The Grand Canyon is the greatest natural wonder on the face of the earth. For 286 miles the Colorado River cuts through awesome cliffs, some more than a mile high. Layers upon layers of carved rock, each a chapter in the life of the planet, form an open book on the history of the earth, extending back two billion years in time. Biologically the region is a marvel: within the canyon, or next to it, there exist all the climates and associated life zones except one (the tropic) on North America. "Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it," said Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1908 proclaimed part of the canyon a national monument. Unfortunately, when Congress passed the National Park Act in 1919 only 73 miles of the Canyon was included, and now much of this will be buried under water and silt, perhaps for all time, if the Bureau of Reclamation has its way. The bureau plans to construct two dams, at Bridge Canyon and Marble Gorge; both of these are technically outside the park, but the dams would impair it forever by choking the life of the river.
The story of the canyon and the bureau's depredations are told by Fran√ßois Leydet in Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon, the latest book in the Sierra Club's Exhibit Format Series. It costs $25 and, like others in the series, it glistens with superb color photographs by Philip Hyde, Ansel Adams, Clyde Thomas and other artists of the camera.
Leydet read all the literature on the canyon and its wonders and then traveled it by boat. His description of the trip, interspersed with short excursions into the geology, botany and wildlife of the canyon, forms the substance of the book, and the facts he musters against the two proposed dams are both convincing and horrifying. The bureau plans to spend $750 million of the taxpayers money to build two dams that would be wasteful of water (the two lakes created by the dam would send enough water skyward in the dry desert air to supply 10 Denvers and 10 Phoenixes), injurious to the remaining water (evaporation causes a concentration of salts that renders the water deadly for irrigation) and, of course, absolutely destructive to the flow of the river through the national park.
If the Grand Canyon National Park goes no other park will be safe. Jail would be too good for some of those who would despoil America, but a Pulitzer Prize gold medal would be just right for the Sierra Club for the service it has performed in publishing books such as Time and the River Flowing.