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The best books about the Grand Canyon and Arizona's desert landscapes

Walt Disney James Algar. Lawrence Edward Watkin. Perhaps that is not cause for lamentation. Some things should be beyond us — aspired to but never attained.

Literature – Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Hamlin Garland in wrote an essay about two phases of the Canyon, one during the day and the other at nighttime. Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist John T. I shall therefore endeavor to refrain from doing so. I realize this is going to be a considerable contract. Nearly everybody, on taking a first look at the Grand Canon, comes right out and admits its wonders are absolutely indescribable—and then proceeds to write anywhere from two thousand to fifty thousand words, giving the full details.

Ellsworth Kolb and his brother Emery, who ran a photography studio at the Grand Canyon from to , traveled the entire length of the Colorado River in They filmed a motion picture of their exploits, and Ellsworth later wrote a widely-distributed photograph-heavy book about the experience titled Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico. The introduction to the book was written by Owen Wister, who is largely credited with inventing the cowboy-western genre with his novel The Virginian.

The mystery and grand scope of the Canyon inspired writers to concoct fictional stories as well.

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The preface describes the Canyon as dangerous yet mysterious and alluring, depicting it as an alien or hellish landscape that is also somehow like paradise. In the story, an archeology professor, his niece, and her friend discover ancient Aztec cities in an unexplored side canyon, presided over by the ancestor of Montezuma, the eponymous Prince Izon. The Grand Canyon is merely a backdrop to the tale of melodramatic romance and adventure.

Ellsworth Kolb wrote a book about his experience traveling down the Colorado River with his brother in that sparked the imagination of future generations of river runners. This photo from that book shows how they had to carefully pack everything, including their cameras and motion picture film equipment, to guard against water damage.

Photo: NAU. Kolb Brothers Collection. Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Many other works of fiction contain references to the Grand Canyon.

For instance, American folk hero Paul Bunyan is supposed to have created the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. As a reflection of modern times, a novel by Gary Hansen tells the fictional story of a government employee hunting down an environmental terrorist in a plot that takes readers from Lake Powell through the Grand Canyon to the mouth of the Colorado River in Mexico. Burros were commonly used at the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century to haul people and goods. Maude Collection. Brighty befriends miners, park rangers, and campers in his adventures, and at the same time delights in the natural beauty of the Canyon.

Disney later adapted the book into a movie. Later turned into a successful television documentary, it helped mark a new generation of environmentalist writers including Wallace Stegner in a tradition reaching back to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. In fact, just a few years prior Stegner published Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West , a book that would soon become a classic work of biography, history, and western literature. Though focusing on Powell, it also once again drew popular attention to the Grand Canyon by providing an entertaining narrative of how the Canyon had been explored, named, and enmeshed in American culture.

Both Krutch and Stegner argued in their works for the preservation of this landscape, or more specifically, protection from rapacious development that was characteristic of the post-WWII period. Naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch in Arizona. Like a tunnel of love, there are no shores or beaches in here. We glide along as in a gigantic millstream. This theme spoke to many in the early environmental movement, and influenced subsequent authors in their writings about the Grand Canyon area, particularly Edward Abbey, the author of the provocative novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.

The Powell Expedition: New Discoveries about John Wesley Powell's 1869 River Journey

Abbey took a raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the s and kept a journal, portions of which were published in his book The Hidden Canyon: A River Journey. Krutch and Abbey tended to portray the landscape as a pure wilderness, dismissing the long history of Native American and Euro-American settlement in the area.

Literature about surrounding Native American tribes has existed for decades, though most were told from a Euro-American perspective. Though the title implies that it is a book about the tribes, most of the book tells of the culture clashes she experienced solely from her Euro-American cultural point of view. Reports and essays outlining the relationship of Native Americans to the Grand Canyon and recounting their stories about the chasm are also beginning to appear more frequently. For example, T. Today, there are thousands of books, poems, essays, reports, and other literature available for readers of all levels that describe many different aspects of nature, culture, and history at the Grand Canyon.

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It is likely that people will continue attempting to convey the Grand Canyon experience in words, yet no one will ever truly capture it completely, since the way we describe the Grand Canyon is a reflection of our own language, times, surroundings, interests, biases, hopes, dreams and realities. The same people will be disappointed at the Day of Judgment. In fact, the Grand Canyon is a sort of landscape Day of Judgment. It is not a show place, a beauty spot, but a revelation. Priestly Photo: Paul Hirt. Yet, as much as the Grand Canyon experience is individualistic, reflecting the unique perspective of each visitor, it is also collective.

The Grand Canyon is a cultural landscape shaped and interpreted by a nation seeking to express its identity and values. What the Grand Canyon has been and has become reflects what the United States of America has been and become. In a nation consummately committed to material advancement, to having and consuming, to the desires of the present moment, national parks and preserves express a broader ethic, a commitment to protect sources of great national and cultural significance.

Time has shown that America is not unique in its desire to preserve its natural heritage, although it set many important precedents and remains a leader in the global nature protection movement.


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Time likewise has shown that rather than a single moment of truth and consequences, our human relationship with nature at the Grand Canyon constantly evolves. We make and re-make our built and preserved landscapes continuously. The Grand Canyon reveals anew for every generation the complex relationship between nature and culture. And each generation will have its own literary voices to reflect upon that relationship.

Photo: Paul Hirt. Famous word-masters have attempted it, great canvas and colormasters have tried it, but all alike have failed…They know they cannot describe it, but they proceed to exhaust their vocabularies in talking about it, and in trying to make clear to others what they saw and felt. Learn more - opens in a new window or tab. There are 1 items available. Please enter a number less than or equal to 1. Select a valid country. Please enter 5 or 9 numbers for the ZIP Code.

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The Legacy of John Wesley Powell: Adventurer, Leader, Scientist, Explorer

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