Driver and guide Debbie Graham sees natural wonders of the Southwest many people can only dream about experiencing.
Story and photos by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann
While some people work in an office cubicle or on a factory assembly line, Debbie Graham gets paid to visit the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and other natural wonders in the Las Vegas area. A driver and guide for Pink Jeep® Tours, Graham regularly visits some of the most scenic sites in the country and meets people from all over the world.
Above: Debbie Graham is ready for another tour.
Below: The Skywalk stretches 70 feet beyond the walls of the Grand Canyon. It’s an engineering marvel.
A petite blonde dynamo with a big smile and outgoing personality, Graham has been a guide for Pink Jeep Tours for almost two years. When she’s not behind the wheel of one of the company’s signature pink Tour Trekker vehicles, she can be found in the office taking reservations.
“The Pink Jeep story started in Sedona, Ariz., when a real estate developer took clients to the back country in a Jeep to visit some land for sale,” said Graham.
They enjoyed the outing so much that he decided to start a Jeep tour company. The idea to paint the Jeeps pink came during a stay at the legendary–and decidedly pink–Royal Hawaiian resort in Oahu, Hawaii. As a result, Pink Jeep Tours was founded in 1958 in Sedona, and has become the premier off-road tour company in the Southwest. Graham works for the Las Vegas branch, which offers 10 tours in area, from Hoover Dam to Death Valley National Park, Zion National Park to Grand Canyon National Park.
Pink Jeeps are luxurious yet rugged TourTrekker vehicles that are built specifically for Pink Jeep Tours in cooperation with Chrysler.
The great outdoors
Tours, such as the Grand Canyon West Rim Classic Deluxe tour that debuted in 2009, allow participants to experience another side of Vegas. Guides, such as Graham, enhance the natural wonders of the tours with their friendly, helpful and knowledgeable commentary on the people, history and ecology of the area.
“I enjoy showing the outdoors, especially the wildlife,” said Graham. “Most visitors don’t think the desert has any wildlife.”
Graham, who has lived in Nevada most of her life, and in Las Vegas for 25 years, knows the desert. She also knows the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, which was the destination for our trip.
Grand Canyon West is the home of the Hualapai Nation. Its remoteness and lack of water kept the area free of much of the development that has occurred at the South Rim. The Hualapai Reservation, created in 1883, includes 108 miles bordering the Colorado River. Peach Springs, Ariz., on historical Route 66, is the only town on the 993,000-acre reservation.
The Hualapai, which means “people of the tall pines,” are known for their basketry. They are also known for the Skywalk, an impressive feat of engineering and construction that enables visitors to walk 70 feet beyond the canyon walls on a glass bridge suspended more than 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.
The Skywalk, which opened in 2007, is the most recent step in the development of the West Rim. Tourism began in 1988 with the opening of an airstrip and tours to Guano Point, where remnants of the abandoned Bat Caves Guano Mine operation can be seen.
In 1990, Eagle Point, the Hualapai Nation’s signature symbol, was opened to tourists. Today, it is the first stop for most visitors. Hualapai tradition says that the eagle, which is a gift from the Great Spirit, flew over the Grand Canyon, rested upon a rim and never left, resulting in Eagle Point Mountain. The outline of the eagle is unmistakable to viewers. The Skywalk offers a birds-eye view of Eagle Point.
The highlight of our tour was even farther off the beaten path. Pink Jeep Tours has a permit to visit Quartermaster Point, one of the most remote areas at Grand Canyon West. The point is named for O. G. Howland, a quartermaster in the Union Army under Maj John Wesley Powell.
“I think Quartermaster Point is the most special part of the tour,” said Graham, “because of the view and especially the solitude–we’re usually the only people there.”
That was certainly the case when we arrived– the canyon stretching as far as the eye could see and only four of us there to witness it. The absence of guard rails, tour buses and mobs of people at this plateau makes for an unforgettable experience.
The West Rim tour also includes brief stops and photo opportunities at Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the desert town of Dolan Springs, and a drive through a Joshua tree forest en route to the Grand Canyon. Such breathtaking seclusion allows visitors to take a break from their hectic lives to appreciate one of nature's most majestic sights.
Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo.
|Mar/Apr 2010 Issue
|BEFORE YOU GO
|For more information, contact Pink Jeep Tours in Las Vegas at (888) 900-4480 or www.PinkJeep.com. Pink Jeep Tours offers door-to-door service from most Las Vegas hotels. The Grand Canyon West Rim Classic Deluxe tour lasts nine to 10 hours. Tour price is $224 per person including lunch, plus tax and gratuity. Skywalk tickets (optional) can be purchased on site.
Information about Grand Canyon West and the Hualapai Nation is available by calling (877) 716-9378 or visiting www.grandcanyonwest.com. The tribe offers flightseeing, river rafting, trail rides, an Indian village, the Hualapai Ranch Wild West experience and the Skywalk.
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