A trip to Grand Canyon
I've been away with my family for a few days. We visited Grand Canyon (no "the" as I learned--or more accurately, realized--that is the proper name).
None of us had been there before and we were all duly amazed and awed as we crept to the edge at different points along what is called the South Rim. However, my wife and I each experienced something disappointing which I believe stems from our modern sensibilities of viewing television and computer screens where all sorts of awesome things occur before our eyes: There was a nagging sense that as one looked out further into the vast distance, the canyon did not seem real.*
For me, however, the way I fought that sense was through the science of Grand Canyon, particularly the geology of the canyon and the immense power of the Colorado River. This summary of the river also tells us of the effects of damming it in the early 20th Century, though such a view ignores the damming's salutary effects in terms of providing water and power to the southwest region.
While there, I also became enamored with the life and story of the architect Mary Colter (I purchased this brillantly written and illustated (photographed) book I linked to and have been avidly reading it. While the photos alone are worth its price, the prose has been superb).
Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869-1958) designed various buildings inside Grand Canyon National Park (the linked photos do not do the structures justice) and also designed portions of the Union Station in Los Angeles and other public places. She was ahead of her time in understanding how to design buildings that were consistent with the cultural and natural history of a particular area, and apparently unlike other architects of her time, she was meticulous to the point of designing not merely the buildings, but also its interior decorations right down to the cups and other silverware to be used within the building.
Robert Hughes, the wonderful art and architecture critic, has an interesting take on Colter. He says:
"A gifted architect named Mary Colter, whose name deserves a permanent place among the pioneers of the American theme-park mentality, constructed ancicent kivas and 'prehistoric' watchtowers with still 'older' ruins on the south rim of the Canyon (sic), with a close eye for archaeological accuracy."
My response is that while she can be seen as a pioneer in the presentation of what Daniel Boorstin perceptively called "The Image" of American life (particularly with regard to the myths of cowboys and "westerns"), we should focus our attention on her creativity and respect for the culture and land she showed in designing her structures.
Having said that, I should note that Mary Colter never married and there is an understanding she was a lesbian (scroll down on link); my research on the web revealed no books (including the linked book above) to confirm this understanding, however. While this aspect of her private life is of little relevance, again our modern sensibilities cause us to wonder: "Oh, she never married? Never seemed to have a boyfriend? Ah-ha! She was a lesbian!" This wonderment as to who she had sex with again causes us to lose focus on her awesome achievements, much as we may lose the grandeur and majesty of a natural wonder such as Grand Canyon after seeing so many films where all sorts of reality-bending images occur before our eyes.
A final comment: Every time I visit a national park or museum, I am reminded of the dedication and knowledge of the park employees that goes unremarked when we discuss the importance of government in our lives. The rangers and guides at the park and canyon were well-versed in the details of the science and history of the park and canyon, as well as the people, animals, insects, and plants that have lived there throughout the ages. Also, the last night we were there, we attended a lecture by one of the rangers who delivered a clever and often funny slide show where he used various lines from William Shakespeare plays to describe an apochyphal hiking trip with Shakespeare through parts of the canyon. One "poetic license"-based line concerned bees that attacked another hiker who had surprised the bees: "Oh what bees these mortals fool!"
* My wife has a different reason for her same nagging sense. She says, matter of factly, that our eyes lose perspective in attempting to discern vast distances. I cannot disagree with that, though I believe this sense is heightened by the modern world of blue screens where actors interact (actually fight) with creatures in "places" that reside at the edge of imagination.
(edited for links and some phrasing)