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Grand Canyon National Park: Past And Present

Author : Suzanne Silverthorn
Published : 2014-06-28

Grand Canyon National Park: Past and Present follows a format that is similar to two other books by the same authors: Yosemite National Park: Past and Present and Yellowstone National Park: Past and Present. These three large-format coffee table books present pages filled with reproductions of historic memorabilia (postcards, illustrated matchbook covers, promotional brochures, decals, and price lists) juxtaposed with current photographs and text describing the parks’ history, attractions, and, to a lesser extent, natural resources.

Beginning with a brief overview of the prehistory, exploration, and settlement of the Grand Canyon area before national park establishment, Grand Canyon National Park: Past and Present goes on to provide a great deal of information on regional railroad history, early facility and concession operations, and key trails and points of interest for both the North Rim and the South Rim. A brief wildlife section is included, which provides good information on some of the park’s wildlife management problems, including extirpation of the native Merriam’s elk early in the park’s history, the introduction of Rocky Mountain elk to refill that niche, and the California condor recovery program. The final section of the book, titled “Outlook,” touches on some of the challenges facing Grand Canyon National Park, including overcrowding, and presents actions the National Park Service is taking to remedy problems, such as encouraging visitors to use shuttle buses and bicycles (which doesn’t really solve overcrowding or its effects on park resources, but may resolve traffic congestion issues).

The best features of this book are its historical overview of visitor use and facilities, and the broad coverage of points of interest in the park. I particularly liked the discussions of the contributions of American architect and designer Mary Colter to the human footprint in the Grand Canyon.

Several pages in the book present an historic postcard of a particular scene in the park, matched with a recently captured photograph of the same scene. Initially, I didn’t see the value of this type of presentation, but then I realized, in some cases, such as the pair of images that shows Point Imperial, that these pairings are very refreshing because they show us that the scene remains, for the most part, unchanged—as it should be.

Grand Canyon National Park: Past and Present will appeal to history buffs and will be valuable to park visitors who are planning their trip to the Grand Canyon, or looking for an overview of the park. I would, however, have liked to see a bit more information presented in the “Outlook” section. For example, the authors mention the water scarcity and drought issues facing the Grand Canyon region, the effect of air tours on park soundscapes, and the influence of climate change. I would have liked the book to have more information on the severity of these critical issues, as well as how the National Park Service is addressing the problems (although, in the case of the latter, I’m not sure if this was an author omission, or if the park simply is not taking action to resolve the issues). Also, a short piece on how all of our human activities outside of the Grand Canyon (and all national parks) affect the integrity of the parks themselves would have been valuable to the reader.

The book dedicates a page to Glen Canyon Dam, and addresses some of the detrimental effects of the dam on the integrity of the Colorado River’s physical and biological resources. No mention was made, however, of proposals to remove the dam, or of the 1981 anti-dam protest, when Earth First! unfurled a 300-foot long tapered sheet of black plastic down the face of the dam, to make it look as if there was a huge crack in the dam. I believe the book would have been strengthened by a longer discussion of both sides of this very critical Glen Canyon Dam issue, as its impacts on the Grand Canyon are so profound.

Traveler postscript: For an intriguing look at the past, and present, landscape of Grand Canyon National Park, consider Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. This amazing book takes a Jigsaw puzzle approach to showcasing 150 years of Grand Canyon photography, paintings, sketches, and even postcards by seamlessly melding the past and present as seen through works of such giants as Ansel Adams and Thomas Moran and paired with images from Klett and Wolfe.

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