In 1929 Zane Grey made what would be his final trip to Rim Country. He had first come to the region in 1918, quickly falling in love with it and making it the setting for many of his novels. During the ensuing 11 years he regularly came to the region and even had a cabin built for him. Meanwhile, America went through a number of changes. In 1918 World War I was still ongoing, but would soon be over, leading to a decade of prosperity. By the time Grey finished his final trip, Black Tuesday had occurred and the Great Depression had started. In many ways 1929 was the end of an era.
Much has been made of Grey’s conflict with Arizona hunting authorities. It is clear that he was not enthralled with their policies and that some bitterness had developed. Yet it is also clear that when Grey came to Arizona in 1929, he intended it to be his last trip.
On Sept. 30, 1929 Grey wrote home about his Arizona adventures. He had brought two of his children, Romer and Betty, with him. “I had made up my mind to show my West to Romer & Betty, and under most trying conditions I did it. Our last ride (horseback) from Segi to Kayenta, Monument valley, Noki, Argon Rock, Piute Canyon, the San Juan, Surprise Valley, Nounozoshe, and Navajo Mt. was simply epic. But it damn near killed me. It was too much without rest.”
Zane Grey was 57 years old and his travels had taken their toll on him. He regularly had the aches and pains that only older age can bring and his kids were quickly growing up before his eyes. It would be understandable for Grey to want to eliminate one of his trips, though there’s more to it than that.
“I shall never come back to Arizona. The main reason for which is that the country has been ruined by motorists. The Navajos are doomed. The beauty & romance of their lives dead. Still I got material for several stories – of bygone times. I am going to rest in the Tonto & finish Red Rock Ranch, then hunt a little, and come home.”
The Arizona that Grey knew and loved was changing. He was a horseman at heart and grudgingly accepted the growing prominence of the automobile. In some of his other letters Grey references a clear lack of comfort with the automobile, including plans to hire a driver for short distance trips in California. This theme is repeated in his Oct. 14, 1929 letter to his wife.
“The season opens day after tomorrow. We have seen some bear sign, and lots of turkey and deer. But I’m leary about hunting here. There’s a new road, and the woods will be full of these ——-! tin-can, auto hunters with shot guns. I’ll try to have everybody wear red hats and coats, and be careful. But I don’t like the chance. And I’ll never come back here again.”
The new road that he references is likely an extension of today’s Control Road. The road extension is mentioned in the Oct. 19, 1929 Arizona Republican. “A control road from Pine to the Young-Holbrook road was extended six miles during the summer.”
Automobiles were further intruding on the land he loved. If Grey was simply upset about motorists, then how could a story of such anger at state authorities be popularized through the years? The P.S. of his October 14 letter, written on October 15, explains why.
“Ed Haught came back from Phoenix yesterday with bad news. There is a concerted deal on to run me out of this country. Next year they will make a game refuge under the Rim, taking in both my properties. It looks like petty politics and personal jealousy. I was refused a special permit and insulted publically by the state Game Warden. The Game Commissioner of Flagstaff, a two-faced —- who pretended to be friendly to me over there, got up in the meeting on Oct. 5 at Phoenix and roasted me vilely. There is a bunch of ( ) Hunters who have killed loads of game, breaking every law, and they have laid this on the Z.G. outfit.
“Ken Robertson made a crack in Flagstaff that has materially aided my enemies. He was heard to say: ‘I’m always glad to beat it out of Flagstaff. The sheriff might get on to the fact that Bowen & I got our licenses by claiming to live in Yuma.’
“This is a fact, but I did not think Robertson would brag about it… There are other details of this mess, but I’ll tell you upon my return. I ought to break camp at once. I ought to have more sense than to stay here longer. But I’d disappoint everybody. However I don’t think I’ll hunt myself. I’m sorry that I must report utter failure, so far, of this part of the trip. I wish- oh, I wish I were home.”
Substantive changes to Arizona hunting laws had been in the works for a few years. However, articles in the Arizona Republican during October 1929 mention the October 5 meeting, yet do not mention new restrictions in Rim Country. The bear story is substantiated in some ways as Grey mentions the special permit. Grey may have left that story as his reason for not returning because he was angry and wanted to get back at some people. Whatever the case, 1929 was indeed Grey’s last trip to the region. Grey continued to write and travel during the 1930s, though the Great Depression impacted him as well as he could not get as much money for his stories. Nearly 10 years later on Oct. 23, 1939 Grey passed away at his home in Altadena, Calif. at the age of 67.
Letters referenced are part of the G.M. Farley Collection at Northern Arizona University. G.M. Farley Collection, NAU.MS.285, Cline Library. Special Collections and Archives Department.