The Kachina experience begins by checking in at the incredible El Tovar hotel. With its wood timbers, rustic furniture and southwest appointments, it's hard to imagine a more dramatic lodging experience. But our digs are in Kachina, which is a rectilinear concrete monstrosity somewhere in the parking lot behind the El Tovar. When your back is to the rim, it's hard to imagine a less dramatic lodging experience.
above, although out-of-place alongside the historic El Tovar, Kachina has a rimside location that simply can't be beat. Photo courtesy Xanterra.
Today it seems incredible that anyone ever thought this structure, or its sister lodge Thunderbird, would be appropriate in a National Park -- particularly in such a visible location. As part of "Mission 66," Kachina was designed for efficient lodging in clean, comfortable rooms, with absolutely no provision for traditional concepts of "parkitecture." Add to this the fact that there is no "there" at Kachina -- if you want to relax in the lobby, you have to go back to El Tovar -- and you've got a lodge in one of the most desirable locations on earth that has no soul or character.
Despite these facts, Kachina redeems itself very well. Here's how:
As with all Xanterra properties at Grand Canyon, rooms are spotlessly clean and in very good condition. Considering this, and the fact that the Canyon and El Tovar are close at hand, the Kachina Lodge is an excellent value and it sells out quickly. Families who can't stretch to afford El Tovar, or perhaps can't use a shared bath for whatever reason, turn to Kachina and are not disappointed. Kachina may not be pretty, but it does its job pretty darn well.
In 1995 Thunderbird and Kachina were slated for removal in 2010, with replacement lodging to be built at Yavapai. If and when it finally is removed, Kachina will be relegated to the history books, under the chapter on "what not to build." The downside will be that the number of rooms on the rim will be diminished, making it that much more difficult to secure accommodations at El Tovar or Bright Angel. It will become very difficult for middle-class families to find lodging on the rim.
One of the primary principles of the NPLAS is preservation. In the case of Thunderbird and Kachina, it is not the lodges we would like to see preserved, but rather the availability of rimside lodging. Kachina and Thunderbird should be replaced, but not with the interpretive areas the National Park Service has planned. There is plenty of canyon rim elsewhere for that sort of thing. Let us instead preserve the rimside lodging opportunities for middle-class Americans. With that in mind, the NPLAS supports the position that a new lodge is a better choice, built with a classic "parkitecture" exterior while retaining the modern safeties and conveniences of the Kachina/Thunderbird complex. The John Muir Lodge at Kings Canyon NP would be an example of what the NPLAS proposes.