The Ultimate "Sleepaway Camp"
Like a kid at summer camp, a stay at Phantom Ranch can be the best of times, it can be the worst of times.
The Best: Moderate temperatures, a well-prepared hiker or mule rider, a robust meal in a lively dining hall followed by an evening of fun and fellowship, and a restful night, miles from the trappings of civilization.
The Worst: Unbearable heat, a meal in a noisy dining hall followed by an evening spent feeling quite sick, a sleep constantly interrupted by sickness, followed by a nasty uphill climb the next day.
In other words, some people find Phantom Ranch to be a wonderful experience; others -- not so much. The camp is located in the heart of a small section of Bright Angel Canyon called "The Box." In the summer months it seems as if the walls of The Box channel the heat of the sun straight into the bottom, as if a giant magnifying glass were focusing a killer beam right on Phantom Ranch. Hikers and riders who may be fighting off a stomach bug, or perhaps under-prepared or didn't consume enough water tend to become rather ill during their time at the bottom of the canyon. In these circumstances, the journey is an ordeal.
above, the central building known as "The Canteen."
For the majority of visitors, however, Phantom Ranch is nothing less than fantastic. It is possibly the ultimate overnight camp experience, with the luxury of well-prepared meals, visually stunning surroundings, and comfortable beds in Mary Jane Colter's incredible cabins.
Phantom Ranch is comprised of dormitories and eleven rustic cabins. The dorms are gender specific, and each dorm has ten bunk beds, a shower, and a restroom. Two different cabin sizes are offered; large cabins sleep ten, small cabins sleep four. All are bunk beds. Cabins have bedding with linens, a cold water sink, toilet, liquid soap/shampoo, and towels. Cabin guests use shower facilities in a central shower building.
above, interior of one of the small cabins. Photo courtesy Xanterra.
The Canteen is the hub of the facilities. Here you'll find meals, beverages, and sundries. According to Xanterra, the current concessionaire, Mule trips include a lunch on the way down, steak dinner that night and a breakfast the next morning at the Canteen. Hikers are welcom to eat at the Canteen, but must reserve meals well in advance.
Like her other Canyon buildings, Colter drew her inspiration from the immediate locale, with a few other imaginative story lines thrown in. She concocted an architectural vision based on a hodge-podge of local traditions derived from ranchers, miners, Spanish explorers, and Pueblo Indians. The result is a quasi-ranch with Spanish-mission influenced miner's cabins, designed from local materials in the tradition of natives. Sounds zany, but the combination is spectacular in its design, simplicity, and how seamlessly Phantom Ranch blends with the landscape. It is truly the ultimate sleepaway camp.
above, the approach to the cabins fits naturally into the canyon landscape.