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Grand Canyon Inn: The Inside Story
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our October issue, on newsstands now, includes Is That a Swimming Pool on the South Rim? In it, writer Kathy Montgomery tells the story of the long-gone (and nearly long-forgotten) Grand Canyon Inn. We asked Montgomery about the experience of researching and writing about this idiosyncratic piece of Canyon history.

portfolio picture
© Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection

How did you come across the story of Grand Canyon Inn, and what interested you about it?
The story began with a request from a reader. Bill and Dotty West had honeymooned there in 1962. Being their honeymoon spot, the inn became very special to them. A Prescott native, Bill had been to the Grand Canyon before, but the inn was different from any other lodging in the Canyon because it was perched right on the rim, and their room had a big picture window overlooking the Canyon.  

Their stay inspired a deep love of the Canyon for Bill. Dotty says he became the Canyon’s No. 1 fan. He’s hiked it a number of times and taken a 10-day rafting trip through the Canyon as part of a geology class at Northern Arizona University.

On one of their anniversaries, Bill and Dotty returned and tried to find the inn. They walked and found the remains of what they thought might have been the spot where it stood. At the time, the mine’s headframe was still in place, and that was what they saw. They asked around the village, but nobody they talked to remembered the Inn. Bill wrote to the magazine, hoping we would find out what happened.

Of course, the story and its connection to the Orphan Mine was fascinating on its own, but I didn’t find more than dry facts about the inn itself or its owners. Nothing I found described the daily life at the inn, what the people who owned it were like or anything that happened there. I was fortunate enough to find people who remembered it and who worked or lived there, and they told me some great stories.

It sounds like there's no trace of the inn today. How did you track down people who remembered it and could talk about it?
I’m glad you asked, because I’d really like to give credit to three people who didn’t appear in the story: Dianne Castagne, Susie Verkamp and Paul Schnur. I couldn’t have written the story without them.

Dianne is the daughter of Maurice Castagne, who was the mine’s superintendent for many years. He wrote a wonderful book about his experiences there. I tried to find him but learned that he had passed away. But Dianne still maintains a website devoted to the book. I made contact with her, and she connected me with the mine’s chief geologist, former employees and friends of her parents.

Susie Verkamp, formerly of Verkamp’s Curios, put me in touch with her brothers and Mary Hoover, who gave me one of the best interviews of all. Mary remembered Dan Hogan and told me wonderful stories about Madeleine Jacobs. Susie also put me in touch with Dr. Paul Schnur, who had managed the place for two summers when he was in high school. He was the one who put me in touch with Penny Barrington, whose parents owned the inn when he worked there.

For people who are visiting the Grand Canyon and want to see where the inn was, where exactly is the site? Is it accessible by foot? Is there anything left at all?
The inn was located about 2 miles west of Grand Canyon Village, up Hermit Road. The headframe remained for decades after the mine shut down, but the National Park Service dismantled it and remediated the site in 2009, the same year Maurice Castagne died. I’m sure, besides protecting the public’s health, the intent was to remove all visible traces, though I haven’t looked for the mine myself. From an online comment Dianne Castagne posted, I take it two communications towers remain. In the 1990s, the National Park Service put interpretive signs at Powell Point. I don’t know whether they are still there.

The Park Service considered preserving the headframe as a historic landmark and launched a study for possible placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Several people connected to the mine argued against remediation. The late H. Mason Coggin, a former miner, historian and director of the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, noted the mine’s importance as a monument to early Grand Canyon pioneers and to the Cold War. He wrote:

“It is a symbol of mining inside a national park for a commodity that was needed for our national defense during the Cold War. It makes the statement that the National Parks are not above the needs of our democracy and the headframe is a symbol of those miners who worked and martyred themselves from the effects of radiation to insure that the position of the United States would not fall to Communism during the Cold War. It may be decades before we fully appreciate their contribution to the preservation of our democracy.”

In your opinion, will we ever again see a swimming pool on the South Rim?
It seems only slightly more likely that we will ever see a swimming pool on the South Rim than it is that we will see another property like Grand Canyon Inn or another Orphan Mine. They were products of their times. I doubt a swimming pool would get past an initial environmental review today. The swimming pool at Phantom Ranch, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, has long been filled in.

Anything else you'd like to share about the experience of researching and writing the story?
Just that there is so much more to tell. What I left out could fill a book. There were wonderful interviews filled with stories I had no room to include, and the history of the inn in relation to the mine is itself full of intricacies. I could only include the essentials.

One thing I found amazing, from today’s perspective, is that in pictures of the miners and their families taken inside the mine, no one wore any kind of protective clothing or equipment. Yet Dan Hogan lived to be about 90, and Maurice Castagne was in his 80s when he died.

Also, there were other establishments in those days that were popular with locals. Rowe Well, which had a saloon and a bowling alley, was one of them. Places such as Grand Canyon Inn and Rowe Well were important social places to the residents of Grand Canyon Village and served as an alternative to Park Service offerings. All of them are gone now, and that seems a shame.

— Noah Austin

Click thumbnails to enlarge images. All images are courtesy of Thomas Ratz.

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