Although it is not the first, nor the largest, nor the most popular of America’s national parks, the Grand Canyon is nevertheless regarded as the touchstone and the centerpiece of the entire system. And rightly so. Because nowhere else has nature provided a more graphic display of its titanic indifference to the works and aspirations of man.
The walls of the abyss comprise at least 20 separate layers of stone that penetrate more than a mile beneath the rim. The bloodlines of that rock extend 17 million centuries into the past — more than a third of the planet’s life span, and about one-tenth the age of the universe itself.
Beneath those towering ramparts of unimaginably ancient rock, visitors are reminded that regardless of how impressive our achievements may seem, we are tiny and irrelevant in relation to the forces that have shaped the cosmos, and that we would thus do well to live humbly, and with a sense of balance.
That message may carry a special relevance to us as Americans, if only because we tend to be so impressed with our own noise. The canyon has things to say that we need to hear. It should therefore stand as axiomatic that the insights imparted by a journey into the abyss would be radically diminished, if not entirely negated, by making the trip inside a gondola."