The Grand Cañon of the Colorado

John Muir
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Title: The Grand Cañon of the Colorado
Author: John Muir
Release Date: May 7, 2004 [EBook #12298]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

Produced by Justin Gillbank and PG Distributed Proofreaders


by John Muir
Happy nowadays is the tourist, with earth's wonders, new and old,
spread invitingly open before him, and a host of able workers as his
slaves making everything easy, padding plush about him, grading roads
for him, boring tunnels, moving hills out of his way, eager, like the
devil, to show him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and
foolishness, spiritualizing travel for him with lightning and steam,
abolishing space and time and almost everything else. Little children
and tender, pulpy people, as well as storm-seasoned explorers, may
now go almost everywhere in smooth comfort, cross oceans and deserts
scarce accessible to fishes and birds, and, dragged by steel horses, go
up high mountains, riding gloriously beneath starry showers of sparks,
ascending like Elijah in a whirlwind and chariot of fire.
First of the wonders of the great West to be brought within reach of the
tourist were the Yosemite and the Big Trees, on the completion of the
first transcontinental railway; next came the Yellowstone and icy
Alaska, by the Northern roads; and last the Grand Cañon of the
Colorado, which, naturally the hardest to reach, has now become, by a
branch of the Santa Fé, the most accessible of all.
Of course with this wonderful extension of steel ways through our
wilderness there is loss as well as gain. Nearly all railroads are
bordered by belts of desolation. The finest wilderness perishes as if
stricken with pestilence. Bird and beast people, if not the dryads, are
frightened from the groves. Too often the groves also vanish, leaving
nothing but ashes. Fortunately, nature has a few big places beyond
man's power to spoil--the ocean, the two icy ends of the globe, and the
Grand Cañon.
When I first heard of the Santa Fé trains running to the edge of the
Grand Cañon of Arizona, I was troubled with thoughts of the
disenchantment likely to follow. But last winter, when I saw those
trains crawling along through the pines of the Cocanini Forest and
close up to the brink of the chasm at Bright Angel, I was glad to

discover that in the presence of such stupendous scenery they are
nothing. The locomotives and trains are mere beetles and caterpillars,
and the noise they make is as little disturbing as the hooting of an owl
in the lonely woods.
In a dry, hot, monotonous forested plateau, seemingly boundless, you
come suddenly and without warning upon the abrupt edge of a gigantic
sunken landscape of the wildest, most multitudinous features, and those
features, sharp and angular, are made out of flat beds of limestone and
sandstone forming a spiry, jagged, gloriously colored mountain-range
countersunk in a level gray plain. It is a hard job to sketch it even in
scrawniest outline; and try as I may, not in the least sparing myself, I
cannot tell the hundredth part of the wonders of its features--the
side-cañons, gorges, alcoves, cloisters, and amphitheaters of vast sweep
and depth, carved in its magnificent walls; the throng of great
architectural rocks it contains resembling castles, cathedrals, temples,
and palaces, towered and spired and painted, some of them nearly a
mile high, yet beneath one's feet. All this, however, is less difficult than
to give any idea of the impression of wild, primeval beauty and power
one receives in merely gazing from its brink. The view down the gulf
of color and over the rim of its wonderful wall, more than any other
view I know, leads us to think of our earth as a star with stars
swimming in light, every radiant spire pointing the way to the heavens.
But it is impossible to conceive what the cañon is, or what impression it
makes, from descriptions or pictures, however good. Naturally it is
untellable even to those who have seen something perhaps a little like it
on a small scale in this same plateau region. One's most extravagant
expectations are indefinitely surpassed, though one expect much from
what is said of
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