« Surprises in Grand Canyon | Main | Blog meets blog »

Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter

Yesterday I mentioned the diverse architecture that can be found at the Grand Canyon's south rim. It's even more fascinating to me to know that most of it is the work of one woman, Mary Colter.

Mary Colter was a schoolteacher and apprentice architect from St Louis when she was first tapped to do interior design for the Fred Harvey Company. Around the turn of the century, she came to the Grand Canyon and designed the amazing Hopi House.

Grand Canyon Hopi House.jpg

Hopi House was, and remains, a unique piece of architecture. Designed to reflect traditional structures of the Native Americans, it was actually constructed by Hopis and housed their artwork. Today it's still a gift shop, right across from the El Tovar hotel and just a few feet from a miraculous view at the canyon rim.

Grand Canyon Hermits Rest.jpg

Mary Colter also designed Hermit's Rest, another fascinatingly unique structure about eight miles west of Hopi House. Like all her buildings, it seems to grow from the landscape, and it immediately invites you in to the cool shady overhands. A massive fireplace dominates half the space. It incorporates earth-sheltering, solar design, clerestory windows, and stone construction.

Grand Canyon tall view.jpg

Mary Colter's story is more amazing when you consider the era in which she did her work. Despite being a woman at a time when women weren't expected to rise to power, she was the dominant force behind the Fred Harvey and Santa Fe Railway company's hotel building efforts for decades. She designed several magnificent structures at Grand Canyon, and all over the southwest, many of which are still in use today.

I bought a book published by the Grand Canyon Association about her work, and it is a fascinating look into the times and the architecture. It's called "Mary Colter: Builder Upon The Red Earth." It's available in the book stores here at Grand Canyon, but you may have to hunt for it if you want to buy it online or used.

Grand Canyon condor 2.jpg

After a full day of hiking we returned to the patio at Bright Angel Lodge to watch the condors again. We met up with a few new friends from yesterday (other photographers) and I got some better pictures. I've learned that to capture the condors you need a shutter speed above 1/500th at a minimum.

Today we are moving on. It is a shame to leave after only three nights, but the Grand Canyon will call us back next year. We are just getting to know this place a tiny bit, and I can see that to make our acquaintance better we will need many visits. Just the story of one person (Colter) who contributed to this park is enough to keep me occupied for a while; I can only imagine the thousands of other human stories here waiting to be heard.


Rich, Today I saw Airstream Life in my local Books-A-Million. After much searching I found it in the travel section and not with the other RV magazines. Is this where you wanted it? Or should it be with the Trailer Life etc.?

Response by Rich: Yes, that's where we wanted it. It was a tough call but we hope to appeal to non-RV owning travelers as well as current RV owners, so we went with the Travel section. Thanks for checking it out!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please enter the security code you see here