Turning a vista into a mess

  • The Hualapai Indian nation wants this land protected

    Al Richmond photo
 

CROZIER CANYON, Ariz. - To some, this short stretch of Route 66 is historically significant, the "Mother Road" of westward migration celebrated in song and television series. To others, the red hills rising up from the desert are sacred and not to be disturbed.

Some of these hills belong to Fred Grigg. They've been in his family for generations, and when he started bulldozing boulders from his property in order to sell them, he didn't expect to upset so many people. His action has sparked a controversy that has drawn interest far beyond his tiny hometown of Hackberry.

"I'm thoroughly disgusted and frustrated with the whole thing," Grigg said. "If I can't do with my own property what I'd like to do with it ... why should I pay taxes on it year after year?"

The controversy began when Seattle, Wash., resident and historian Al Runte made his annual drive on Route 66 (see essay on page 16). He was shocked to see the view along his favorite stretch of highway drastically changed. The scarlet rocks that line the hills through Crozier Canyon were being pulled down and hauled away in two mining operations.

Disgusted, Runte wrote a letter to Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, lamenting the destruction.

Landowner Grigg says some of the colorful rocks are being sold for landscaping; others, he said, are contracted for by the Arizona Department of Transportation to be used in lining streambanks under bridges.

Photographer Al Richmond of Flagstaff was so upset by the state of the canyon that he also wrote to Hull and to state Sen. John Wettaw. He found it ironic, he said, that the state highway department was contributing to the defacing of the state's famous Route 66.

Arizona's highway department, however, says it cannot confirm a contract with Grigg.

The Hualapai Indian nation is also concerned. A spokesman says it wants to both protect the scenery and preserve its heritage, part of which, say tribal officials, is held in the hills of Crozier Canyon.

Loretta Jackson, program manager of the Hualapai office of cultural resources, said Crozier Canyon is believed to be an ancient tribal burial ground. In addition, the hill being excavated by Grigg is recognized in Hualapai tradition as one of the tribe's boundaries as granted by the creator.

Called Gwal jil wy:a by the Hualapai, translated as "something red," the hill is an important landmark, Jackson said, though many Hualapais now refer to the land's partially stripped state as "standing-there naked with its skirt up."

"If the mountain is not there anymore, we lose a bit of our history," she said.

Jackson and several other Hualapais met with Grigg a few weeks ago to discuss the situation, but the meeting did not go well.

"(Grigg) said his family had been there for seven generations," Jackson reported. "I pointed out that they couldn't have been there if the Hualapai had not been forced out. That was when he started shouting."

But later in the exchange she said Grigg asked for direction from the tribe and offered to sell them the land to help solve the dispute.

Jackson said she plans to present that option to the tribal council.

Grigg has been notified that, should he come across any human remains, he is obligated, under a 1990 state law designed to protect American Indian burial grounds, to notify the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.

Gwinn Vivian, curator of archaeology for the museum, said that if Hualapai remains are found, Grigg would have to halt work and meet with the tribe.

Grigg said he has yet to come across any human remains.

In the meantime, the Arizona Department of Transportation has determined that the Crozier Canyon rock excavations are operating without required highway access permits and in one case creating a hazard along the highway. The operators have been notified.

The highway department is also responding to complaints that trucks hauling rocks exceed highway weight limits.

For his part, Grigg said he resents the pressure. "We're not destroying property; we're working to improve it," said Grigg, whose ultimate goal is to subdivide his property for homes.

Abbie Gripman reports for the Kingman Daily Miner in Arizona.