Aaron Landsman, an actor, writer and director who has performed around the world.

There’s plenty more to say about ASU Gammage, but it’s a venue that you really should experience for yourself. For information about upcoming shows and other events, call 480-965-3434 or visit

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Friday Fotos: There’s a Storm Coming

Ron Harvey | Prescott

Ron Harvey | Prescott

Wow, you guys. You really brought it for this week’s “stormy weather”-themed Friday Fotos. What follows is only a fraction of the incredible images we received. Have a great weekend, and stay safe out there!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Friday Fotos will be on hiatus for the next two weeks because our blog editor is having a baby. (Actually, his wife is doing most of the work.) We’ll have “classic” Friday Fotos galleries the next two Fridays, and we’ll resume doing new Friday Fotos the week of September 8.

By submitting photographs to Arizona Highways via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or other social networking sites, the photographer grants Arizona Highways electronic rights. No financial consideration will be paid to anyone for publication on the Arizona Highways blog or website.

By publishing a photographer’s work to its blog, Arizona Highways does not endorse the photographer’s private business or claim responsibility for any business relationships entered into between the photographer and our readers.


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Q&A: Swinging From the Trees in the White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

Recently, we received an email from James Nesslage, a construction contractor with Nessco Designs in Sanders. Nesslage thought we’d be interested to know about his seasonal project: From late August to mid-October, he and his crew harvest pine cones from trees in the White Mountains, and the U.S. Forest Service uses the cones to plant new trees in areas damaged by the Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires.

Indeed, we were interested. We reached out to Nesslage and asked him a few questions about this unusual line of work. He’s also going to have someone on his crew shoot photos of the work being done, and we’ll bring those to you in a future post.

Q: How did you get into cone-picking?
A: I am actually a construction contractor but kinda stumbled into cone-picking. I was just perusing the FedBizOpps [Federal Business Opportunities] page one day and came across a solicitation for seed-cone harvesting. After reading the scope of work, I thought, “We could do this!” I’ve had years of climbing experience, and I have always gravitated toward niche-type occupations anyway, so it sounded like a lot of fun. Go camping, climb trees and get paid for it! Sweet!

The first season was a little hectic because we didn’t even know we had the contract until I got a call on Saturday, saying, “Start Monday.” Yikes!  Well, we scrambled up our equipment, jammed down to the White Mountains and started picking. Our first week was just myself, a couple of my regular employees and my granddaughter living out of the back of my truck. By week two, we were starting to get things together and lined up some more help, along with a little better camping situation. Still pretty primitive, but we learned a lot and had some fun. Well, when the season was over, we told a lot of our friends about it, and everyone was pretty jazzed. When the next season came along, we had lots of folks who wanted to join us. Now we work with a crew of 15 to 20 people, with some rotating home or only working part of the season because they have to go back to their real jobs. It takes someone who has a great spirit of adventure and a good work ethic to do this kind of work. It’s hard, it’s dangerous, and it requires a lot of trust in your teammates.

Q: What’s a typical day of harvesting like?
A: The typical workday starts around 6 a.m. with breakfast and a safety meeting. Then, it’s off to the trees. We use standard climbing equipment, including ropes, harnesses, friction savers, ascenders (no climbing spikes!) and so on. I try to have some trees rigged the night before so there is minimal time lost getting the pickers aloft. We use a powder-activated launcher to send a light line up into the tree and over a good, strong branch. Using the throw line, we pull the friction saver (a kind of strap with two rings, one on each end) over the limb and then the climbing rope through the friction saver. This protects the bark of the tree and prolongs the life of the rope.

The climber ties in and is hoisted up into the lower branches. With the right equipment, you can pull yourself up, but we found that by the time the climber pulls himself up to the top, he’s so tired that he has to wait quite a while before he’s able to start picking, so we do that part for him.  We keep two climbers in each tree for safety, as each can help the other to tie off or belay. The ground crew makes sure the climbers have anything they need, including picking bags, water, snacks, whatever keeps them going.

After the climbers pick a bag of cones, they are lowered to the ground and the ground crew sorts them for quality control. Sometimes they will have insects that eat the seeds or other defects. The cones from each tree are kept in separate sacks and tagged, each tag listing the region, location and specific tree, including GPS coordinates.

Q: What species of trees do you harvest, and how much is done in one day?
A: Most teams can pick two trees in a day, with three or four bushels of cones from each tree. Primarily, the species harvested are white pine, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Each species has distinctive cones, so the number of actual seeds collected varies. We will do a field test on a couple of cones from each tree before picking to make sure the cones are healthy and the seeds are mature enough to pick.

After we harvest, the bags of cones are stored in a cooler in Alpine until a truck takes them to a nursery just outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where they process and sprout the seeds and then grow them for a couple of years, until they are seedlings. When they are ready, they are shipped back to Arizona, and a team plants them in the same area the seeds were harvested. That’s why we do all the record-keeping. The genetics of each tree are, of course, passed on to its seedlings, so we have to be pretty picky about which trees are harvested. Healthy, straight, no forked trunks, et cetera. That way we get good seedlings for reforestation.

Q: What are the challenges of this kind of work, and what do you enjoy about it?
A: The real challenges are mostly psychological, but you do have to be in fairly decent physical shape to climb. Primitive living conditions (although we try to make that as comfortable as possible), close living with a sizable group, working in somewhat hazardous positions, and the guts to work until the job is done. With that being said, it’s the best office I’ve ever had. There is something almost spiritual about sitting in a tree, 150 feet above the ground, a slight breeze of clean air blowing the tree with a gentile rocking, watching eagles and hawks soar just above your head and feeling the sun warm you. Almost puts you in a trance. I’ve actually taken a nap up there.  Yeah, it’s awesome!

Q: Can people come watch the work being done? Or can people join the crew?
A: If anyone would like to come watch, they can just email me ( and I will let them know where we will be that day. I have to be pretty choosy about who helps because of the challenges I mentioned, but I am certainly willing to talk to someone if they would like to join us.


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Sedona Receives Coveted ‘Dark Sky’ Status

Kelli Klymenko | Sedona

Kelli Klymenko | Sedona

Stargazers now have another Arizona city they can visit for pristine views of the night sky. The International Dark-Sky Association has named Sedona an International Dark Sky Community, making it the second city in Arizona to receive the designation (Flagstaff is the other).

There now are just eight such communities in the world, and Arizona is the only place with two of them. The others are in California, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, the United Kingdom and France.

As The Arizona Republic reports, the city has been active in reducing nighttime “light pollution” for the past 15 years. Sedona tourism officials hope the designation will help boost tourism in the area.

The IDSA also maintains a list of dark-sky parks. That list includes Arizona’s remote Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, which received its designation in March.


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Help Save Springerville’s Historic El Rio Theatre

Springerville's El Rio Theatre (then called the Apache Theatre)

Springerville’s El Rio Theatre (then called the Apache Theatre) | Courtesy of Laura Preder

Springerville’s El Rio Theatre (formerly the Apache Theatre) opened in 1915, so its 100th birthday would be next year. But it might not make it that far without a little help.

Considered Arizona’s oldest active movie house, the El Rio needs to update to digital projection now that 35 mm film is going out of style. Supporters of the theater are trying to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter to make that update a reality and keep the single-screen, 288-seat theater in business. From the Kickstarter page:

Locally, no one wants the El Rio Theatre to close its doors in this tiny rural community where the next movie theater is over 50 miles away by two-lane road.The bottom line, however, is that without movie distribution, the El Rio Theatre is a theater in name only. Round Valley residents have overwhelmingly expressed support and pitched in where possible to help save the El Rio Theater but our efforts have fallen short. Based on the approximately $100,000 needed to upgrade the projection and sound systems combined with some basic interior remodeling and electrical improvements needed to accommodate the equipment, we find ourselves with a shortfall of about $50,000 that we are looking to raise through the generous contributions of patrons of the fine arts like you.This is your one opportunity to help preserve one of the truly historic Arizona movie houses and to ensure that it reaches its 100th birthday and celebrates its centennial anniversary next year.

If you’re a fan of historic movie theaters, or if you’d just like to see Springerville and Eagar keep their only movie house, please consider contributing to the restoration effort. The Kickstarter campaign continues through August 13.

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