What One of the Seven Natural Wonders in the World Needs Now: A Restaurant

Grand Canyon Drawing
Drawing by Ellen Tibbetts of Flagstaff, Arizona

Call it recreational democracy. The Hualapai Tribe have their horse-shoe-shaped glass viewing “platform” 4,000 feet above the Colorado River at the western end of Grand Canyon. The airplane and helicopter charter companies have their airspace and historically have continued to press for more flights at lower elevations, especially at sunset. Why should those pesky river runners be the only ones to enjoy such an awe-inspiring natural spectacle? Besides, they clog the river corridor to the tune of 24,000 bodies annually. (Disclaimer: I know. I used to be one of them.) The hikers (and speed runners) have their trails in the backcountry, and a rescue service at their disposal when the odd one forgets to take enough drinking water. But what else is Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (including Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Mt. Everest, Particutin, Aurora Borealis and the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro), lacking in terms of a full-course recreational experience? Why, of course: a restaurant near the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers. How cool is that? Whoever came up with that idea is carrying grande cojones, right?

Let me explain.

Recently the President of the Navajo Nation signed a nonbinding agreement with the Fulcrum Group (aka Confluence Partners) LLC, a development company out of Scottsdale, Arizona, to build a resort (complete with hotel, shopping center, restaurant, spa and RV Park) on reservation land on the east rim adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. Whether his decision reflects his people’s wishes remains debatable. Hearsay suggests that neither the N.N.P. nor the Confluence Partners bothered to have a word with the Hopi tribe about the resort they have named “Grand Canyon Escalade”.  (Personally, I thought “Grand Canyon Escalator” had the ring of authenticity.) The Sipapu, the place the Hopi believe their people emerged from the underworld, is located along the banks of the Little Colorado. The location of their creation myth is considered sacred ground by tribal members.


It gets better, much better.

This resort development odd couple would also like to build a tram from the East Rim down to and parallel with the Little Colorado, where hungry tourists would find, yes, a restaurant. Can you beat that? A restaurant! The tram riders would have the choice of eating immediately or taking a half-mile “river walk” (hopefully paved, with hand rails and viewing points) for a view of the confluence. The mile-long roundtrip jaunt, of course, would stimulate appetites for the exhausted hikers. Likely there would be a souvenir shop. And sooner or later, passengers on river trips would catch wind of this cool place to grab a burger and a brew and want to stop there.

George Bradley and Jack Sumner, members of the 1869 Powell Expedition, would not have located a restaurant on the banks of the Little Colorado. They wrote,

It is a lo[a]thesome little stream, so filthy and muddy that it fairly stinks. It is only 30 or 50 [yards] wide now and in many places a man can cross it on the rocks without going on to his knees … [The Little Colorado was] as disgusting a stream as there is on the continent … half of its volume and 2/3 of its weight is mud and silt. [It was little but] slime and salt … a miserably lonely place indeed, with no signs of life but lizards, bats and scorpions. It seemed like the first gates of hell. One almost expected to see Cerberus poke his ugly head out of some dismal hole and growl his disapproval of all who had not Charon’s pass.

What did those guys know?

Having had some restaurant experience in my youth and an irresistible urge to name things, I can’t help but offer these visionary entrepreneurs who want to bring tourists to Grand Canyon and also help the local economy with mostly minimum-wage jobs a few catchy appellations for their establishment: Navajo Bar and Grill? The Blue Water Café? The Confluence? Silt and Sand? The Current?

Likely, the restaurant would have a “theme,” because, well, folks who consider putting a restaurant in places like Grand Canyon think like that and they might want to expand (there are plenty of suitable side canyons in Grand Canyon), maybe have locations at Matcatameba, Hermit Rapid, Deer Creek, Lava Falls and Separation Canyon, to name just a few choice locations. Some models of above-the-rim chains that offer inspiration: Bubba Gumps, TGIF, Chili’s, Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville! But let’s not get carried away. It’s important to remember that “theme” concepts are not actually about eating out. They are business concepts; the food is kind of an afterthought.

To continue with the theme idea, waiters and waitresses could dress in traditional Navajo garb? Or as low-life river guides in lifejackets, flip-flop and shorts? Or historical canyon figures?

Let’s not forget the menu where restaurants located in stunning settings come up with the most imaginative names: Nancoweap Natchos, Lava Falls Fries, Crystal or Tamarisk Ice Tea, Havasu Half-Pounder, Chocolate Marble Canyon Fudge Milkshake, the Harvey Butchart Burrito, Martin Litton Key-Lime Pie. I’m sure you can come up with even better names.

The concept of a restaurant at the bottom of Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, literally takes my breath away. Should I laugh or cry? It makes me want to string together really bad words in a way that would make a potty-mouthed teenager cringe. It would be a welcome addition to the recreational industry, a salute to the democratic concept of recreation for all no matter what, and a towering example of an extraordinarily bad idea coupled with unfathomably bad taste.

Tell a friend, buy a T-shirt, write a letter to the editor, throw a buck in the jar of your favorite canyon environmental organization.

Just don’t call the bastards any bad names. Like them, we want to be reasonable about this.

More of the Rivermouth blog here!