Rainbow Bridge

Members of Zane Grey's Rainbow Bridge party marvel at Rainbow Bridge.
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Zane Grey Rainbow Bridge photograph collection, P0672, Box 1, Image 316)

After traveling over 200 miles, the party finally arrived at Rainbow Bridge. Lillian Wilhelm Robertson painted the arch while the rest of the party took in the view.

Zane Grey cites Rainbow Bridge in several of his books, including The Vanishing American. To Grey, the bridge was very entrancing and exhibited the glory of the natural world. In “Down into the Desert,” Grey enumerates:

“But the secret of its great spell came to me then.

Not all beauty or grandeur or mystery or immensity! These were only part of its enchantment, and the lesser. For me it spelled freedom. It typified the spirit of Nature. Its isolation and loneliness and solitude meant for me the uttermost peace. For me the glory of Nature dawned there. Just so long as I could stand it to stay there, I would be free, happy, all-satisfied. Even sorrow was sweet.

Not so much its utter loveliness then, but the sense of its meaning—the revivification of peace, the intimation of immorality, the imminence of God! These were here under the gleaming silent walls. I found them. I felt them. The still, sweet air was charged. Here in this deserted, haunted haul of the earth! Not among men do I feel these things.

The world of men and women, and strife and greed, of hate and lust, of injustice and sordidness, the crass materialism and the aftermath of the Great War, the rush and fever and ferocity of the modern day with its jazz and license and blindness—these were not here under the grand shadow of Nonnezoshe [Rainbow Bridge].”[1]

To Grey, Rainbow Bridge represented what American civilization was not: pure and untainted by human flaws. Zane Grey like many others, was enamored by the West because of its relative isolation from the some of the stresses of 1920s America. He equated the solitude of the West with freedom, indicating that he found it to be the most liberating place in the United States.

Grey’s characterization of the West stuck in the minds of both Eastern and Western Americans alike. He accentuated the emptiness of the American West, portraying it as more unpopulated than it actually was at the time. This is reminiscent of Anglo Americans view of the West centered in the idea of manifest destiny: the American West as an uninhabited place to be filled. Yet unlike manifest destiny, Grey and many others wanted the West to remain wild and nearly untouched. But the West was not untouched. Several of Greys books discuss American Indian tribes and Mormon settlements, both of which he did not necessarily consider as “civilization.” There were other settlements as well such as large towns and cities, but Grey avoids describing those as much as possible instead focuses on remote locations. Still, Grey contributed to the ideal of the American West as a place of rugged individualism and enchanting landscapes. [2]

[1] Zane Grey, “Down into the Desert,” 46.
[2] Byrd Granger, “The Myth of the Cowboy and Westerner.”