As I mentioned, my first view of the Grand Canyon was at the Desert View lookout point, near the east entrance of the southern rim. The lookout’s most prominent feature—besides the 18-mile-wide crevasse it overlooks—is the 80-year-old, 70-foot-tall Desert View Watch Tower. The lookout’s least prominent feature is a placard attached to the guardrail below the tower. I assumed the placard was about rock strata or river erosion or some such science. I went over to take a photo to read it later, as I often do. Instead, I discovered a terrible few paragraphs that changed how I was viewing that awe-inspiring landscape.
The placard labeled the two buttes, Temple and Chuar, over which the debris and death were spread. Actually, still is spread to some extent, as not every piece of wreckage or personal artifact was removed. Last year, the site was dubbed a National Historic Landmark, and the isolated area further protected from anyone visiting it.
Now, I’ve been to my share of elaborate flight crash memorials thanks to The New York Grimpendium, but something was different about this simple placard. I mean, before I’d read it, I’d been gazing at the spot with my jaw dangling trying to take in its vastness and beauty. Now, my open-mouthed fascination was out of horror and sadness. It really stuck with me.
|You can see the two buttes in the middle of this photo. The prominent flat one |
just below the horizon and the one in front running perpendicular to it.
That’s why, three days later, when we found ourselves in Flagstaff, I detoured us to Citizens Cemetery, near Northern Arizona University. There, we found the mass grave of 66 of the 70 crash victims from the TWA plane. Most of the dead from the United Airlines plane were interred at the Grand Canyon’s Pioneer Cemetery, which I didn’t seek out while we were at the canyon. I don’t know why. I probably didn’t think I’d still be thinking about it three days later.