Grand Canyon’back by popular demand

Pike’s Peak was named for the man who (supposedly) discovered it in 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike’s Peak. The Lt. was in charge of an army detail sent by congress to explore the area. Zeb later said, after he had failed to reach the summit, that the mountain would never be scaled. Ives Point, a prominent landmark in Grand Canyon, was named for the Lieutenant in charge of the army detail which made the first official exploration of the area, Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives Point. In his report to congress, Ives stated, “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.” Today over five million people a year converge on the biggest ditch in the world, most of them between April and October. And there’s no telling how many people have walked up Pike’s Peak. It’s no wonder that army sergeants think lieutenants are not exactly nuclear physicists. Anyway, since my recent column about Grand Canyon, in which I didn’t really say anything about Grand Canyon, I’ve been deluged with questions from people wanting to know something about the place. I expected people to say, “Oh, Grand Canyon. I’ve been there. Big hole in the ground.” That didn’t happen. It seems that there are a lot of people, especially Texans, who are not among the five million a year who visit the canyon, and they want to know what it looks like. So I suppose I owe my readers an apology. The truth is that, after such a long, expensive trip, I feel obligated to write at least two columns about it, so that the IRS is less likely to complain when I deduct the cost of the vacation on my income tax. The other truth is that mere words are woefully inadequate tools when it comes to describing the majesty and splendor of such an awesome wonder. The Grand Canyon is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The panoramic views, the stunning vistas, the dizzying heights, the immense scope of such a spectacle transcend man’s capacity for comprehension. My writing ability seems dwarfed by the task of explaining what it is like to stand at the brink of such a chasm, but I will try to give you some idea of the thoughts that went through my head when I looked out over the abyss: It’s big. Of course, you would expect something called Grand Canyon to be big. The U. S. Government wouldn’t send an army patrol out, under the august leadership of someone named Joseph Christmas Ives Point, to investigate any old gully. Or maybe it would, but you wouldn’t hear about it. But, even though you’re expecting grandness, nothing, not the books or the articles or the pictures, can prepare you for your first look at the vast space, the immense emptiness, of Grand Canyon. This column won’t help, either. Statistically, Grand Canyon is more than two hundred river miles long, and over a mile deep at its center. Four Empire State Buildings, stacked one on top of the other, would not reach the rim. The average distance across is ten miles, but there are places where it widens to as much as forty. The canyon encompasses over one thousand square miles, 1.2 million acres. In other words, it would hold a lot of hay. The first passage of Grand Canyon was made in 1869 by Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran who led a group down the length of the Colorado River in wooden boats. Powell repeated the trip in 1871, and again in 1872. Colin Fletcher, in 1963, became the first man to walk the length of the canyon, below the rim. The journey lasted two months, and his route took him an esimated 400 miles. He recounts the trip in his book “The Man Who Walked Through Time.” Hiking in the canyon is still quite popular, judging by the 30,000 requests for backcountry permits received by Grand Canyon National Park in 1998. A large percentage of those people came out of the canyon alive. In all honesty, some people do go to Grand Canyon and come away unimpressed. These are the same people who think puns are funny, who laugh at their own jokes. These are people who, if they ever end up on a television show called “Survivor,” will be the first ones to be kicked off. So there you have it, the Grand Canyon in a nutshell, so to speak. If you ever get the chance you’ll want to swing by and have a look at it yourself. Don’t forget to take a camera. A big camera . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who plans to climb Pike’s Peak this weekend. Write to him, if he survives, at PO Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or hemphill@ ctesc.net

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