The Grand Canyon
''What's all the shouting about?'' I used to think as I flew over the Grand Canyon, enroute from New York to Los Angeles. From a height of around 30,000 feet, what I saw below seemed to be essentially a big ditch.Skip to next paragraph
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Then recently I stopped in Phoenix for a few days, mainly to attend to business. At the travel desk in the lobby of the historic Arizona Biltmore Hotel , I noted that several airlines offered airplane day trips to the Grand Canyon from the Phoenix-Scottsdale airport. Time to investigate all this fuss over the big ditch, I thought.
So, I signed up for the flight, and before the day was over the ''big ditch'' had become forevermore, in my mind, one of the greatest natural marvels of the world. I regretted having waited so long before seeing the Grand Canyon up close. Never again, with my new perspective, would I be able to belittle those spectacular gorges, buttes, mesas, and canyons.
Anybody flying to the West Coast who has not yet managed to see the Grand Canyon up close would do well to arrange a two- or three-day stopover in Phoenix , in the heart of what the chamber of commerce calls the ''Valley of the Sun.'' Besides the chance to take the quick tour of the Grand Canyon, Phoenix offers one of the landmark hotels of the Southwest - the venerable Arizona Biltmore - and one of the best ethnic museums in the country - the Heard Museum of Anthropology and Primitive Art.
The efficient public relations staff of the Arizona Biltmore is not being extravagant when it calls the hotel ''the jewel of the desert.'' This hotel, built by Albert Chase McArthur, was inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Although opened in 1929, later expansions and interior design were the work of the Frank Lloyd Foundation/Taliesin West.
Set in the foothills of Squaw Peak, the Biltmore is surrounded by palms, wildflowers, and cactuses as well as canals originally dug by the extinct Hohokam Indians.
Aside from its luxury-resort facilities, which include two 18-hole golf courses, 18 tennis courts, 3 swimming pools, and a health club, this Westin hotel manages to combine its desert mountain and Indian heritage with the Frank Lloyd Wright influence.
It is famous for its architectural features - some public areas have copper roofs, gold-leafed ceilings, and Wright-inspired perforated-concrete blocks. There's a geometrical Wright bas-relief in the main foyer. Throughout the hotel, the renowned architect's geometric patterns are integrated into carpets, drapes, ceilings, and tapestries. In addition, murals depict Zuni and Hopi Indian legends.
To seasoned travelers used to high-rise hotels, the Biltmore may seem a bit like a luxurious motel since it is all on two or three levels. The fact is that the 500-room hotel is one of 12 resorts in the country rated five stars by the Mobil Travel Guide.
Although Phoenix boasts many cultural attractions, such as the Art Museum and the Phoenix Symphony, and although its environs offer exciting day trips to Taliesin West, Cosanti and Arcosanti, the Apache Trail, Montezuma's Castle, and the Mogollon Rim, because of limited time, I restricted my sightseeing to the Heard Museum and the Grand Canyon.
For an introduction to the area and orientation about native American life, the first stop out of the hotel should be a visit to a superb haciendalike building in the heart of Phoenix - the Heard Museum.
This unique museum has taken on the task of informing the general public about the native people of the Southwest. Its arts and crafts collections include exhibits of baskets, pottery, silver jewelry, kachina dolls, Navajo blankets, colonial furniture, Rio Grande textiles and native art from all around the world, but especially the American Southwest. The museum shows films, arranges lectures, and sponsors craft demonstrations and fairs. In addition to traditional native American works, there is often a showing of contemporary art by native Americans. And there are exhibits treating prehistoric native American history.
Experts in the field consider the Heard to be the most extensive museum of native American culture and history in America. It is now in the midst of a $4 million expansion program to assure the museum of its place in the vanguard of America's growing fascination with its own past.
If you are in the market for authentic gifts, the museum's gift shop offers the best in Southwestern arts and crafts, made by native Americans and chosen by museum personnel for excellence, fair prices, and authenticity.
A highlight of any trip west in America is bound to be the Grand Canyon - if you give it the chance. I was still suffering from the big-ditch attitude when I signed on with Scenic Airways, one of several airlines that make the voyage from Phoenix-Scottsdale to the canyon.