Powells perspective

For Major Powell, the view from the depths of the chasm was that of 'a stairway from gloom to heaven ... the earth and the heavens are blended into one vast structure'. We now know that, however you view it, a single sweep of the eye over the Canyon's rock strata can scan over some 1700 million years of Earth history.

Curiously, considering he was a geologist, Powell did not dwell on the Canyon's perspective on the deep past, but was more impressed by the emotional effect of its sheer physical presence, from which 'a concept of sublimity can be obtained never again to be equaled on the hither side of Paradise'. Heady words, but like Moses's 10 commandments, the testimony preserved in the Canyon's 'tablets of stone' is the story of the deep prehistoric past. The mindset, language and metaphors of the Judeo-Christian Bible permeated not merely descriptions of the Grand Canyon but, as we have seen, the whole development of our understanding of geological time.

By exploring the Canyon's rock record we can recover and sample a particular view of Earth history and its division. But the Canyon's story is just a palimpsest - a collection of fragments of the whole story. In fact, there are more gaps than records of Earth Time. No single location reveals the 'collected works', none of the rock sequences exposed on the Earth's surface tells the full story. A lot of the narrative has been lost irretrievably, so we shall have to make do with our samples. The version of Earth history preserved in the Grand Canyon is a particularly North American one.

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