You're Just My Type: Hikers Compose Love Notes To The Grand Canyon

Feb 26, 2019
Originally published on February 26, 2019 8:04 pm

The Grand Canyon National Park — which was established on this day 100 years ago — now receives nearly 5 million visitors each year.

For three days at the end of 2017 and early 2018, some of those visitors encountered something unusual after a 6-mile hike down to a scenic overlook: a $5 typewriter from Goodwill and a note.

Dear Hiker, welcome to Plateau Point. You've hiked a long ways. Please take a seat in the chair and relax. Look around. Take it all in. What does this moment mean to you?

The pop-up project was the brainchild of Elyssa Shalla, a national park ranger.

"I wanted to put out a typewriter and see what would happen as visitors came upon it," she says.

The typewriter was carried in a backpack on a hike that descended 3,000 vertical feet into the heart of the Grand Canyon.
Elyssa Shalla

In three days, Shalla says, hikers left 76 messages, which became the Towers & Type Project.

"oh so many miles / blisters never make [me smile] / really cramps my style."

"to me, this is a geologic pilgrimage and a reminder of what my body can do. for all of this, i am grateful, especially because i get to share it with my dad."

"Hearing the words 'Grand Canyon' and now experiencing it for the first time, I realize that the term 'Grand' falls far [short] of what this place [truly] represents: Perfection."

For Shalla, the notes prove that "parks are really powerful places."

"We need to provide more opportunities to give people the chance to stop and think and feel at the same time and then give them a platform to share their experiences," she says. "That's one of the greatest things we could do in our national parks."

You can see more of the little love letters to the Grand Canyon at Towers & Type Project.

The broadcast version of this story was produced by Natalie Brennan and edited by Selena Simmons-Duffin.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Imagine you are hiking through the Grand Canyon. The wind whistles. Rocks crunch beneath your feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS CRUNCHING)

KELLY: Deep in the canyon, the Colorado River rushes by.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

KELLY: And on one overlook, tiny little keys...

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER KEYS CLICKING)

KELLY: ...Tapping away.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK. A typewriter is not one of the sounds you normally hear in the Grand Canyon. But for the first few days of 2018, Park Ranger Elyssa Shalla set one up as a pop-up project.

ELYSSA SHALLA: I wanted to put out a typewriter and see what would happen as visitors came upon it.

SHAPIRO: Shalla is a typewriter collector as well as a ranger. And she had always been curious about what the millions of visitors to the park were thinking as they hiked.

KELLY: So she found an old typewriter at Goodwill for five bucks and set it up on an overlook called Plateau Point. To get there, you have to hike six miles, 3,000 feet down into the canyon. And there she left this note.

SHALLA: Dear hiker, welcome to Plateau Point. You've hiked a long ways. Please take a seat in the chair and relax. Look around. Take it all in. What does this moment mean to you?

SHAPIRO: Well, today, on the canyon's 100th birthday as a national park, we are going to hear some of the messages that hikers typed out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER CLICKING)

SHALLA: Oh, so many miles, blisters never make me smile, really cramps my style.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER RESETTING)

SHALLA: To me, this is a geologic pilgrimage and a reminder of what my body can do. For all of this, I am grateful, especially because I got to share it with my dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER RESETTING)

SHALLA: I proposed to my beautiful girlfriend here yesterday. What better place to tell someone you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them? I love you, Rachel (ph). And then there was a little space. And it said, I said yes. I am so thankful for him in my life. I love you, Benjamin (ph). P.S. This is harder to type with than it looks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER DINGING)

SHAPIRO: By the way, Benjamin and Rachel, if you are listening, we want to hear from you.

KELLY: Yeah, we need details. Meanwhile, over three days, Elyssa Shalla says about 75 people left messages on the typewriter, which she considers a huge response.

SHALLA: It proves that parks are really powerful places. We need to provide more opportunities to give people the chance to stop and think and feel at the same time and then give them a platform to share their experiences. That's one of the greatest things we can do in our national park.

SHAPIRO: Shalla doesn't think she'll set up the typewriter again. She likes that it was just there for a few days - a snapshot in time on a scenic overlook.

KELLY: And here's one last typewritten message to take us out.

SHALLA: Hearing the words Grand Canyon and now experiencing it for the first time, I realized that the term grand falls far short of what this place truly represents - perfection.

KELLY: A love letter to the Grand Canyon on its 100th anniversary today of becoming a national park.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTEC COLLECTIVE'S "NARCOTEQUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.