Ever written a love letter to a place? If you were to consider it, the Grand Canyon would be deserving. Though you’d also have some literary competition.
At the end of 2017, NPS ranger Elyssa Shalla left a manual typewriter at a viewpoint overlooking Plateau Point that follows a 6-mile hike. The typewriter (which cost $5 at Goodwill) sat on a small table with 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?”
Over three days, 76 people left typed notes. Poems, haikus, bon mots. Shalla collected the notes for her Towers & Type Project.
“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,” wrote one visitor.” “oh so many miles / blisters never make [me smile] / really cramps my style,” typed another.
Shalla has been a park ranger since 2014, after beginning her career at the Grand Canyon as a volunteer in 2010, then a guide, then finally a ranger. The Towers & Type project earned Shalla the 2018 National Freeman Tilden Award, awarded to the top interpreter in the National Park Service.
She is also, by the way, a big AJ fan. “There is always space in my pack to hike the latest issue below the rim for those rare, quiet moments at the ranger station,” Shalla wrote in an email, which I don’t think she’d mind us sharing.
NPR interviewed Shalla recently, and you can listen to the audio below.
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