Boy, soaking up all of the spectacular scenery and absorbing all of the history at Desert View Watchtower, sure makes a person hungry! Someone had told us about the restaurant at the Cameron Trading Post so instead of heading back to Grand Canyon Village, we continued east on AZ-64 towards Cameron, AZ about a 32 mile drive from the Watchtower. Passing through the east entrance to the Grand Canyon, we left the National Park behind us.
The landscape (and elevation) changed dramatically as we transitioned from the Grand Canyon to the Little Colorado Gorge which runs 45 miles across the flat plains of the Painted Desert in the Navajo Indian Reservation. Despite its name, the Little Colorado River is one of the largest tributaries of the Colorado River. Instead of vistas that stretch far and wide with towering rock formations at the grandest of canyons, the Little Colorado Gorge carves an extremely steep and narrow gorge into the flat Colorado plateau eventually achieving a maximum depth of about 3,200 feet. Plus instead of the striking multiple layers of rich, deep hues, the Gorge is made up of mostly gray and black limestone layers at the top with smooth colorless sandstone at its deeper levels.
Unlike the National Park there were just a few overlooks along the way, the largest one being the Little Colorado Gorge Overlook. Apparently with the cooler temps and dwindling number of tourists, the native artisans who typically sell their unique pieces of silver and turquoise jewelry, original pottery and handwoven blankets on tables at the overlooks had closed for the season.
The historic Cameron Trading Post is located a few miles north of the intersection of AZ-64 and US-89N on the Najavo Indian Reservation . Established in 1916 by two brothers, Hubert and C.D. Richardson, the trading post at the time was only visited by the Navajo and Hopi locals who bartered their wool, blankets and livestock for dry goods.
Today, besides being the largest trading post in northern Arizona, it is also a hotel, a restaurant and a market all in one! The original stone trading post houses a gallery of Indian artifacts, clothing, and jewelry while the gift shop in the main trading post housed in the newer building sells a wide selection of Southwest art, Native American art and Southwestern decor.
In 1911, a swayback suspension bridge was built across the Little Colorado providing easy access across the gorge. With an overall length of 680 feet and a main span of 660 feet, when built, the Cameron bridge was the longest suspension span west of the Mississippi River. Interesting to read that in 1937, the bridge was damaged by an overload of sheep causing it to almost collapse. Today it is closed to traffic since it carries a natural gas pipeline.
Wow, the Trading Post was huge and packed with all sorts of goodies!
But looking at everything didn’t occupy our attention for very long, we were hungry and ready for lunch. Wow, what a lovely restaurant! The pressed tin ceiling, antique Victorian cabinetry, ornate woodwork and stained glass from the apothecary that was once there many years ago gave the dining room a somewhat formal look. Baskets, carvings, Native American rugs and Southwestern art were artistically displayed on the walls. A large stone fireplace and huge picture windows showcasing views of the desert added the final touch to the ambiance.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, their lunch menu is a mix of American, Mexican and local cuisine! So many choices! But based on the recommendation of someone we had talked to previously who recommended lunch here, we already knew what we were having. Two of their famous Navajo tacos, please! On their website, this dish is described as “Navajo ‘fry bread’, a fresh, springy bread that is patted flat and deep fried to a golden brown, smothered with a spicy combination of ground beef and beans, and topped with chopped green chiles, fresh lettuce and tomato, and tangy cheddar cheese.”
Yikes, we should have ordered one and split it! A little difficult to eat but delish!
Once we finished stuffing ourselves, it was time to head back to Grand Canyon Trailer Village. Since we had stopped at all the overlooks, it would be a much faster trip back.
Sadly the next day we would be leaving the Canyon, but hopefully it won’t be our last visit to this area. Back in the 90’s before we were RV’ers, we visited the quieter side of the Canyon – the North Rim. Would love to return there some day!