“The earth suddenly sinks at our feet to illimitable depths. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, the awful scene is before us.”
— Clarence Dutton
When I was in grade school, I heard that the Colorado River, in all of its brown, silt-laden glory, had slowly and imperceptibly cut through the rock over a long period of geologic time, acting somewhat like sandpaper working on a piece of wood. The teacher was citing the most common explanation for how a gorge so deep could have formed.
— Wayne Ranney
But the Mississippi carries 10 times as much water and silt as the Colorado. Why is there no Grand Canyon of the Mississippi?
It has something to do with the fact that water going a little faster carves a lot more effectively, and water going a lot faster…well, you get the idea. A steady flow of water over a year may be a whole lot less effective than a spring rush of melted snow. Rapid flow from a high mountain may be extra powerful.
But many mysteries remain. There is good evidence that the Colorado flowed West to East through the Canyon until recently. There is disagreement over whether the Canyon is 70 million years old or only 6 million years old.
The top layer of limestone is 250 million years old. What happened to the rock formed between 250 mya and 70 (or 6) mya? Why is the North rim twice as far from the river as the South?
More speculative mysteries derive from the Smithsonian expedition of 1909, directed by G. E. Kinkaid.
From the long main passage, another mammoth chamber has been discovered from which radiates scores of passageways, like the spokes of a wheel.
Several hundred rooms have been discovered, reached by passageways running from the main passage, one of them having been explored for 854 feet and another 634 feet. The recent finds include articles which have never been known as native to this country, and doubtless they had their origin in the orient. War weapons, copper instruments, sharp-edged and hard as steel, indicate the high state of civilization reached by these people.
The main passageway is about 12 feet wide, narrowing to nine feet toward the farther end. About 57 feet from the entrance, the first side-passages branch off to the right and left, along which, on both sides, are a number of rooms about the size of ordinary living rooms of today, though some are 30 by 40 feet square. These are entered by oval-shaped doors and are ventilated by round air spaces through the walls into the passages. The walls are about three feet six inches in thickness.
The passages are chiseled or hewn as straight as could be laid out by an engineer. The ceilings of many of the rooms converge to a center. The side-passages near the entrance run at a sharp angle from the main hall, but toward the rear they gradually reach a right angle in direction.
Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall, several hundred feet long, in which are found the idol, or image, of the people’s god, sitting cross-legged, with a lotus flower or lily in each hand. The cast of the face is oriental. The idol almost resembles Buddha, though the scientists are not certain as to what religious worship it represents. Taking into consideration everything found thus far, it is possible that this worship most resembles the ancient people of Tibet.
Upwards of 50,000 people could have lived in the caverns comfortably. One theory is that the present Indian tribes found in Arizona are descendants of the serfs or slaves of the people who inhabited the cave.
Undoubtedly a good many thousands of years before the Christian era, a people lived here which reached a high stage of civilization. The chronology of human history is full of gaps.
“Great innovations, whether in art or literature, in science or in nature, seldom take the world by storm. They must be understood before they can be estimated, and must be cultivated before they can be understood.”
— Clarence Dutton