The Writing Traveler: Secrets of the Grand Canyon

The scenic majesty of the Grand Canyon. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

And 1857 explorer wrote: “It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.

The Grand Canyon is just what it’s supposed to be: grand and a big hole in the ground.

As a photographer, I sat there and watched the light play back and forth on the wind-chiseled rock walls, and the picture before me was always changing.

For most of the day, it was various shades of red with a little orange and pink thrown in. But as the day grew to a close, the world turned blue as far as I could see, and then the blue disappeared into the shadows. It was breathtaking.

I am always amazed when I read the prediction of a military man named Joseph Ives, who led an expedition into the canyon in 1857.

For whatever reason, he was not impressed. He wrote: “Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

Caleb Pirtle

But the explorers found it. Then came folks in wagons pulled by horses. And right behind were the roads. Now millions show up each year to see what a little river has carved into the earth.

It is absolutely majestic.

To my knowledge, the only time the canyon has ever been closed was November 6 in 1995, when the President and Congress deadlocked over the federal budget. The gate was shut and would remain shut until a compromise was reached two weeks later.

Visitors were turned away, and one man remembered a little girl walking around and carrying a sign that said: The Grinch stole my vacation.

Since my photography is considered art, I am always reminded of the day that the great artist Thomas Moran came to offer his pointers, suggestions, and criticisms of a young painter’s work.

The young man had been standing and working on the canyon’s South Rim for days and had finally completed his own personal masterpiece.

He stood back and waited for Moran to look it over.

The old landscape painter leaned down to take a closer look at the canvas. His hair was white. His beard was white. He was chewing on a cigar.

He squinted. He tilted his head one way and then another. Finally, Moran turned around without a word and walked away.

The young artist ran after him. “What do you think of my picture?” he called out.

Moran stopped, thought for a moment, then answered as politely as he could, “Well, it sure is framed beautifully.”

The Park Ranger was telling me about a group of hikers who stumbled across an old metal box down in Havasu Canyon a couple of decades ago. Inside the box, he said, was a cache of everything an old prospector had owned in 1893.

There were two decks of play cards.

There were a couple of pictures of chorus girls, wearing cowboy hats and short shorts, photographed while striking poses that were risqué then but can be found these days in a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

The old prospector also had a prohibition temperance tract entitled The Saloon Must Go. The tract spoke long and hard against the evils of alcohol.

It must have meant a lot to the old prospector.

He had wrapped it around an empty beer bottle.

The canyon has a lot of secrets, and occasionally it spits them out if somebody is willing to hang around long enough to hear.

You can find my travel stories and people and places in Confessions from the Road. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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