Grand Canyon Caverns tourists were stranded for over a day last week after an elevator broke down.
The Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs Arizona are a natural wonder 210 feet below the ground. Some of the largest dry caverns in the United States, they were formed approximately 35 million years ago by an underground river that eventually would reroute and become the Colorado River. They were known to the Hualapai Native Americans and ‘discovered’ in 1927 by prospector Walter Peck, who charged travelers a quarter to enter and see the bones of “cavemen” inside. Peck’s “cavemen” were actually two Hualapai brothers who had been interred in the cave by their fellows only a decade before, after dying of influenza. The natural entrance would later be sealed off at the request of the Hualapai, sealing the brothers in peace while the Civilian Conservation Core blasted a new entrance elsewhere into the cavern, with a 210-foot shaft, installing a ladderway and a large elevator.
The cave has been a feature of interest over the years for a variety of reasons. One of the few intact skeletons of a giant ground sloth was found here in the 1930s. In 1962, the U.S. government outfitted the cavern as a fallout shelter capable of supporting 2000 people. It is still supplied. In 1979, a telescope was installed halfway down the stairs, where the depth blocks out ambient light allowing it to see cosmic rays. Today, a hotel outside the entrance has built a single suite at the bottom of the shaft, where guests can stay in the perfect quiet and dark.
On Sunday, six tourists were in the cavern when the elevator malfunctioned. A generator was brought in, but the problem wasn’t electrical, and the repair efforts proved difficult. Smoke filled the elevator and the ladder shaft. Four of the tourists were a family of four, with two children under three, and the other two were a couple, with one of them having recently had multiple surgeries on her knee. The ladder was plainly not an option for either group.
It took more than 30 hours for a joint effort by several local fire companies to get the two families back out of the Grand Canyon Caverns. There is no word on when the elevator will be back in order.
Photo: Thomas Trompeter / Shutterstock