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Quotations about the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of earth. ~Donald Culross Peattie, The Road of a Naturalist, 1941

Nothing prepares you for the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times you read about it or see it pictured, it still takes you breath away. Your mind, unable to deal with anything on this scale, just shuts down and for many long moments you are a human vacuum, without speech or breath, but just a deep inexpressible awe that anything on this earth could be so vast, so beautiful, so silent. ~Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, 1989

Truly, Arizona is a wonderland, and in the Grand Cañon one can think of nothing but the Abomination of Desolation. ~John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook, 1891  [a little altered —tg]

The sublimity of the Pyramids is endurable, but at the rim of the Grand Canyon we feel outdone. ~Harriet Monroe, 1902

Nowhere else can man's insignificance be so burned into his soul as here... ~Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of The Colorado River, 1902

The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon — forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain... It has infinite variety, and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, though many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun; lights and shadows appear and vanish with the passing clouds, and the changing seasons mark their passage in changing colors. You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths. ~J. W. Powell, Canyons of the Colorado, 1895

Isn't the Grand Canyon just gorges? ~Internet meme

Arizona... is filled with marvels. Wizardry has been at work here. In the north, where you are a mile and a half high, there is the Grand Canyon, which is enough in itself to clear a whole continent from the charge of being dull. ~J. B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

The Grand Canyon is too grand for a steady diet. It is so overwhelmingly impressive that you can not continue indefinitely on that exalted emotional level. In the parlance of the connoisseur of paintings, the Canyon is a "museum-piece." Let the beauty-lover beware of going anywhere else on earth! For the Zambesi, the Yellowstone, the fjords of Norway, Switzerland, the Rocky Mountains will by comparison all seem tame and colorless. There is only one way by which he can avoid a jarring anti-climax. That is to lay in a proper supply of oxygen and condensed foods and take airship for a tour of the chief Martian winter resorts. Yes, and there is one alternative: Let him take armchair for those wonderlands of the human imagination which alone are more sublimely fair than the irised mountain range that God inverted in the heart of Arizona. ~Robert Haven Schauffler, Romantic America, 1913  [a little altered –tg]

The river, a tiny red line when seen from the top, froths and tumbles into an angry torrent half a mile wide. Its roar, with that of its tributaries, never is out of one's consciousness, echoing upon the sounding board of hundreds of narrow chasms. It is remarkable how soon the world fades into complete oblivion, and this rock-bound solitude is the only existence which seems real. I once spent ten days on the plateau. At the end of a week I had forgotten the names of my most intimate friends, and on the ninth day I spent several minutes trying to recall my own name. I was so insignificant a part of those terrific silences, to have a name hardly seemed worth while. One could forget a great sorrow here within a month. ~Winifred Hawkridge Dixon, Westward Hoboes: Ups and Downs of Frontier Motoring, 1921

It is said that baseball is "only a game." Yes, and the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. ~George F. Will, The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses, 1981–1986

      To describe the Grand Canyon is as impossible as it is unnecessary... Its motionless unreality is one of the first and most powerful impressions it makes. And yet the Grand Canyon is really a motion picture. There is no moment that it does not change. Always its shadows are insensibly altering, disappearing here, appearing there...
      The Grand Canyon is really a motion picture. There is the Grand Canyon of the early morning, when the light slants lengthwise from the Painted Desert. The great capes of the northern rim shoot into the picture, outlined in golden light against which their shapes gloom in hazy blues. Certain temples seem to rise slowly from the depths, or to step forward from hiding places in the opposite walls. Down on the green floor the twisting inner gorge discloses here and there lengths of gleaming water, sunlit and yellow.
      An hour later all is wholly changed. The dark capes have retired somewhat and now are brilliant-hued and thoroughly defined. The temples of the dawn have become remodeled, and scores of others have emerged from the purple gloom...
      And so, from hour to hour, the spectacle develops... as afternoon progresses the spectacles of the morning creep back, now reversed and strangely altered in outline. It is a new Grand Canyon, the same but wonderfully different.
      And just after sunset the reds deepen to dim purples and the grays and yellows and greens change to magical blues. In the dark of a moonless night the canyon suggests unimaginable mysteries. ~National Park Service, Rules and Regulations: Grand Canyon National Park, 1920

      I threw a last glance over the wall, and then, down there somewhere, there was a swirling, a lifting, a hint of some early creative effort in the mist of Time. The next moment what breath I had was clean gone. I was looking into the Grand Canyon...
      Even this one misty glimpse told me that a miracle had happened... We seemed to be witnessing, within a few hours, all the mad prodigality of Nature. One stupendous effect was piled on another; veils of mist and broken rainbows were caught in forests hanging in mid-air; the sunlight far below fell on ruined red cities... There was in this immensity, although the weathers of four seasons and several climates seemed to chase one another down there, a silence so profound that soon all the noises from the life about us on the Rim were lost in it, as if our ears had been captured for ever, drowned in these deeps of quiet... But it is useless to try and describe the Grand Canyon. Those who have not seen it will not believe any possible description; and those who have seen it know that it cannot be painted in either pigments or words.
      I have heard rumours of visitors who were disappointed. The same people will be disappointed at the Day of Judgment. In fact, the Grand Canyon is a sort of landscape Day of Judgment. It is not a show place, a beauty spot, but a revelation. The Colorado River, which is powerful, turbulent and so thick with silt that it is like a saw, made it with the help of the erosive forces of rain, frost and wind, and some strange geological accidents; and all these together have been hard at work on it for the last seven or eight million years... It is the world's supreme example of erosion. But this is not what it really is. It is, I repeat, a revelation. The Colorado River made it, but you feel when you are there that God gave the Colorado River its instructions. It is all Beethoven's nine symphonies in stone and magic light...
      This incredible pageantry of sunlight and chasm, I thought, is our nearest approach to fourth-dimensional scenery... You do not see, hung before you, the seven million years that went to the making of these walls and their twisted strata, but you feel that some elements of Time have been conjured into these immensities of Space. Perhaps it is not size nor the huge witchery of changing shapes and shades that fill us with awe, but the obscure feeling that here we have an instantaneous vision of innumerable eons. ~J. B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

The Colorado rushing through a thousand miles of canyons, cuts and carries seaward with it red sands of shale, granite, and porphyry, red rustings of iron, red grits of carnelian, agate and garnet, and the tributaries come bearing their tokens of red copper... ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901  [a little altered —tg]

The Grand Canyon is the world's No. 1 example of what can happen in the absence of "erosion control." ~Reg Manning (1905–1986), "The Grand Canyon National Park," Cartoon Guide of Arizona, 1938

The thing that gets you — that gets everyone — is the silence. The Grand Canyon just swallows sound. The sense of space and emptiness is overwhelming. ~Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, 1989

The extent and magnitude of the system of cañons is astounding. The plateau is cut into shreds by these gigantic chasms, and resembles a vast ruin. Belts of country, miles in width, have been swept away, leaving only isolated mountains standing in the gap — fissures, so profound that the eye cannot penetrate their depths, are separated by walls whose thickness one can almost span, and slender spires, that seem to be tottering upon their base, shoot up a thousand feet from vaults below... The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed. ~Joseph Christmas Ives, Report upon the Colorado River of the West; Explored in 1857 and 1858  [Grand Canyon prophecy fail! Charles M. Bogert, 1961: "Ives could have been hardly more spectacularly mistaken. Long before the lapse of another century, the Grand Canyon teemed with explorers, painters, prospectors, photographers, scientists, musicians, writers, and tourists." –tg]

      The imagination strains at such magnitude... The sheer precipices, the leaning towers, the pinnacles and shafts, the recesses and caves, the huge basins rounded out of rock by the waterfalls are all touched by the majesty of the sublime.
      And what could be more beautiful than the deep shadow of the canyon!... The walls are dyed with colored shadow, the stones are stained with it — all sorts of colors from strata of rock, from clays and slates, from minerals, from lichens, from mosses...
      Did you ever see such light coming out of the blue before! See how it flashes from the long line of tumbling water that pitches over the rocks!... what things are these for a human being to fall in love with? ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901  [a little altered —tg]

On my first visit to the Grand Canyon, a fellow traveler took one look and then ran back to throw his arms around a tree. When I saw him last, he was desperately resisting the efforts of two women companions to pry him loose. ~Joseph Wood Krutch, Grand Canyon, 1958  [a little altered —tg]

      A glittering day, cool and sweet. Long shadows slanted through the scented Coconino Forest. The Gothic silences of the woods were clean of underbrush as an English park. Endless rows of pines had dropped thick mats of needles... Then, unexpectedly, we passed the forest boundaries. Driving a few rods along the open road, we had our first sight of the Canyon at Grand View Point, with the sun setting over its amethyst chasm.
      Years before, stepping directly from an eastern train, like most tourists I had seen the Canyon as my first stunned inkling of the extraordinary scale on which an extravagant Creator planned the West. ~Winifred Hawkridge Dixon, Westward Hoboes: Ups and Downs of Frontier Motoring, 1921

The great Colorado River is a veritable dragon — loud in its dangerous lair, defiant and fierce. From the tiny rivulets of its snowy birth to the ferocious tidal bore where it dies in the sea, it wages a ceaseless battle as sublime as it is terrible and unique. ~Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of The Colorado River, 1902  [modified —tg]

      But we need not have worried about the Grand Canyon. It is big enough and old enough to take care of itself. It could drink up Niagara in one thirsty sip, and swallow Mt. Washington in a mouthful. It could lose Boston at one end, and New York at the other, and five Singer buildings piled atop each other would not show above the rim.
      Not that I mean to attempt a description of the Canyon. To date, millions have tried it, from the lady who called it pretty, to the gentleman who pronounced it a wonderful place to drop used safety razor blades. They all failed. ~Winifred Hawkridge Dixon, Westward Hoboes: Ups and Downs of Frontier Motoring, 1921

The Grand Canyon may be likened to an inverted mountain range. Imagine a great mountain chain cast upside down in plaster. ~Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of The Colorado River, 1902

As I cannot leave blank pages where the Canyon should be given its due, I must be content with skimming along its rim, and dipping here and there down among its mountain tops, like the abashed little birds that plunge twitteringly into its silences. It is so great a pity that most of those who "see" the Canyon do not see it at all. They arrive one morning, and depart the next. They walk a few rods along its edges at El Tovar, visit the Hopi house, and hear the Kolb Brothers lecture. If adventurous, they don overalls or divided skirts, mount a velvet-faced burro who seems afflicted with a melancholy desire to end his tourist-harassed existence by a side-step over Bright Angel. ~Winifred Hawkridge Dixon, Westward Hoboes: Ups and Downs of Frontier Motoring, 1921

Water is the master sculptor in this weird, wonderful land, yet one could there die easily of thirst. ~Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, The Romance of The Colorado River, 1902

This is, after all, one of the most visited spots on the face of the earth. As the Swiss hotel is said to have boasted, "Thousands come here from all parts of the world seeking solitude." ~Joseph Wood Krutch, Grand Canyon, 1958

Whatever the cause, there can be no doubt about the effect. The desert air is practically colored air. Several times from high mountains I have seen it lying below me like an enormous tinted cloud or veil. A similar veiling of pink, lilac, or pale yellow is to be seen in the gorges of the Grand Canyon... ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

We didn't have time to see the whole Grand Canyon. We just got the Cliff notes. ~Internet meme

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published 2016 Apr 25
revised 2021 Oct 6
last saved 2023 Jan 14