Mary Colter's Bright Angel Lodge

A historic image of Bright Angel Lodge on the left and a modern image of Bright Angel Lodge on the right.
 

Bright Angel Lodge (1935) has a natural rustic character, and is a Registered National Historic Landmark. This iconic lodge and its surrounding cabins are rich with cultural history. Over the years it has gone through many transformations – originally a hotel, then a camp and finally a lodge. All of its changes were to accommodate increased visitation after the arrival of the train in 1901.

Under the direction of the Santa Fe Railroad, Mary Jane Colter was tasked to design a fresh look for Bright Angel Lodge in an effort to provide more moderately priced lodging in contrast to the El Tovar “up the hill”. Colter drew inspirations from many local sources in her architecture. For example the ”geologic” fireplace in the lobby featuring all of the rock layers of the Grand Canyon, from the river cobbles to the youngest stone strata on the rim. Included in this lodge design were a couple of historically significant structures that might well have been demolished without her intervention.

The Buckey O’Neill Cabin, originally home to one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and the Red Horse Station, which served as the post office for 20 years, are both part of the Bright Angel Lodge complex.


 

The Bright Angel Lodge History Room displays the genius of architect Mary Colter. Take a closer look at the room’s dramatic rock fireplace. Notice how its’ tall, sloping outlines mirror the cliffs and buttes of the canyon outside. (or mirrors the shape of Zoroaster Temple). Known as the “Geologic Fireplace,” the layered stones of her design were put together in the same geological sequence as the rock found along the Bright Angel trail - from river to rim.

 
Against a log cabin style wall, a stone fireplace made from layers of rock strata is centered between two picture windows.
The Geologic Fireplace in the Bright Angel Lodge.

Stacked on each side of the hearth is a collection of water-worn Colorado River rocks. The base of the fireplace consists of dark-colored Vishnu Schist. This granite-veined rock – dated at around 1.7 billion years old – forms the very basement of the North American continent. The next layer of rock represents the Grand Canyon Supergroup –sedimentary and volcanic rocks ranging in age from 800 million to 1.2 billion years old; their tilted appearance caused by the separation of ancient continents. Above the fireplace opening is a distinctive layer of flat-lying sedimentary rocks that give the Grand Canyon its “stairstep” appearance and date from half a million to 250 million years in age.


Some of the youngest rocks are found at the top of the fireplace. That band of light-colored stone completes the geologic timeline of the Grand Canyon. Known as the Kaibab Formation, this limestone rock is a mere 270 million years old and is visible along much of the canyon’s rim.

With assistance from the park’s Chief Naturalist, Edwin McKee, Colter had all of the stone gathered or cut from the canyon walls and brought up by pack mules for her project. Today's visitors can be thankful for Colter’s perfectionism and attention to detail, qualities that are showcased in this historic, scientifically accurate, and powerful re-creation of the Grand Canyon’s natural environment - in this unique fireplace.

 
The front of Bright Angel Lodge in the snow.

Bright Angel Lodge (1935)

Continue to Bright Angel Lodge photo gallery on Flickr.

The front of the Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge History Continued

Learn more about the Bright Angel Lodge on Arizona State University's Nature, Culture, and History at Grand Canyon website.

The side of the Grand Canyon in the snow.

The Historic Village

With the arrival of the First Steam-Powered Train in 1901, the quiet area of the South Rim rapidly expanded into the Grand Canyon Village.

A black and white photo of a women sitting in a chair.

Mary Colter's Buildings

Mary Colter was the chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 to 1948.

John Verkamp in front of his tent.

Entrepreneurs

After the Santa Fe Railroad started bringing visitors to the canyon, entrepreneurs came to the canyon to make their fortune.

Last updated: September 21, 2019

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