Earth Notes: Grand Canyon's Bass Heritage

Flagstaff, AZ –
Toward the west end of Grand Canyon National Park, the South and North Bass trails plunge into wild canyon terrain. The trails are named for William Wallace Bass, a railroad man, miner, and entrepreneur who pioneered the area in the 1880s.

A Hoosier by birth, Bill Bass arrived in the small town of Williams, Arizona, in 1883, seeking better health. Out herding stray cattle one day, he got his first sight of the grandest canyon. "It nearly scared me to death," he declared.

But Bass soon fell in love with the place. He established a stage route from Williams; set up tent cabins on the canyon's edge, at what became known as Bass Camp; and guided tourists down the trail he hewed out of the rock. He also ran a ferry across the wily Colorado River, and set up another camp on the north side. And he became good friends with his Havasupai neighbors.

One year a schoolteacher named Ada Diefendorf (PRON: Deef-en-dorf) was a guest. She and Bill soon married and set up housekeeping at Bass Camp. To do the family's wash, Ada would sometimes make the fourteen-mile roundtrip to the river.

Around 1920, Bill's fortunes began to turn. Visitors were bypassing Bass Camp for the amenities of the South Rim Village, where most still arrive today. But when William Wallace Bass died, at age 88, his ashes were strewn over a butte in Grand Canyon "the only place on earth for me," he wrote.