Interview: David Roberts, Author of "Below the Rim"

Author David Roberts talks about what he found surprising while exploring the Grand Canyon.

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It's right at the joining corners of various prehistoric peoples, and it's just a real puzzle. So it's sort of amazing that one of the iconic national places to visit has such a mysterious prehistory. The park really trumpets the geology, but not the human history.

What about the Havasupai?

People do visit the Havasupai village, but 99% of the people who go down there are Spring Break types who just go for those magnificent waterfalls.

And the Havasupai are perfectly happy to just channel them through there and take their money. But because we hired guides we got a whole different experience of going to the ruins and the secret places.

When you were there, did you ever feel like just another white tourist?

No, not at all, because we immediately went to Rex Tilousi and explained who we were and won his trust, and we felt very much like we were not just tourists.

Why do you think the Native Americans treated you differently?

When we first tried to get an entree with Rex, who was then the tribal chairman, he put on this show of making us wait in his outer office, shuffling paper and acting really busy, too busy to see us. But after a couple of hours, do you know what finally got to him? It was the name Smithsonian--he knew about Smithsonian and he realized that it was an important magazine. And at one point he said that if it had been another magazine he would have told us to get lost. So he slowly warmed to us and then actually took us on that walk, which was just wonderful--but even then, he said, there was plenty of stuff he wasn't going to tell us, there was plenty of ancient lore that none of us white boys had any right to know about.

Some of the hikes you describe in the article sounded pretty dangerous--did you have any close calls?

We didn't have any close calls, but it was definitely serious scrambling.

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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