Looking as if it might slide right down the Bright Angel Trail, the Kolb Studio has guarded the trailhead for over a century. For some, it symbolizes all things ingenuity and inspiration; for others, it is no more than an eyesore looming over its monumental surroundings. Regardless, it is impossible to dispute the global impact of the works that came from this particular house on a very steep hill overlooking the massive Grand Canyon below.
Nearly two decades before the creation of Grand Canyon National Park, two reckless adventurers, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb wandered in to the canyon. When push came to shove, they decided to earn their survival by photographing tourists descending at Bright Angel trailhead. In 1904 with nary a modern convenience, necessity forced the brothers Kolb to use some arduous legwork, and a tiny cave in the canyon wall to propel their new enterprise towards success. Eventually, backed by the support of Ralph Cameron, they were able to construct the beginnings of Kolb Studio.
Their success as explorers would bring them worldwide attention when they filmed their trip down the Colorado River and delivered moving pictures of the Grand Canyon to awe-struck theatergoers in 1912. Ellsworth and Emery continually faced opposition, however, in the shape of the Fred Harvey Company, who wanted to claim to every tourism dollar falling on the canyon’s south rim. The construction of Lookout Studio threatened to cut them off at the knees, when the competition relatively shut down access to Kolb Studio. Confused tourists often visited Lookout Studio, mistaking it for Kolb Studio.
Tenacity kept their spirits alive, however, and by 1915, they were able to add a three-story addition to the original structure, including living quarters and a showroom for their prints. The final addition took place in 1925, converting the showroom to an auditorium, and adding a new darkroom and lab space. In its final metamorphosis, Kolb Studio’s five stories and twenty-three rooms still sway in the lofty breezes, teetering precariously over the canyon floor.
Kolb Studio, today operated by the Grand Canyon Association, is a National Historic Landmark. Featuring a bookstore, gallery, and information center, one has only to walk through the rooms to see and feel the spirit of these pioneers of the Grand Canyon. Fully remodeled for the centennial celebration in 2004, Kolb Studio continues to keep the spirit of exploration and wonder alive, continually displaying exhibits that focus on the Grand Canyon and its infinite wealth of beauty.