Tucked away from the road within Grand Canyon National Park is a small, tranquil graveyard that is open to the public, despite what Google will have you believe.
When my mother and I arrived at the park entrance today, we asked the ranger if the Pioneer Cemetery was in fact open to the public. The surprised ranger asked, "You mean the cemetery with the Shrine of the Angels?" When we said yes, that is in fact the place we were looking for, the ranger then asked if we were visiting anyone in particular. When we said no, that we just wanted to see the place, the polite ranger told us we were free to walk the grounds. When he asked if that's all we wanted to do in the park and we said yes, he seemed even more surprised. Then he handed us a map of the park and waved us through. Google brought us right to the parking lot attached to the cemetery, which lies adjacent to the Shrine of the Angels, which is used as a church for various congregations and religions today.
The cemetery closed to burials as of 2017, though there are a few newer graves within the boundaries of the graveyard today. Family members who have already purchased plots or are eligible to be buried alongside a spouse, parent, etc, are still allowed to be buried there.
The most surprising fact of the cemetery, to my mother and I in any case, was the high number of young individuals buried there. Some of the graves date back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when white settlers first began to move to the rim, but many of the graves are far newer. And many are for babies, children, or young adults who died in their twenties.
The word I would use to describe the place is tranquil. In the fifteen or so minutes we spent walking around, no one else joined us in the cemetery itself. Judging by the ranger's reaction when we entered the park, the cemetery itself doesn't receive a lot of traction or interest from visitors. However, I would highly recommend a stop for anyone already visiting the canyon, or anyone interested in visiting cemeteries like my mother and I. The headstones are all unique, so very different from the standard rectangles we see at our normal city cemeteries like where the majority of my family is buried.
Here are some photos of the burials within the cemetery.
Memorial to those lost during the mid-air collision of two flights over the canyon in 1956.
A double headstone for a couple united forever in death. Roy worked at the Canyon for many years, as did Edna. The Fred Harvey Company operated most of the buildings at the canyon for many years, and "Harvey Girls" were usually waitresses at the various restaurants and cafes around the canyon rims.
The Wilcox's have very intricate headstones that are separate but united by their familiarity. The stones are decorated with epitaphs on the front and engravings on the back.
Emery Kolb and his brother have often been considered the true pioneers of Grand Canyon tourist attraction and excavation work. Emery's headstone here, shared with his wife, is simple and located just inside the gates of the cemetery to the left. Unfortunately during our visit his grave marker was directly in line with a port-a-potty outside the cemetery gates.
This poor soul was lost in the canyon for several years before his remains were identified and laid to rest in the cemetery. Several of his relatives are at rest nearby.
As I mentioned above, the cemetery itself only takes about fifteen minutes to meander through. Whether or not you'll find a ranger willing to waive the fee to enter the park is a luck of the draw thing, but I was more than willing to pay the $35 single car entrance fee to visit the park. Of all the cemeteries we have visited so far, Grand Canyon Pioneer is the most tranquil and peaceful we have found yet.
Not enough visitors know about this place, but maybe that's secretly a good thing. The swarms of tourists who mob the rims of the canyon can be overwhelming at times, but the cemetery itself will always be there, waiting in the wings for those willing to find their way to it.
Tomorrow, my mother and I will continue on our road trip and head into the great state of Utah. It will be my first time visiting the state, and at the moment we plan on visiting two cemeteries tomorrow but we'll see if things go according to plan. My next cemetery update will likely be an amalgamation of the several stops we make throughout the state as opposed to focusing on one cemetery in particular. Until next morrow...