Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
70 minutes
Format: DVD
Available: Now

Out of the somber gray limbo that fills the screen, a mountain appears near the bottom of the screen through the mists.

Narration: Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a mountain. Here, it is only a small peak in The Canyon.

Grand Canyon rainbowAs the narrator speaks, the fog and mists clear away, suddenly revealing the Grand Canyon in the background. Up music. Titles play.

From this point we develop a short history of modern man’s involvement with the canyon. Using B&W stills, Major Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Colorado River and its historical significance will be highlighted.

Continuing to use B&W, we take a look at the Kolb brothers who explored and publicized the canyon extensively during the early part of this century. They were perhaps instrumental in the creation of Grand Canyon National Park because of the public awareness they generated by their writings and pictures.

We then move to present day, beginning with the grandeur of sunrise over the canyon in time-lapse photography. Music is congruently powerful and dramatic (but low key) as shadows move across the myriad textures and faces of rugged canyon walls in shot after shot.

mule deerThe arrival of spring has sent flowers pulsing into full bloom. They fill the screen as the camera zooms into each flower, literally taking the viewer into the heart of each blossom. Mule deer browse in the forests on the rims of the canyon and fawns cavort with each other and nurse their mothers. On the North Rim, the Kaibab Squirrel, rarest squirrel in North America, displays his white tail, searches the forest floor for pine cones, and sits in a tree insouciantly peeling his find.

On the edge of the canyon, cicadas buzz in the morning air and canyon lizards pick up ants as they climb around the trunks of juniper trees. Suddenly the lizard lunges for the cicada. The cicada makes a narrow escape, only to be plucked up and eaten by a huge raven who has just landed under the tree. The raven pauses on the lip of the Grand Canyon briefly, then launches himself out over the abyss. The camera follows him a moment, then cuts to the raven’s point of view as we, the audience, now soar over the various formations within the canyon. Music sustains our flight — and our mood.

KingsnakeNow clouds begin to coalesce in the sky; building, growing. Shadows of clouds race across the broken canyon. The sky darkens, lightening flashes and crashes. As the rain begins to fall, a chipmunk darts into a hollow log. A horned lizard scurries to avoid the downpour as the chipmunk looks out from his dry hole. In the distant desert, it’s not even raining, but a wall of muddy water rushes down a dry riverbed.

Flash flood! The rolling water races for the Grand Canyon.

In the Grand Canyon, rivulets run down the steep slopes. They build and swell. Muddy streams now course into the canyon, or cascade over ledges. The ten-million-year process of erosion that created this canyon is still an active, powerful force!

Slowly the pounding drops recede, the mists clear within the canyon itself, the runoff water slows and a crack in the clouds allows a rainbow, as brilliant as the clouds are dark, to virtually light up the canyon itself. As the storm quiets, it is almost sunset and hot flashes of lightning still puncture the distant horizon.

Nightfall and the clearing sky allows us to see the full moon rising through pine trees as a chorus of frogs and crickets make the still air vibrate with what seems to be a "joyful noise".

3,000 feet straight downMorning finds us now at the western end of the Grand Canyon, near Toroweep, a remote, little-visited area — unknown to most. Depressions in the rock mesas above the Colorado River form tiny ponds here after the rains. Three thousand feet above the river, it is a hot, barren environment. But, magically it seems, there is life here. Tadpoles and shrimp have appeared in these ponds from nowhere. The pond will last only a few days, so the tadpoles must quickly become frogs. They sprout legs just as the searing winds and radiant sun dry up the last of the water. They must lay eggs in the rapidly cracking mud. Eggs ensure the flow of life for future generations, even as life leaves the last frog on the baking mud.

On the plateau, the endangered desert tortoise leaves his burrow and feeds on a small green plant. As he pokes along, coming over a ridge, he encounters a tarantula. The relatively huge tortoise seems intimidated by the tarantula, and clumsily puts himself into reverse, trying to avoid the hairy spider. The tarantula, apparently trying to escape the heat of the sun, is attracted to the shade created by the tortoise, and he advances menacingly. Seeming a bit panicked, the tortoise bites the spider, first on the leg, then on his large abdomen, whereupon the tarantula takes refuge in a clump of grass, subdued.

The canyon slumbers in the sun. Shadows play over it’s massive walls; dancing, climbing, descending. We can see the shadows in time-lapse as the circling days grow hotter.

Evening in the Grand CanyonIn the forest, chipmunks feed on maturing grass seeds and lazily stretch in the sun across a fallen log, sometimes scratching, darting here and there with his chipmunk energy. A coyote comes out on the meadow to feed on fat crickets, and he snaps at hordes of grasshoppers in an irritated fashion. Nearby a great blue heron shakes grasshoppers off; first one foot, then the other, also in an irritated fashion. He gives up and flies away. The coyote continues to hunt. Shadows grow long. The sun settles into clouds that suddenly are transformed into radiant golds and reds. Shadows move across the canyon once again. The disappearing sun bleeds the canyon of it’s color.

Grand Canyon ridersAs the morning sky lightens, wranglers saddle mules. They are in silhouette, slinging leather across the backs of the reluctant animals.

Now, tourists are helped up on their respective mules after a speech from the head wrangler. Ponderously, the ride gets underway. Down they go, descending through the ponderosa pines and into the very bowels of the canyon. Soon they are dwarfed by the towering, soaring cliffs on one side, and by sheer abyss on the other. The riders are nervous, the mules bored.

In another part of the canyon, a lone hiker explores at his pace. He carries water in his pack. Not to do so risks dehydration, even death; even in a single day. On this day the hiker passes beneath a spring that dribbles out above the trail from the canyon wall. He pauses to catch a small stream in his mouth, then continues along the trail.

Coming to the end of the trail, he looks over the ledge at a 500-foot drop. Below that is another 1,000-foot sheer wall. The camera zooms back to show the stupendous immensity of the canyon as the hiker recedes and vanishes into a speck on the canyon wall.

cougarThese same trails have been used for thousands of years. The Anasazi, the "ancient ones", lived in and around the Grand Canyon long before Spanish conquistadors came here in search of "cities of gold". And sometimes it seems you can still sense these "ancient ones" here among the ruins they left behind. (At this point the camera has been looking at some stone structures built by the Anasazi, and now, over those same scenes, the ghost images of Indians faintly appear, storing their crops and carrying water from the cliff-side spring.) If you linger in these quiet places, you may fancy that you can even see their ghosts. There are over 2,000 sites where they left buildings or petroglyphs, the figures carved in rock faces.

Some Indians remain here today. In Havasu Canyon, the Havasupi have lived along the beautiful Havasu Creek for over 600 years. They continue to do so, raising corn, beans and squash as they always have.

river runnerriver runnersHavasu Creek rises from a spring eight miles away and flows into the Colorado River ultimately. At Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado, a ferry was operated 100 years ago, affording the only place to cross the river for hundreds of miles in either direction. Today, it is the point of embarkation for virtually all the float trips down the river. River runners don’t face the unknowns that Major Powell did 1869. But they still face the excitement and the thrills, and the hint of danger is there.

The canyon walls loom overhead, and the rapids make each runner feel he has claimed the spirit of Major Powell. There are secret places to explore here. Side canyons pump more water into the Colorado River and Anasazi ruins are numerous. They invite the Colorful Grand Canyoncurious.

These formations stand like timeless castles. They are, in fact, not timeless. This awesome, gorgeous splendor is only a passing moment in earth’s history. The days spin by. They have circled over these rock formations billions upon billions of times. Ultimately, the Grand Canyon may end as it began, cut down by the very forces that created it, to a flat, level plain.

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DVD $19.95