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Celebrating Grand Canyon National Parks Designation with Jim Harris
Posted on February 26, 2016

The grand vista of our 15th National Park

On this day in 1919, the Grand Canyon was officially designated as our nation’s 15th National Park. To celebrate, we asked photographer, friend and writer Jim Harris to share his perspective on the Grand Canyon, along with some incredible imagery from a three-week float trip down a Colorado River a few years back. Harris is a natural storyteller—both with words and images—and his perspective on the place sheds light on what makes one of our most treasured national parks worthy of celebration in this milestone year. -LYA Editor

Words and images by Jim Harris

Awe is the human response to dealing with an overwhelming amount of new sensory information. When there’s too much complexity on too vast a scale, our brains kinda just short circuit and awe is the result. When an awesome scene washes over us, it leaves us euphoric but also humbled. I felt it the first time I walked through Grand Central Station, but on the next visit the novelty was gone and my sense of awe along with it. Paddling the Grand Canyon, I felt that wonderful, stupefying gut feeling every single day for three weeks straight.

A vista worthy of preservation, on one mile of 228

The Grand Canyon is an open-air cathedral, complete with ornate columns, arches, and stained-glass sunsets. There’s no place else on earth where you can spend weeks contemplating 2 billion years of exposed geology while paddling though 228 miles of desert wilderness. The experience causes our minds to refocus. With emotional power like that, it’s no wonder that the Grand Canyon has played such a pivotal role in the conservation of wild places in America.

Stunning scenery, only seen from the canyon floor

“Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it,” President Theodore Roosevelt intoned in 1903 when he announced Grand Canyon game preserve. Sixteen years later, on February 26, 1919 the Grand Canyon became a National Park, but even that didn’t halt calls for its development.

Five-star accomodation

In the 1960’s, Glen Canyon Dam was being completed just upriver of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam below when construction began on two more massive dams that would have flooded the National Park. Paddlers rallied to stop the dam building and, against long odds, succeeded. The advocacy not only halted the dams’ construction but also became the conservation victory that catalyzed the modern environmental movement. The trick to saving the river, it turned out, was to take politicians and dam engineers down it.

Dropping in to the Grand Canyon experience

There are dozens of overlook points along the rim and each is stunning, but for a full dose of awe add a two- or three-week Grand Canyon whitewater river trip to your bucket list.

View more of Jim Harris’s stellar photography in this ode to Park City singltrack mountain biking here.

Author: - Friday, February 26th, 2016
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