In December Llewellyn had managed to book us a room at El Tovar, at the Grand Canyon Village and splurged by reserving deluxe accommodations. Getting a room was usually difficult and going to the southwest off-season had increased our chances at obtaining lodging at El Tovar. El Tovar had been built and opened in 1905, by the Fred Harvey Company, in the style of European hunting lodges, with a mind to compete with resorts worldwide. At that time it had been considered a Four-Star hotel with modern amenities such as electricity provided by their own generator. But now, while historically appealing, it is barely Two-Star by today's standards. The idea of possibly having a room overlooking the south rim of the Canyon was romantic and appealing and we both eagerly anticipated it.
Grand Canyon Village
February 19, 1997
We arrived late in the afternoon and checked in. "Wild" deer roamed the grounds, lured by free handouts from Canyon tourists. El Tovar was charmingly old and beautiful, built of rustic wood and natural stone found in the area. A bellboy named Kevin brought our bags to our second floor room.
"Where are you folks from?," inquired Kevin.
"New York and Massachusetts," answered Llewellyn.
"Oh," smiled Kevin, "I'm from upstate New York myself!"
"How did you manage to get here?," Llewellyn asked.
"I was on a road trip with my brother," replied Kevin, "when we stopped here. I liked it so much I asked about a job. They asked me if I could start the following week. So, my brother and I drove to San Diego and the following week I returned. That was fifteen years ago."
"Fifteen years!" I said in amazement. "Let me ask you this, where do you live? Isn't it a long commute?"
Earlier that day we driven from Cameron, a tiny reservation town two hours east, and we knew that Williams, once the only launching point to the Canyon was about 55 miles south.
Kevin smiled. "No, he said. We live right here in the park. The company provides accommodations. I have a wife and kids and live in a 3 bedroom trailer not far away. My kids have a private school quality education that is public and in this beautiful environment. We pay only $90.00 monthly for our trailer. It can't be beat. We get a month vacation every year."
"You know," added Kevin, "I used to be a teacher, but I make twice as much money here."
Of course, being a teacher myself, I realized why Kevin appeared to be so happy. It's not easy to live on a teacher's salary. I wondered what the trailer park was like, whether they had a T1 line to the Canyon and a decent ISP.
We had dinner reservations at 8:30 that evening in the El Tovar dining room which had received some positive reports in our Fodor's Guide to Arizona. When we went to the dining room, it was still very busy, but far less so than it would have been earlier. We were seated at a table by a window overlooking the south rim. At least it would have overlooked the South Rim, had it been daylight. But now our source of entertainment was the series of large paintings depicting Native American tribes hung throughout the dining room. They were badly done, with a poor sense of perspective and dead expressionless faces. We wondered if the artist had a personal grudge against the Navajo as that one canvas was particularly bad.
Our waitress was earnest, serious and all business. "She's a 'lifer'," I said to Llewellyn, "She's worked and lived here for years, I can tell."
We ordered--ricotta cavetelli for me and a combined plate of quail, lamb (country of origin unknown) and beef for Llewellyn. Also a bottle of Cabernet with the Grand Canyon label.
Our server had an assistant who poured water, served, and bussed the table. Her name tag said "Lorelei." Lorelei was much younger and at first appeared to have the aspiration of being much too serious, like her partner.
"Where are you from?," Llewellyn asked Lorelei. "Why isn't it on your name tag? Why do some employees have their place of origin on their name tags while others don't?"
"I'm originally from Kansas City," she responded, smiling. "The Fred Harvey Company was recently bought and they are initiating the new name tags with the place of origin in some places, like the gift shop. We'll have those name tags too, eventually. Where are you from?"
"New York and Massachusetts," we responded.
"I went to Columbia," Lorelei told us, "So I spent some time in New York City."
We chatted about New York for a couple minutes and Lorelei asked us if we had any other questions.
"Just one," I responded. "How does one get a tour of the trailer park you people live in?"
Lorelei smiled at us, and laughingly said "You don't want to see it."
"Why?" asked Llewellyn, "Don't tell me it has piles of old tires lying around in the yard."
"Well, kind of," she said. "My trailer is a 'vintage' model from the 1950's. There's no air conditioning in it, even in the summer, but then we are all mostly here working anyway. Also, I have a roommate, you have to live with someone."
The $90.00 per month deal suddenly sounded hierarchical and not so good for everyone who worked there. I really wanted to see the trailer park now. It was like having an opportunity to see the infrastructure at Disney World or Epcot Center. I began to imagine the potential subculture that must exist on the grounds of the Canyon. People who viewed the Canyon Village as a permanent career and home versus those who needed a summer job, or like Lorelei, planned to work for a year before beginning graduate school in Tempe. I suspected they had their own subculture of slang and acronyms. I began to think of different plots for a mystery novel that might be called "Murder at the South Rim" or "Dimming of Bright Angel" and at the same time envisioning the potential for a sitcom.
Llewellyn, Lorelei, Laurel
Photograph by Llewellyn Lafford
The remainder of the evening we stayed late in the dining room, exchanging pleasantries with Lorelei, savoring the moment, the dinner, the fact we were there. It was then we decided if would be wonderful to stay another night at El Tovar, but upon inquiry it was impossibly booked, and we resigned ourselves to having to depart the following day.
We never did find the trailer park although Lorelei told us it was only about a mile away. I would have been in favor of tracking it down, just for a quick excursion, or even a drive through upon departing and perhaps a surreptitious photo or two. I felt this insatiable curiosity to see if the trailer park was kept as immaculate as the Forest Service insisted the "natural" park be, or if it was the run-down tenement Lorelei insinuated. To get a surficial glimpse of a culture forced together by employment, not unlike the various mining camps and other working groups that initially "tamed" the west.
Instead, the next afternoon we headed west, along the south rim, stopping at scenic outcrops, seeking a glimpse of the Colorado River before we headed south. As we drove toward the exit, I peered into the depths of the wooded areas looking for a glimpse of light, tv antennas, laundry hanging on the line -- anything that would indicate a living colony of humans and the mysterious trailer park. But all we saw was a small herd of deer that Llewellyn pointed out, foraging by the railroad tracks, as we neared the main gate.