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On the Rim

Looking for the Grand Canyon

2001
Author:

Mark Neumann

On the Rim

A captivating look at the Grand Canyon as scenic wonder, theme park, national icon, and refuge-now in paperback!

Why do nearly five million people travel to the Grand Canyon each year? Mark Neumann answers this question with a book as compelling as the panoramic vistas of the canyon. In On the Rim, he describes how the Grand Canyon became an internationally renowned tourist attraction and cultural icon, and delves into the meanings the place holds for the individuals who live, work, and travel there.

“In the chasm’s dizzying depths and flamboyant displacement of solid ground, as well as in the perceptions of those drawn there-explorers and day-trippers, employees and outlaws, artists and fast-buck artists-Neumann discovers a context in which to examine cultural and experimental fissures that separate leisure and work, home and away, religion and science, art and life. . . . A lively read.” Boston Globe

When he was a small child Mark Neumann's father put him in the back seat of the car and drove him and his family across the country to the Grand Canyon. Somewhere on the road Mark discovered that he could eat and breathe the stories and myths of our culture, and he simply never came back.

Scott Carrier, author of Running After Antelope

Why do nearly five million people travel to the Grand Canyon each year? Mark Neumann answers this question with a book as compelling as the panoramic vistas of the canyon. In On the Rim, he describes how the Grand Canyon became an internationally renowned tourist attraction and cultural icon, and delves into the meanings the place holds for the individuals who live, work, and travel there.

Weaving history, ethnography, documentary photography, and autobiography, Neumann exposes the roots—the personal and social dimensions—of America’s pursuit of leisure. He shows how people visiting the Grand Canyon create their own experiences, even while they are affected by one hundred years of social history and cultural expectations. On the Rim examines the lines between progress and nostalgia, science and spirituality, nature and culture, authenticity and mass production, and work and leisure—all of which crisscross the tourist experience.

To support his argument, Neumann uses evidence from tourist registers and Park Service records, first-person narratives, interviews, and scenes from television shows, Hollywood movies, and popular novels. Heavily illustrated with historical and contemporary photographs, the narrative shifts back and forth between early descriptions of the canyon and modern tourist stories, the past illuminating the present at every step.

From Albert Einstein’s visit and the hunt for the fugitive Danny Horning to the everyday experiences of local Native Americans, park rangers, and vacationing families, Neumann reminds us that every trip to the Grand Canyon is a complex journey, fueled by shared expectations but always open to the possibility of surprise. On the Rim is a multilayered, nuanced study of the place and its many visitors.

On the Rim

Mark Neumann is associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida.

On the Rim

When he was a small child Mark Neumann's father put him in the back seat of the car and drove him and his family across the country to the Grand Canyon. Somewhere on the road Mark discovered that he could eat and breathe the stories and myths of our culture, and he simply never came back.

Scott Carrier, author of Running After Antelope

On The Rim is a thoughtful, forgiving and surprisingly well-written book, full of history, anecdote, autobiography and speculation. The mystery it addresses is a real one. Why would we seek out and gather on the rim of a vast, natural declivity and pour into it all of our secret and collective dreams? Mark Neumann's book makes some enlightening and quietly informed guesses.

Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy

Mark Neumann provides a unique view of the Grand Canyon. Through deconstructing the narratives and texts that have swirled around the Canyon since the late-19th century, he provides a counterpoint to the many sentimental depictions of this famous landmark, national park, and site of intensive tourist use.

Historical Geography

Neumann has compiled a fascinating view of a classic American scene with erudition, humor and a smooth writing style.

St. Petersburg Times

Neumann, like many Americans, first discovered the canyon as a child on a family vacation and had the chance to renew the acquaintance as a graduate student at the University of Utah. Still obsessed, he kept returning to the rim in the summers, tape recorder and camera in hand, interviewing the happy and disgruntled alike and escaping the heat in the Grand Canyon Museum and other archives across the West. The resulting book is a lively read. In the chasm’s dizzying depths and flamboyant displacement of solid ground, as well as in the perceptions of those drawn there-explorers and day-trippers, employees and outlaws, artists and fast-buck artists-Neumann discovers a context in which to examine cultural and experimental fissures that separate leisure and work, home and away, religion and science, art and life. Acting as both a reporter and theorist, he documents rituals of visitation-the home videos, the patient attendance at lectures, the feats of physical endurance, even the suicides-which, like modern-day pilgrims, we use to reconcile ‘the divisions between who we are and how it all might be.’

Ariel Swartley, Boston Globe

Author Mark Neumann spent ten years interviewing, photographing, and chronicling the often bizarre cultural blending at this national landmark, which includes among its visitors foreign tourists, religious cults, park rangers, and suburban vacationers.

Doubletake

With pathos, irony, and respect, Neumann conveys the stories of regular people interacting with this extraordinary place. An interesting and informative portrait of that elusive but increasingly important actor in western history, the tourist.

Western Historical Quarterly

On the Rim is a book about how people experience the Grand Canyon and the effect it has on their outlook on life. Some are filled with feelings of nostalgia and awe, and others see it as a symbol of something spiritual, or as the antithesis of every day life. Whatever the feeling, though, it is uniquely different for everyone, and in this book the stories of some of the people the author met in over a decade of visits to the Grand Canyon have been documented, both in a word and in pictures. It is a book about what the Grand Canyon does to those who visit it or work there. It is a book of stories and impressions, of memories and chance meetings, of past and present. A treat.

Annals of Tourism Research

Neumann’s critical encounter with the canyon, spanning several years of on-site research, has produced a book that is at once an historical account, cultural interpretation, ethnographic study, personal narrative and photographic portrait. This remarkable study is a search for meanings; the book gives a sense of the historical depth and cultural breadth of this preeminent natural/cultural monument. This book also demonstrates critical potential within the emergent field of cultural geography. Along with its extensive historical research, the book relies heavily on the ethnographic work of formal interviews with visitors, apparently random discussions, chance encounters and overheard conversations. The interpretive work that follows is woven into broad historical and cultural fabric. Much of the book accounts for how visitors confront the contradictions of everyday life and how they use their canyon experiences to reveal, smooth over, accommodate or resist complex social relations and to negotiate often difficult personal choices. On the Rim is unique in its inclusion of a series of black and white photographs taken by the author at the canyon’s rim. With a single exception, all the photographs contain people or artifacts and do not attempt to reproduce the canyon in itself. Stunningly understated yet pertinent, the images do more than simply illustrate but rather offer their own insights and conclusions in tandem with the prose. Neumann’s acuity of wit combined with stylistic dexterity yield eloquent prose and engaging narrative. Anyone interested in cultural geography, tourism studies or histories of American landscape should read this book.

Cultural Studies

Neumann simultaneously invites us to see the expansive spectrum of narratives informing our desires to visit the canyon and to recognize that each of these perspectives remains only part of the picture, each narrative provides only part of the answer. Intellectually, this project stands out as noteworthy. Neumann’s ability to depict vivid scenes throughout this multi-layered drama highlights the affective example of the ways in which theories might flesh out the significance of ethnographic observations without smothering the intricacies and insights of field experiences. Neumann’s book provides a richly descriptive account of everyday life…[in] this eloquently written book.

Rhetoric and Public Affairs

Mark Neumann’s On the Rim: Looking for the Grand Canyon is a sophisticated guide to the sedimented cultural history and experience of Grand Canyon. Years of visiting and studying the canyon produced Neumann’s thoughtful account of where the canyon’s meanings come from, and how individual visitors participate in and create them. Admirably without cynicism, Neumann invites readers into the stratified depths of cultural construction of nature and place, but climbing out again, leaves us at the rim with the possibility of uncertainty and wonder.

American Studies

Neumann’s book is the result of ten years of fascination with the canyon’s multimillions of visitors.

Library Journal

On the Rim is a richly nuanced, elegantly written and beautifully produced book that brings together a range of cultural criticisms and interpretive approaches to understand the Grand Canyon.

Space and Culture