The Trail of Time is an interpretive walking timeline trail that focuses on Grand Canyon vistas and rocks to guide visitors to ponder, explore, and understand the magnitude of geologic time and the stories encoded by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes.
The Trail of Time is a 4.56 km (2.83 mile) long geologic timeline. Each meter walked on the timeline trail signifies one million years of Grand Canyon's geologic history. Walking the trail gives you a visceral appreciation for the magnitude of geologic time. Bronze markers mark your location in time; every tenth marker is labeled in millions of year! Along the timeline trail are a series of rocks and exhibits that explain how Grand Canyon and its rock formed.
Portal signs welcome visitors to the exhibit at the entry points to the trail, Yavapai Point and the west end of Grand Canyon Village. The rock column holding up this sign shows Grand Canyon's rock actual layers, brought up from deep in the canyon.
Placed at their "birthdays" along the trail are about 50 samples of Grand Canyon rocks brought to the rim from deep in the canyon. Many show spectacular features, like 1.7-billion-year-old folds, 1.2-billion year-old mud cracks, 800-million-year-old algal reefs, or 270-million-year-old fossils.
Waysides tied to the timeline explain the key events that lead to formation of Grand Canyon's rocks and the landscape we see today at Grand Canyon.
One of the 7 wonders of the world! (Mt. Everest, Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Northern Lights, Paricutin Volcano in Mexico, Harbor of Rio de Janeiro), the Grand Canyon reveals the history of the earth in a beautiful sequence of rock layers. The oldest rocks are 400 million years old. Imagine the first Spanish explorers led by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas coming upon the rim in 1540. They must have been quite surprised. You cannot see the canyon from a distance then suddenly… They knew there was water, which they badly needed, but could not get to it. After days of searching for a route down, they gave up in desperation. The canyon posed a problem for the early explorers and they probably failed to see the beauty that we cherish today.
Today, the Grand Canyon is one of the world's most powerful and inspiring landscapes, this place on the edge of the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau is immense, colorful, powerful, and intimate to me.
The Colorado River and its tributaries lives as the lifeblood of the Grand Canyon. It is the force which formed the gorge and sustains the scarce riparian habitat in the midst of a desert. It was spiritual for natives, provides recreation, has been and is a central factor in exploration, development, and politics of the American West.
Various biologic and geologic forces have placed extreme ecosystems in unusual proximity because of the dramatic changes in elevation, exposure, and climate. Life at all levels is teeming.
Our wonderful public parks have been loved to death. For thousands of years, people have lived and honored these great places and been sustained by them. The Grand Canyon was valued early in our history as a national park and world heritage site, but continued threats to its preservation keeps the dialogue going regarding our need and responsibility to preserve and protect. Over 5 million visitors enter a year.
Native Americans have called this their home and scared place and we should consider the power and spirit that has connected these people and this place. It would be difficult for me not to see how this is a place brings me closer to God. Today the Hualapai and Havasupi live to the west. The extraordinary beauty of the Grand Canyon stirred poetic expression in the Paiutes, who called the North Rim Plateau Kaibab, or “mountain lying down.” Other terms were Kanab “willow”, Jin Karen “place of pines,” Shiva it’s “whiteish earth” or “coyote springs.”
From the headwaters in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River runs 1,450 miles (2,333km) to the Gulf of California. The river has cut and removed 1000 cubic miles of rock (4,168km2). It took 3-6 million years to form the canyon. About 20,000 people navigate the river every year. There are 16 outfitters who are licensed to guide raft trips.
At the south rim, Grand Canyon consists of a Village with lodging, restaurants, bookstores, libraries, market, deli and a free shuttle. There are historic buildings, museums, and terrific viewpoints. The rim trail is flat and paved.
Air temperatures change about 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3C) with every 1000’ (300m) in elevation. The temperature at which your brain will cook from extreme heat is 105. When core body temperature reaches that level, death is imminent. From the rim to the bottom temperature varies. In summer, the rim can be 70-80 degrees F (21-32C) but at the bottom of the canyon it could be 100F+ (43C). Summers are hot, cool falls, snow and freezing in winter. Inner canyon is dryer with only 8” of precipitation per year and much warmer than the rim - temps rarely drop to freezing. Hottest temp in Phantom Ranch was 120 degrees (1981, 1974, 1958, 1935). For comparison, Lake Havasu had the hottest in Az in 1994 at 128.
Paleo-Indians 10,000 years ago
Desert Archaic Culture 9,000-2,000 years ago
Ancestral Puebloans 500-1200 AD
Paiute and Cerbat from 1300 AD
Athapaskans from 1400 AD
Louis Boucher, miner and “hermit”
Along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon there is a popular location known as Hermit's Rest, at the end of Hermit Road. These sites as well as Boucher and Hermit Trails, and a canyon are named after him.
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb
The Kolb brothers were pioneering frontier photographers. Ellsworth and Emery Kolb made an agreement with early Grand Canyon entrepreneur Ralph Cameron to build their studio on one of his mining claims. Staking their base on the very rim of the Grand Canyon and, strategically, at the head of the Bright Angel Toll Road, the Kolb brothers began a very profitable and adventuresome career as commercial photographers. In fact, they were among the earliest of a genre of photographers who specialized in national park tourism. Among the more than 3 million mule riders that the Kolbs photographed over the decades were Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft; famed journalist Ida M. Tarbell; naturalist John Muir; landscape painter Thomas Moran; and painter/sculptor Frederic Remington.
Buckley O’Neill, rough-riding railroad man
He built the cabin which is the oldest existing structure on the South Rim. It was used as an office for tourist accommodations in the area during the 1890s, which eventually evolved into the Bright Angel Hotel. After the hotel was sold to the Fred Harvey Company it remained much as it was when built. It was incorporated into the rebuilt Bright Angel Lodge complex by Mary Jane Colter in 1935. O'Neill was, a member of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, an author, sheriff, and a judge in his native Arizona. He was instrumental in establishing what would eventually become the Grand Canyon Railroad.
Polly Mead Patraw
Polly Mead Patraw was the first female ranger-naturalist at the Grand Canyon National Park and the second female ranger-naturalist in the National Park Service. She worked for the park from 1929 to 1931. She spent her life conducting research of the plant and flower life of the Southwest.
Polly Mead first visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1927 as part of an undergraduate western National Parks field trip. At the time she was earning her bachelor's degree in botany. After graduation, her benefactor and aunt gave her the choice to go to Europe or to return to the Grand Canyon. Polly chose to return to the Grand Canyon and spent the summers of 1928 and 1929 doing research there for her master's thesis. As part of her research, it was reported that she would take overnight trips exploring the canyon with nothing but a sleeping pad and a pistol. Her research focused on the causes of the abrupt tree line throughout the Kaibab Plateau – North Rim.
Mead originally applied for a ranger-naturalist position at the US Forest Service but was denied, as the Forest Service did not hire women as ranger-naturalists. She then applied for the same position, but in the South Rim of the Canyon. She was accepted for the position and was sworn in on August 1, 1929, by her future husband, Preston Patraw. She was only the second ranger-naturalist in the National Park Service, and the first at the Grand Canyon.
Preston Patraw worked as the park's assistant superintendent. The couple was engaged in March 1931. After marrying Preston, Polly Mead Patraw retired from her ranger-naturalist position to become a house wife. During an interview later, Mrs. Patraw was asked about this decision and was reported saying, "I just said, 'Yes, dear,' as we did in those days." The Patraws moved from park to park as Preston was transferred to different departments. Polly Mead Patraw continued to study and write about botany. In 1954 the Patraws returned to the Grand Canyon with the promotion of Preston Patraw to the Grand Canyon Superintendent. After his retirement, the family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Polly died in 2001.
The standard author abbreviation Patraw is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.
Thomas Moran - Painter of the Grand Canyon
1872 Moran sold a massive painting, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” to Congress for the unheard of $10,000. This put Moran on the map as one of America’s foremost landscape painters. A year later he joined John Wesley Powell’s expedition from Salt Lake City to what is today Zion. As they headed south they came to Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. He wrote to his wife: “The whole gorge for miles lay beneath us, and it was by far the most awfully grand and impressive scene I have ever yet seen!” So he painted “The Chasm of the Colorado” which he also sold to Congress for another $10,000. It is 7’ x 12’
Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe RR commissioned him to paint various canyon scenes for promotional materials - calendars, menus, etc. he became so noted that ATSF began using his image in advertisements. He was very recognizable because of his long, white beard.
His association with Powell was good for both of them. Moran provided illustrations for Powell’s reports. After the expeditions, Moran went back east to his studio to complete his paintings. “We made several photos which will give me all the details I want if I conclude to paint the view.” Moran never painted with oils while traveling; instead he preferred to make sketches in water color, gouache, and pencil. He was not interested in recording nature literally. For Thomas, the truth was in his impression of the place. So, he used all means to heighten the effect.
He and his paintings became icons of the national parks.
Moran wrote, “Of all places on earth the great canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities.”
Story: A young artist working at the South Rim asked the famous painter to critique his work. With a cigar in his mouth, Moran leaned close to the work, giving it a thorough examination. He then turned and walked away.”But Mr. Moran,” cried the young artist, “What do you think of my picture.”
Without pausing Moran replied, “ I think it’s framed beautifully,”
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (April 4, 1869 – January 8, 1958) was an American architect and designer. She was one of the very few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of many landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Her work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style, blending Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and Rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest. Unfortunately, little is known about Mary’s personal life.
Colter created a series of remarkable works in the Grand Canyon National Park, mostly on the South Rim: the 1905 Hopi House, the 1914 Hermit's Rest and observatory, Lookout Studio, and the 1932 Desert View Watchtower, as well as the 1935 Bright Angel Lodge complex, and the 1922 Phantom Ranch buildings at the bottom of the canyon. Colter also decorated, but did not design, the park's El Tovar Hotel. In 1987, the Mary Jane Colter Buildings, as a group, were listed as a National Historic Landmark. (She also designed the 1936 Victor Hall for men, and the 1937 Colter Hall, a dormitory for Fred Harvey's women employees.)
After graduating from the California School of Design, the Fred Harvey Company quickly scooped up the budding interior designer. A woman of impeccable taste and an incredible attention to detail, Colter painstakingly created buildings that blended in with their surroundings and played off the local traditions. Hermit’s Rest is still in use today as a gift shop with the look of a sooty home of a rugged bachelor.
She would go on to work for Fred Harvey for 46 years, becoming the chief architect and designer. In 1890, when Mary Colter began her career in architecture, there were only 22 female architects in the United States. Despite leading many projects for the company, she still needed to have approval from senior employees for her work and her status as an employee for the company, rather than having her own firm, meant that she did not receive the same level of recognition as her contemporaries.
The stories that remain of her character suggest that she was a surly woman who cursed with abandon, smoked like a chimney, and was not afraid of the bottle.
In more recent years, as appreciation for her work has resurged, efforts to preserve her buildings have begun. Sadly, many of her hotels have been renovated or torn down. However, on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, several remain, including Watchtower at Desert View, Lookout Studio, Hopi House, and Hermit’s Rest. In 1987, these four examples of Colter’s work were designated National Historic Landmarks.
Working beside some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, Mary Colter created buildings that could stand on their own, blending into the natural setting and adding to the story – a style of design often referred to as Parkitecture. She was responsible for both creating buildings and their interior design, and used the landscape, as well as Native American and Hispanic traditions, as inspiration. The idea of using indigenous influences in architecture and design was something new and revolutionary for her time.
Using Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Mexican motifs, Colter told the story of the area’s past and expanded a traveler’s experience of the area. She perfected her craft and was able to mimic nature in order to create what we now call “rustic” architecture. Colter was often referred to as the architect of the Southwest.
After her death in 1958, her name was slowly forgotten until recently.
"You can't imagine what it cost to make it look this old," said Mary Colter.
One of the most prominent architectural features of the South Rim, Desert View, aptly named because of the views to the east of the Painted Desert, you can see the Colorado River make a big bend and continue to the west. The North Rim is more than 10 miles away, and a panoramic view for well over 100 miles on a clear day. The tower was built in 1932 by Colter in collaboration with Hopi artisans of the day, including well-known Hopi artist Fred Kabotie — his murals are featured on the second level.
This is a 70-foot-tall (21 m) rock tower with a hidden steel structure. The architecture of the ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau served as her model. This particular tower was patterned after those found at Hovenweep and the Round Tower of Mesa Verde. Colter indicated that it was not a copy of any that she had seen, but rather modeled from several. As you get closer to the building you might see how well it blends into the environment. It is difficult to tell where the rock of the canyon walls end, and the tower begins. She said, “First and most important, was to design a building that would become part of its surroundings; one that would create no discordant note against the time eroded walls of this promontory.” To obtain this result she insisted that the rocks not be cut or worked, so they would not lose the: “weathered surfaces so essential to blend it with the canyon walls”.
Note, too, some of the intricate designs she had built into the tower. For example, look for the white decorative stones near the top, which fade out as the eye goes around the tower. She had seen this pattern at Chaco Canyon and thought it would break the monotony of this Watchtower. The built-in cracks which are patterned from some of the ancient towers she had seen are deliberately designed. There are petroglyphs on some of the stones which were brought here from near Ash Fork, AZ.
The internal steel framework of the Watchtower was designed and supervised by the bridge builders of the Santa Fe Railway company. Upon this framework, each exterior stone was selected and carefully placed to ensure exactly the look Mary Colter was hoping to obtain for she was a stickler for detail. At one point she had to leave for a day and the workmen continued to put on stone, completing two layers. When she returned, she was not satisfied with one stone on the newly laid layers, and the men had to take the whole thing down and re-do it to her exacting specifications. Her attention to accuracy of detail was amazing.
The Kiva Room, which for years was used as retail space, in 2015 was returned to the open area that Colter had intended, since the room was originally designed to be a rest area. It was here that visitors to the canyon in the 1930’s could sit in comfort and have outstanding views of the canyon. The fireplace is unique in that it does not block the view for visitors. Gaze into one of the reflectoscopes and see a different perspective of the canyon.
As you climb the stairs of the tower there are many stories imbedded in the paintings and artwork which decorate the walls. The first gallery, on the first landing, was done by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi from second Mesa. These represent the physical and spiritual origins of Hopi life. The ceiling images, painted by Fred Geary, are recreations of images from Abo Rockshelter, now part of Salinas National Monument in New Mexico.
The top floor of the tower is without decoration which might detract from the beautiful panoramic views of the Grand Canyon. Again, this design reflects Mary Colter’s respect for the landscape in which she was building.