A Spectacle Unrivaled on this Earth: Reflections on the Grand Canyon

Summit Semester Ryan Gonzales 2016As I write this blog post, images of the Grand Canyon are still fresh and processing in my mind. Before we made the trip I thought I would be able to use my words to capture the immensity of the Grand Canyon. But after going, seeing, hiking in, and just staring at this natural wonder, I realize I can’t quite do it. How do you adequately explain something that is 277 miles long, at points 15 miles across, and 6000 feet deep? Furthermore this canyon is not just enormous, but incredibly beautiful. How then do you describe this wonder? A wonder so massive, an individual at the edge can see only a fraction of the entire thing.

Every year countless people visit the Grand Canyon, and the vast majority of them are in awe of it. Every year people see it for the first time and are astounded saying, “the pictures don’t do it justice.” And they’re so right. In seeing those pictures, whether on a postcard or on TV, the view has been trivialized and slightly spoiled. These images show a lesser grandeur, yet enough to give some people an excuse to not go saying, “It’s just a hole in the ground,” “It’s only a big ditch”, or even “I’ve just seen this HD picture or watched this Nat Geo documentary on my plasma screen, why do I need to go?” In the past century and a half, with the development of the photograph and with the enormous amount of social media we have today, people see these pictures and think they’ve seen the Grand Canyon. They think they’ve seen it all.

Even I had this opinion to a certain degree. However, when I first came walking briskly up a slight hill to the edge of the canyon so as to catch the sunrise, I found I was wrong. When I came to the edge of the Grand Canyon, seeing it for the first time, my sense of sight was overwhelmed by the vastness of it. In that moment I felt small. Then as the sun came up, setting the pink and purple rain clouds ablaze and turning them to molten gold, it was as if there should have been a dramatic soundtrack playing or the first note to signal the start of a concerto to accompany the glory and wonder we saw that morning.

In experiencing this wonder, I envy those Spanish explorers, those lucky few, who were the first to come upon the Grand Canyon. They had no previous image or experience with anything remotely like this, and as a result they could have been nothing but wholly and utterly amazed. I believe geologist F.E. Matthes gives an apt description in his article, The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, when he says:

The alpine ranges of this country are equaled and exceeded in height, if not spectacular beauty, by those of other lands, but though there are elsewhere deep canyons, some of even greater depth than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, there is not one that can match its vastness, its majesty, its ornate sculpture, and its wealth of color. Whoever stands upon the brink of the Grand Canyon beholds a spectacle unrivaled on this earth.

Yet in spite of the beauty, there is decay. Twenty feet from a magnificent view, the ground is littered with dead trees. The canyon itself is eroding away as I type, and the park rangers are constantly working to repair trails worn down over time. Furthermore, some of the trails are scattered with litter, a frustrating variety of disgusting garbage: cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and oddly enough a couple shoes, a battery, and a kite. The meticulous efforts of the rangers to maintain the trails seem fruitless. Despite the efforts of volunteers to clean up and preserve the Canyon, people carelessly discard their trash and scribble their names on the once pristine outcroppings.

Despite this sobering state of creation, the Grand Canyon is still recognized as “A spectacle unrivaled on this earth.” This is the declaration of creation at its finest, calling people to recognize that they are small, and that there is something bigger than themselves: a Creator, powerful, imaginative, and beautiful. The band Gungor, in their song “The Earth is Yours,” present a beautiful view of the role of creation. They write, “Your voice it thunders, the ground is shaking, the mighty mountains now are trembling. Creation sees you and starts composing, the fields and trees they start rejoicing…from the depths a song rising…Holy, Holy, Holy LORD the earth is yours.” I had this song in mind while hiking, and as I looked out on the canyon the whole thing seemed incredibly solid. Being 6000 ft. deep, there are parts that could be called mountains. So when the song says the “Mountains are trembling…creation is composing,” it suggests that the Creator Himself is powerful, larger than I can comprehend, and beautiful.

This thought paired with the knowledge of saving grace and the cross, is overwhelmingly humbling and reassuring. One thing we are reassured of is again found in Romans, Chapter 8: “That creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” We are, therefore, to be reassured it is God’s sovereign plan to restore His creation, to remove the futility and decay, and bring about purpose and life.

These past few days as I was able to experience a true marvel of nature, the Grand Canyon showed me in breathtaking fashion that life is not all about me. I am a small part of creation, with only a small feeble voice to lift in praise of my creator. But it is still His desire to hear it, that’s the reason He created it. So whatever we do let us strive to be, like the rest of creation, in constant praise of our Creator.

Ryan Gonzales has lived in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, but most recently joins us from Bedford, Texas. He thrives in discussions about philosophy and history, and hopes to earn his Ph.D. and become a college professor in one of those disciplines. His passion for philosophy is grounded in the knowledge that the philosophies that prevail in higher universities make their way to the every day lives of “ordinary” people, for good or evil. Ryan also enjoys ultimate frisbee, volleyball, guitar, or reading (preferably something by J.R.R. Tolkien). After Semester, he intends to attend Boyce College to study Apologetics and Philosophy.