Sedona / Grand Canyon Tour: Helicopter / White water raftingGrand Canyon History
Out Out of those canyon depths rise peaks in tantalizing hues, brilliant or somber, transformed in a moment's shifting play of sun and cloud upon the patina of rock. Science and art discovered this landscape in the eigthteen century, when the questing spirit and the romantic imagination soared. Clarence Dutton, career soldier, adventurer, and geologist, began a tradition of naming these landmark buttes temples and thrones and castles. The tradition endured; few of the heights are called mountains; yet some stand taller than any mountain east of the Rockies. And we look down on them. Dutton, the most inspired of all the votaries who have ever tried to paint these wonders in words, penned a now classic description of "the most sublime and awe-inspiring spectacle in the world." He noted that "Grand Canon" had been applied to chasms cut by the Yellowstone River in Wyoming and the Arkansas in Colorado. "Flagrant piracy," he fumed; those picturesque "river valleys" are as like to the Grand Canyon as the Alleghenies are to the Himalaya. Cataracts gush out of canyon walls; the life-giving water, so precious here, makes the sere desert cliffs bloom with lush drapery, green and florid. The waters of other streams run milk-blue over creamy pastel beds and dams of travertine, an astounding sight even with foreknowledge from the guidebooks. Travelers who come upon these waters feel as if they had suddenly been transported to tropic seas and coral isles. Rock layers here teem with relics of living things—seashells, reptiles that roamed ancient deserts, amphibians that roamed ancient shores. In the canyon scientists have discovered the fossil wing prints of insects, the footsteps of lizards, the tracery of wind upon sand dunes, the ripples of currents that flowed and the patter of raindrops that fell hundreds of millions of years ago, before any mammal walked the earth, before any dinosaur. Far down in the canyon runs one course of dark, red-brown rock that formed 5so million years ago in a seabed aswarm with trilobites. At one famous site salt leaches out of the rock. For centuries Hopi Indians have made ritual pilgrimages to the place, trekking more than a hundred miles from their mesa villages to the east, across the desert and down steep, toilsome canyon paths to gather the salt for food and for sacred ceremony. Indians mined clay stone here, too, mixing it with deer tallow to make a bright red cosmetic that also protected them from cold and the desert sun. Bits of reddish copper ore attracted prehistoric craftsmen, and in the 19th century white prospectors moved in to mine copper, silver, lead, and asbestos. Gold, prized by all, lies all through the river sands—but in such infinitesimal quantities that no one ever made it pay. As late as the 1960s the richest uranium mine in the nation operated hard by Maricopa Point, a popular vantage for South Rim sightseers. The skeleton of the mine works still stands, a reminder of canyon history and something of an eyesore as well. Far to the west another tower rises on the canyon rim, with loose sheet metal clanking in the wind—the remains of a bat-guano mine, a costly venture that lasted but a few years in the late l950s.