Thursday, November 13, 2008


Have you heard of John Wesley Powell?. No ! He was a soldier, geologist, and explorer of the American West. He is famous for the 1869 Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Colorado River that included the first passage through the Grand Canyon. As a civil war veteran, he lost his right arm.

Now read what he wrote of the Grand Canyon.

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features... The glories and beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon... It has infinite variety and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, although many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun... You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view...but to see it you have to toil from month to month through this labyrinths...but if strength and courage are sufficient for the task, by a year's toil a concept of sublimity can be obtained never again to be equaled on hither side of Paradise."

One mile deep, ten miles wide, one hundred sixty miles long, covering 1.2 million acres in northern Arizona, Grand Canyon is a breathtaking act of geology. The panorama from the Rim is one of the most impressive sights in the world. Hidden within its depths are fascinating creatures, geologic marvels, the ruins of ancient civilization. Cut by the Colorado River over the past 6 million years, Grand Canyon is a colossal labyrinth of towering buttes (peaks) and deep side canyons. Of special interest to Indians are that some of the buttes are named after Hindu gods. Thus we have Shiva Temple, Vishnu Temple, Brahma Temple as also Buddha Temple. These were thus named by a geologist Clarence Dutton, who was part of Powell’s team.

Twisting through the bottom of the Canyon is the Colorado River. Fed by Rocky Mountain snowmelt and passing through America’s great deserts, the Colorado is the most impressive river in the West. Although currently plugged by dams along much of its length (we saw one—the Hoover Dam---report will follow) the Colorado flows free in Grand Canyon, dropping 2000 feet in 277 miles.

Grand Canyon is a geological wonderland. Several eye-popping rock formations are on display in a single place. Rainbow –splashed mesas, temples and buttes cascade down the Rim, extending for miles in either direction. Visually there is so much to see—so many colors, textures, and shadows—that your sense of perspective vanishes. The scope of the scenery is is truly dizzying.
Over the past 6 million years, the Colorado has sliced through northern Arizona like a knife through a wedding cake. In the process it has exposed dozens of layers of progressively older rocks. The oldest rock is 2 billion years old! The Vishnu Schist is a metamorphic rock that was formed 1.7 billion years ago.
Ultimately, the creation of Grand Canyon was due to billions of years of rock formation, erosion, tectonic forces—all conspiring to create the stunning landscape now on display. We consider ourselves lucky to witness one of the great geological wonders of the world.

We saw sunset from the Moran Point named after Thomas Moran, one of America’s famous landscape painters and one who was also in the original team of John Wesley Powell.

We came very early –6 a.m to watch sunrise from the Desert view. The Desert View is at 7438 feet—one of the highest points of the South Rim. The attraction here is the Desert View Watchtower, built in 1932.A circular staircase leads to the top of the 70-foot tower, which is decorated on the inside with reproductions of ancestral Peublo-an arts and depiction of Hopi legends. Here in Desert View one by one the top of the buttes and points take up and carry on the sunlight far down the Canyon. First one glows and shifts into a bright garb, another further on repeats the poem of colour.

There are several points—Yavapai Point, Grandview Point, Lipan Point, Mather Point—all of which provide fascinating views of the Grand Canyon.
The wind at 7438 feet is really howling and I was in my Safari Suit, encased in a thick sweater and a windcheater made of heavy wool!. Conjeeevaram Sarees protected my wife and my daughter’s mother-in-law. Daughter and son-in-law were—of course- in thick denim jeans.
Mule rides are arranged for those who wish to traverse deep into the Canyon. Surprisingly, there is a Phantom Ranch accessible by mule, foot or raft. It is named after a phantom in Havasupai legend that emerged from an underworld tribe on the Canyon floor. The Ranch is booked for next two years.
For those who want more details read on---
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided gorge carved by the Colorado River in Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park — one of the first national parks in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.
Longstanding scientific consensus has been that the Canyon was created by the Colorado River over a six million year period. The canyon is 277 miles long, ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles and attains a depth of over a mile (6000 feet). Nearly two billion years of the Earth’s history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. The "Canyon started from the west, then another formed from the east, and the two broke through and met as a single majestic rent in the earth some six million years ago.". The Grand Canyon is unmatched throughout the world for the vistas it offers to visitors on the Rim. It is not the deepest canyon in the world —Cotahuasi Canyon (11598 feet) and Colca Canyon (10499 feet ), both in Arequipa,Peru, and Hell’s Canyon (7,993 feet ) on the Oregon-Idaho border, are all deeper — but Grand Canyon is known for its overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are beautifully preserved and exposed in the walls of the Canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent.

The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin (of which the Grand Canyon is a part) has developed in the past 40 million years. A recent study places the origins of the canyon beginning some 17 million years ago. Previous estimates had placed the age of the Canyon at 5 to 6 million years. The result of all this erosion is one of the most complete geologic columns on the planet.
The major geologic exposures in Grand Canyon range in age from the 2 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 230 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim. Interestingly, there is a gap of about one billion years between the stratum that is about 500 million years old and the lower level, which is about 1.5 billion years old. That indicates a period of erosion between two periods of deposition. About one million years ago, volcanic activity (mostly near the western Canyon area) deposited ash and lava over the area, which at times completely obstructed the river. These volcanic rocks are the youngest in the canyon.
In 1956 the Grand Canyon was the site of the deadliest commercial aviation disaster in the U S at the time.On the morning of June 30, 1956, a T W A Constellation and an United Airlines D C 7 departed Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of each other on eastbound transcontinental flights. Approximately 90 minutes later, the two propeller-driven airliners collided above the Canyon while both were flying in unmonitored airspace.The wreckage of both planes fell into the eastern portion of the canyon, on Temple and Chuar buttes, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The disaster killed all 128 passengers and crew members aboard both planes.
This accident led to the institution of high-altitude flightways and positive control by en route ground controllers.
P P R7-11-2008

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