Sunday, September 25, 2016

Grand Canyon National Park

by Jennifer Uhlarik

So…I had the great fortune to take a two-week road trip with my family this summer. We were able to see a lot of great things on our cross-country travels, stopping in several states along the way, but our big destination was Arizona’s Grand Canyon. I’d been to see it when I was roughly 10 years old, but neither my husband nor my 18-year-old son had been. So that was the anchor location that we built our trip around, and while we didn’t attempt going down into the canyon, we were each awed by the splendor and beauty we saw from the South Rim. If you have never been, let me just say it is so worth the trip.

Grand Canyon At Sunset

© Jennifer Uhlarik
Another view of Grand Canyon
© Jennifer Uhlarik

Here’s a few facts. Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. At its widest point, it is eighteen miles wide, and at its narrowest, it is four miles wide. It is approximately one mile deep. Temperatures at the South Rim can range from 30-40 degrees in winter, with a good chance of snow at times…to 100 degrees or above during summer, though the nighttime temperatures can fall quite a bit, causing a big discrepancy. Inside the canyon, temperatures are known to reach 120 degrees easily.

Ancestral Puebloan granaries high above the Colorado  River at Nankoweap Creek, Grand Canyon.
(Photo: Drenaline, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)
Grand Canyon was the seventeenth national park to be established within the United States, and was granted that honor in 1919. But long before it was discovered by white men, Grand Canyon and the surrounding area was home to various tribes of Indians. Ancient Puebloan Indians, the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people, were thought to be some of the earliest settlers to Grand Canyon. Like I said, my family didn’t hike into the canyon, so we didn’t see them in person, but this photo of Ancient Puebloan granaries found within Grand Canyon indicate the Indians’ presence from long ago. In addition to the Ancient Puebloans, the Cohonina, the Sinagua, the Hualapai, and Havasupai—among many others—lived around or in the canyon long before the white man came along.

With that in mind, it was a real pleasure for us to see an authentic display of Native American dances
put on by a group of very talented folks. We had a truly amazing time watching the various dancers in their colorful regalia as they performed a traditional grass dance, hoop dance, and others for the park goers.
A Young Native American man performs a dance
honoring the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.
© Jennifer Uhlarik

A young girl and her grandmother perform a traditional women's dance.
© Jennifer Uhlarik

A Native American Man performs the Grass Dance
© Jennifer Uhlarik

A young woman performs the Butterfly Dance
© Jennifer Uhlarik

A Native American man performs a traditional
Hoop Dance.
© Jennifer Uhlarik

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado
So how did the white or European settlers come across Grand Canyon? In the mid-1500’s, the Spanish found their way to the area as they searched for the Seven Cities of Cibola under orders from Conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado. The small band of Spanish soldiers followed a Hopi guide about a third of the way into the canyon, but were forced to turn back because they lacked water. In their notes on the foray, they expressed concern that their guide purposely didn’t show them watering holes along the way for fear that the newcomers would stay. In 1776, Spanish priests returned, this time to the North Rim, as they searched for a way to reach California from Santa Fe, while others spent time attempting (unsuccessfully) to convert the Havasupai Indians to Christianity.

In 1826, a group of American trappers and mountain men traipsed into the area and “discovered” Grand Canyon. By the mid 1800’s, Lieutenant Joseph Ives led a military survey party into the canyon, only to deem the area “altogether valueless” and a “profitless locality.” (Doesn’t that make you laugh when you consider that five million people visit Grand Canyon National Park each year?)

Grand Canyon at Morning
© Jennifer Uhlarik

John Wesley Powell
In 1869, John Wesley Powell, who later founded and ran the U.S. Geological Society, explored the Colorado River with a team of men using wooden boats, and went back to explore the river again in 1871. Soon after, lead, zinc, asbestos, and copper deposits were found in the canyon, which led many to stake mining claims across the next two decades. Unfortunately for them, the process of mining in such inhospitable conditions proved to be difficult, if not deadly, and Grand Canyon finally shifted from a miner’s playground to one of the most sought-out tourist attractions within the United States.

There are lots of great things to do at Grand Canyon today. Both the North and South Rim areas are run by the National Park Service today. You can hike or ride a mule into the canyon, or white-water raft down the Colorado River. Helicopters rides are available for a price to those who want to see an up-closer view of the canyon floor without the hike or mule ride to get there. Hiking along the rim provides many scenic and beautiful views, and there are many historic buildings with interesting stories to be explored along the South Rim. The North Rim is much more rugged with fewer services than the South Rim. And the Western Rim, which is run by the Haulapai Indian Tribe rather than the National Park Service, is where tourists can go to experience the “Skywalk”—where they can walk out over the Grand Canyon on a crystal-clear pathway that provides a view into the canyon like no other. (Unfortunately, as one who has a very healthy fear of heights, I doubt I’d be able to experience the Skywalk or a hike/mule ride into the canyon).
Rugged terrain at Grand Canyon
© Jennifer Uhlarik

It’s your turn: Have you ever been to Grand Canyon? Did you stay on the rim or did you hike into the canyon? If you haven’t been, would you hike down? Why or why not?

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Westward Ho, The Wagons

I just completed a book and that means it's time to celebrate. Though it wasn’t necessary to research covered wagons for my story, I’m a firm believer that writers should never pass up the opportunity to procrastinate in the name of research. Plus, I was curious to know how accurately wagon trains were depicted in those old westerns I grew up with.

Having once ridden in a covered wagon, I know from experience that those teeth rattlers were not designed for comfort. If you didn’t bake beneath the canvas covers, you’d probably choke on dust. Most emigrants walked rather than rode, but it wasn’t only for lack of comfort.
Imagine moving your family across country in this.
The average size of a covered wagon was twelve feet long and four feet wide. That’s about the size of my PT cruiser. By the time I load up my car with a couple of kids and a week’s supply of groceries, it’s packed to the gills. I can’t imagine trying to haul a household across country in that thing. I can’t even go to church without carrying a piano-size purse. Not only would we have to walk, we’d have to drag pots and pans and the requisite hundred-pound bag of flour along with us.
This is about the size of my PT Cruiser

According to some old diaries, trails west were often littered with furniture. That’s because sentimental souls had insisted upon packing grandma’s rocker or other family heirlooms. Out of necessity, these were soon left on the side of the road. That would have been a problem for my family. My husband couldn’t pass so much as a hubcap without pulling over to retrieve it (which explains why our garage looks like the Goodwill store)

Families lucky enough to travel in a Conestoga wagons had an easier time. These wagons were twenty-four feet long and could carry 12,000 pounds of cargo. That much weight required teams of at least eight horses or twelve
mules. Most people couldn’t afford that luxury. A covered wagon could be pulled by as little as one team providing a family traveled light. The most popular animal was the ox, especially during the early years of migration when a mule cost $75 and an ox $25. Oxen couldn’t travel as fast as horses but they were stronger and less likely to stray or be stolen by Indians. They were also able to survive on sparse vegetation.

Oxen did, however, have one fatal flaw; they tended to go berserk when hot and thirsty, in which case they would stampede to the nearest watering hole. If the lake or stream was downhill, watch out! A wagon’s hand brake was good for parking but not much else. Though a downhill run might have given the kids a thrill, it was definitely a problem for the driver.

Wagons averaged about two miles an hour for a total of ten to fifteen miles a day. A two-thousand-mile journey from Missouri to the west coast would take about five months—longer in bad weather. Can you imagine spending 150 plus days listening to your kids asking, “Are we there, yet?” It makes you want to run screaming to the next watering hole just to think about it.
Most travelers didn’t even know where “there” was. John Bidwell, who led a party from Missouri to California, later admitted: "Our ignorance of the route was complete. We knew that California lay west, and that was the extent of our knowledge."

As could be expected, cooking was a chore. Not only did pioneer women have to get over their aversion to using buffalo chips for fuel, they had to fight wind, insects and sandstorms. In case you were wondering, a family of four required 1000 pounds of food.

Although remarkably impersonal, women’s diaries offer a fascinating look into daily life on a wagon train. Keeping up with the wash was pure drudgery but not for Mrs. Hampton who wrote in her diary in 1888 that when her wagon train reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, she sent their company’s dirty clothes to the laundry. Now that’s my kind of woman.

It’s a relief to know that most of what I learned about overland journeys from those old westerns was true. Though, as far as I can tell, no wagon train ever rolled out of camp to the tune of Westward Ho, The Wagons.

What's your traveling style? Here's mine

Left at the Altar

Welcome to Two-Time Texas:
Where tempers burn hot
Love runs deep
And a single marriage can unite a feuding town
…or tear it apart for good.