THE GRAND CANYON, PART TWO: THE PAINTED DESERT

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I couldn’t resist the meta connection of this post’s title with my picture of a gentlemen painting a picture of the Grand Canyon.  For the past nine years, the  Grand Canyon Association has presented a “Celebration of Art” on the North and South Rims.  This event features thirty artists from around the country who compete and exhibit their art on site. Serendipitously we happened to be there.  I was amazed at the talent of these artists as they captured on canvas  the intricate land forms, shifting light and ever-changing vibrant colors of the Canyon.  Unfortunately I do not have a facility with paint, but I hope my photos will bring some of the magic to you.

Today we walked along the South rim, taking in the beauty.  In the morning we followed the “Trail of Time” a virtual timeline trail of almost 3 miles.  Each meter or approximately 39 inches presents one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geological history. Along the walk are         mounted specimens of rocks and exhibits explaining its significance in the formation of the Canyon:

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Here is some trivia:

  • The  cross-section of the Earth’s crust  exposed in the mile-high Canyon walls extend back some two billion years.
  • There are approximately 40 identified rock layers within the Canyon’s walls.
  • Rocks  found in the Grand Canyon were formed in different fashions:
    • Igneous Rocks – superheated rock becomes liquid (molten rock) forming magma below the surface or lava above. The molten rocks  cools into rocks such as granite and basalt
    • Sedimentary Rocks  – smaller pieces like sand or mud get flattened into layers under great pressure. Over time this pressure cements the layers together forming solid rocks such as sandstone, mudstone or limestone
    • Metamorphic Rocks –  rocks that change their composition through immense heat and pressure. Igneous or sedimentary or even previously metamorphosed rocks can become another form.  Metamorphic rocks include marble, quartzite, slate, gneiss, and schist

There are also minerals within the  layers of the Grand Canyon Walls such as copper, silver and uranium, and these precious metals have been mined across the years.  Many efforts have been raised to ban the practice both to preserve this unique landscape and protect it and its inhabitants, both animal and human, from poisoning through radioactive dust and runoff into nearby water sources. In 2012 the Grand Canyon Trust was successful in convincing the United States Secretary of the Interior to issue a 20-year ban on more than a million acres of public lands adjacent to the Canyon.  The mining industry has continued to fight this ban as well as other efforts to make the ban permanent.   Unfortunately,  as with all laws there are loopholes and in this case there is a proviso that allowed mines that opened during the 1980’s can open or close depending upon uranium pricing,  so mines still exist – in  fact one is as close as six miles to the South Rim.  This is tragic and I hope that lovers of nature (including myself) will actively pursue efforts to stop this.

Continuing on we  made our way to the Indian Watchtower at Desert View near the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon.  The Watchtower itself was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932 and is designed with many of the attributes found in ancestral Puebloan structures:

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This stone edifice was fascinating, but the view at the edge of the rim over the Canyon simply takes one’s breath away,  On a clear day you can see well over 100 miles in a panoramic view and it is easy to understand why this is called the Painted Desert.  Every direction is exquisite eye candy:

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As gorgeous as these views are the real prize is the ability to easily see  (with the help of my zoom) the Colorado River as it takes a bend on its way west:

 

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We will get one last extraordinary look at the Canyon in next week’s post, but I wanted to leave you today with this moving prose offered by one of our local guides, Owen.

Once again I was brought to tears:

 

 

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