Adventures ● Cliff Dwellers
When I went on my southwestern road trip in 2009, I didn’t plan much out. I did that intentionally because I figured I’d find gems like this. On a rainy, dreary day (I didn’t know Arizona had those!) when I was on my way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, I bumbled across this in Marble Canyon, AZ.
It’s kind of a kooky story.
The story of Cliff Dwellers begins during the Great Depression, when one Blanche Russell gave up a highly successful dancing career back East to tend to her husband, Bill, who was suffering from tuberculosis. The couple packed up and moved to the Southwest, crossing the recently completed Navajo Bridge across the Colorado River south of Lees Ferry.
The Russells only made it a few more miles, however, before their car broke down near the big rocks. Blanche got it in her head that it wouldn’t be a half-bad place to live and the couple threw up a lean-to of tarpaper and boards against the largest rock. Then, she started serving food to passers-by in return for labor as the house got larger.
Pretty soon, the couple had a full-scale restaurant on their hands and added a hand gasoline pump for some of the earliest motorists to the Canyon’s North Rim. They also catered to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in wagons who were taking the Mormons’ nearby Honeymoon Trail to have their marriages sanctified at the temple in St. George, Utah.
According to author Kay Campbell, who wrote a booklet about the Cliff Dwellers lodges, the Russells sold water they took out of nearby Soap Springs and also sold pigeons out of a coop they kept at the site.
After about a decade, though, Blanche tired of the isolation and sold the structures to a local rancher named Jack Church, who turned the restaurant into a bar during World War II. Then, Art and Evelyn Greene purchased the land in the late ’40s and kept the old dwellings, which then consisted of eight buildings and a gas generator, open until the new Cliff Dwellings Lodge was opened in the early 1950s.
What makes this story so interesting to me is the concept of just coming across a site of land and claiming it as your own, and then being able to sell that claimed land only 10 years later – you certainly can’t do that nowadays!
Plus there is an actual old model car tipped over and lodged between some rocks on the site. I’m not sure if it’s the actual car the Russells were driving that they just left there, though I believe that’s the assumption.