As the raven flies, it’s only about twelve miles and a short overflight from the North to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. For well-prepared people in exceptionally good shape, it’s a 20-mile plus hike from rim to rim, and some folks even “run” the canyon in such fashion, sometimes from rim to rim to rim all in one day.
I’ve not flown over, floated, run or hiked all the way to the bottom and then and out of the Grand Canyon, but you bet I’d go with a party of trusted travelers, and check in with park officials and others who have safely and successfully made the journey before I’d really consider doing so. By car, of course, you could also drive from one rim to the other over a road distance exceeding 200 miles, via Page, Arizona. Then again you could experience one of the world’s greatest natural wonders via helicopter or chartered plane overflights originating on nearby private and tribal lands.
The Grand Canyon is one of Earth’s few geologic features observable from space, and on the ground it’s equally vast and impressive. About 277 miles long, over a mile deep in some places, and from 12 to 18 miles across, it stretches the imagination, shakes the most jaded humans out of their self-absorbed worlds, inspires silence, awe and humility, and constantly shape shifts before your eyes, ears, heart and soul.
Still it’s not as protected, both in and outside the park, as it could and should be. The September issue of National Geographic points to several challenges to the integrity and future of the Grand Canyon. The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted overflight number restrictions originating on tribal lands just west of the parts of the Grand Canyon. Even within the park, there are many places, especially along the South Rim, where it’s nearly impossible to avoid seeing and hearing aircraft zooming overhead.
Outside the national park to the east, the Navajo Nation debates whether to construct The Escalade Tramway, a high-speed passenger tramway capable of ferrying thousands of visitors daily from the South Rim a mile down to the Colorado River to enjoy the canyon, grab lunch, snacks and souvenirs, and then zoom back up to the South Rim. Many Navajos, as well as people from other neighboring tribes such as the Hopi, consider the proposed location, where the Little Colorado River melds with the Colorado River, as sacred. I suspect Edward Abbey would be throwing a shit fit as well if he learned about these and other threats to the Grand Canyon..
Then there’s air quality and pollution issues impacting our ability to see great distances and breathe clean air. Near the town of Tusayan on the South Rim, a mega-development housing proposal was shot down recently which would have added thousands of additional dwelling units, potentially contributing to greater traffic, light pollution, and the lowering of the area’s water table. For now, this proposal has been turned down, but it could very well pass on a smaller scale sometime down the road.
This is not all doom and gloom, and it’s not too late to change and correct our course.The Grand Canyon is still mighty grand, even with five million plus visitors annually to the region. Within and outside of this and other national park boundaries, we should exercise greater restraint. We should limit our impacts and actions. We should take the long view. We should more deliberately weigh how a cascade of human activities can ultimately erode, impair and destroy places that deserve to be preserved and protected for future generations.
As President Teddy Roosevelt urged people of his time over a century ago in a much less populated United States, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.”