The Grand Canyon: natural wonder of the world. I’ve been there a few times now and the sight of it never fails to stop me. Stop me dead in my tracks, overcome by its immeasurable size and layered, many-coloured, beauty. It seems to me that I even stop breathing because there is simply no breath left for the expletives of awe and joy that fill me but, uncharacteristically, never leave my body.
Previously, however, I had never walked down into the canyon, and it was this that was the object of my being there two weeks ago. To look at the Grand Canyon is not just to see the world’s biggest hole, it’s also to witness the power of science. Geology to be precise. To understand how the canyon was formed – to know about tectonic plates, uplifting, and the process of erosion – does not detract from the wonder of seeing the canyon but, rather, enhances one’s appreciation of the scale of both the process and the product it has created.
Walking down the canyon is to take a trip back in time: the sedimentary deposits at the bottom of the canyon are nearly 2 billion years old. Incredible. And yet, when I make it to the bottom and overnight at Phantom Ranch, I meet a guide who describes how a determined, but arguably deluded, group of researchers are still trying to prove that the Grand Canyon is the consequence of Noah’s flood and that those rocks are really just a few thousand years old.
It is just one example of why science communication is so important: we have to counteract the spread of such ill-informed poppycock. It is the reason why I have been using my iPhone to make a short film for the YouTube generation about my journey down the canyon and, somewhat incredibly, up again.
Keep an eye out here for the film at a later date. For now, here is a taste.