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Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District by Clarence E. Dutton
The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin (of which the Grand Canyon is a part) has developed in the past 40 million years. A recent study places the origins of the canyon beginning some 17 million years ago. Previous estimates had placed the age of the canyon at 5 to 6 million years. The study, which was published in 2008 in the journal Science utilized uranium-lead dating to analyze calcite deposits found on the walls of nine caves throughout the canyon.
The major geologic exposures in the Grand Canyon range in age from the 2 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 230 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim.
Trained for the ministry at Yale, diverted from his studies by the Civil War, diverted into science by the accidents of his post-war assignments, Dutton was certainly far from being a narrow specialist. Dutton’s works, and most of all the Tertiary History, are astonishingly fresh after nearly a hundred years, and still command a general audience. They have survived their specialty and their period, perhaps because art ages less swiftly than science, and Dutton an artist was at least as prominent in writing of these monographs as Dutton the scientist who drew his pay from the surveys.
In reading the records of his journey through the canyon which were painstakingly made and preserved more closely than life itself, we find an amazingly talented man of great intelligence, courage, fortitude and faith.
In the midst of awe inspiring nature, a repeated sensation, that forces greater than the human must exist, were inevitably felt by Dutton and his team members. As he held the Canyon in stupendous admiration, the power and beauty of its formations must have inspired in him thoughts of the Divine. Of forces that make and unmake worlds innumerable. It would certainly not be inaccurate to suggest that Dutton must have been drawn by the Himalayan symbolism of Vedic philosophy to have named the finest butte of the Kaibab division the Vishnu Temple and the grandest of all buttes as the Shiva Temple. For in Hindu philosophy to Vishnu is attributed the aspects of preserving the world and to Shiva the aspect also of the destroyer. We must bear in mind that the spiritual significance of a religious symbol must be appraised by what it conveys to the mind of the worshipper.
This article traces those features of the Grand Canyon which Dutton relates with the symbolism of the sacred Himalayas.
A few short extracts from Dutton's records in the " Tertiary History of the Grand Canon District", the full record of which makes most inspired reading, exciting the reader as he travels to that moment in time when Dutton and his team struggled or rode the magnificent Colorado river, is presented to the reader.
In describing the panorama from Point Sublime he writes:
"The finest butte of the chasm is situated near the upper end of the Kaibab division; but it is not visible from Point Sublime. It is more than 5,000 feet high, and has a surprising resemblance to an Oriental pagoda. We named it Vishnu’s Temple."
At Cape Final in the Ottoman Amphitheatre "we command a view of the head of the Grand Canyon. The scenery is in a large measure changed, not only in the arrangement of its parts but in its character. The portion of the panorama which includes the chasm is, in the main, similar to what we have seen from other commanding points, and so far is it from being diminished in grandeur that it may in some respects be regarded as the finest of all. But the chasm is only half the scene before us. To the eastward is spread out in full view the great expanse of the Marble Canyon platform, the Echo Cliffs beyond, and in the dim distance the Cretaceous mesas about the San Juan. To the southward is the far off mesa country around the Moquis villages sixty or seventy miles away, and to the southward fifty miles distant rise the grand volcanic piles of the San Francisco Mountains.
As we mount the parapet which looks down upon the canyon the eye is at once caught by an object which seems to surpass in beauty anything we have yet seen. It is a gigantic butte, so admirably designed and so exquisitely decorated that the sight of it must call forth an expression of wonder and delight from the most apathetic beholder. Its summit is more than 5,000 feet above the river. Mr. Holmes’ picture will convey a much more accurate idea of it than any verbal description can possibly do. We named it Vishnu’s Temple."
Travelers Route of South Rim: The East Rim Drive-Arizona Hwy. 64, begins just south of Mather Point. The drive skirts the rim for 23 miles to Desert View with numerous pull offs for long views of the main canyon. Turn off at Yaki Point for a fine view of the darkly shining Granite Gorge, the innermost canyon. The imposing pyramid-shaped profile of Vishnu Temple, 7,829 feet high dominates the eastern skyline.
Dutton describes the magnificence of what he sees of the Eastern Cloisters and Shiva's Temple as follows:
"As we contemplate these object we find it quite impossible to realize their magnitude. Not only are we deceived, but we are conscious that we are deceived, and yet we can not conquer the deception.....The eastern Cloister’s is nearer than the western, its distance being about a mile and a half. It seems incredible that it can be so much as one-third that distance. Its altitude is from 3500 to 4000 feet, but any attempt to estimate the altitude by means of usual impressions is felt at once to be hopeless. There is not stadium. Dimensions mean nothing to the senses, and all that we are conscious of in this respect is a troubled scene of immensity.
Beyond the eastern Cloisters, five or six miles distant, rises a gigantic mass which we named ‘Shiva’s Temple’. It is the grandest of all the buttes, and the most majestic in aspect, though not the most ornate. Its mass is as great as the mountainous part of Mount Washington. That summit looks down 6,000 feet into the dark depths of the inner abyss, over a succession of ledges as impracticable as the face of Bunker Hill Monument. All around it are side gorges sunk to a depth nearly as profound as that of the main channel. It stands in the midst of a great throng of cloister-like buttes, with the same noble profiles and strong lineaments as those immediately before us, with a plixus of awful chasms between them. In such a stupendous scene of wreck it seemed as if the fabled ‘Destroyer’ might find an abode not wholly uncongenial."
Travelers Route of West Rim: West Rim Drive-8 miles at least half a day. From Hopi Point, a promontory jutting deep into the gorge leave the main overlook and walk along the rim trail to find your own observation point. Across the river rise the intricately carved walls of the Isis Temple and tree-topped Shiva Temple, described as "the grandest of all buttes".
In describing the Amphitheatres of the Kaibab, Dutton on reaching the Hindoo Amphitheatre visualizes it for us in The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District.
He records that the Hindoo Amphitheatre is eroded back from the river a distance of about ten miles. The two branches are parallel, and each is about three miles in width. They are therefore much narrower than the Tapeats or the Shinumo, and strikingly different in plan. They appear from above as immense canon-like gorges opening far away into the central or main avenue of the Grand Canon. Their upper ends are bounded by circular walls which descend at once cliff below cliff to a depth of about 3,600 feet. Thence towards the river they grow deeper at the rate of over 200 feet to the mile. The walls are finely sculptured and richly colored. As we look down the long vista and out into the central chasm beyond we see the great throng of giant buttes and temples, vast pyramids and towers ornamented with rich tracery, all clustered together so thickly that they seem to crowd each other. At the lower end of the eastern branch, or near the confluence of the two branches, rises the largest and perhaps the most conspicuous of all the pagodas, Shiva’s Temple. It is more than a mile high, and remarkably symmetrical in its profiles. In this butte the entire local Carboniferous series is preserved. Its summit is a horizontal tablet of the cherty limestone nearly a mile in width occupying a horizon sensibly even with the summit of the main plateau. Around it are gorges of immense depth into which the facades of the temple descend by a succession of cliffs and taluses. The rain sculpture in the edges of the strata is quite ornamental, and the detail forms repeat themselves in characteristic ways in every member.
"In these amphitheaters we cannot fail to be much impressed with the intricate and yet systematic manner in which the ground plan of the walls is laid out. Great alcoves and cusps are formed, and wherever the wall makes a turn it is by a well-rounded inward curve or by a sharp cusp-like projection. The architectural details are always striking, and by their profusion and richness suggest an Oriental character."
Dutton seems to be familiar with the great carvings and sculptures of Ellora or Ellore, in India and so must be the intellectuals of his time for him to draw confident analogies in describing The Transept.
"Thompson’s Spring is an important camping place in the study of the extreme southern portions of the Kaibab, for it is the last spring of water in that direction which can be depended upon. A good trail leads to it from De Motte Park, the distance being about 17 miles.
From this point we may visit several interesting localities. Following downwards the main ravine about five miles we find it at length betraying evidence that it is near the brink of some amphitheater. Climbing the steep bank to the main platform 300 feet above, we move towards the southwest, and in half an hour or more are upon the verge of one of the finest and perhaps the most picturesque of the gorges in the whole Kaibab called by us The Transept. Though only of the second or third order of magnitude among the lateral excavations along the Grand Canon, it is far grander than Yosemite. At the very head of the gorge the walls plunge downwards at once more than 3,000 feet. As the gorge deepens towards its junction with the main amphitheater the aspects of the lateral walls, as they recede from us, becomes most imposing. The details of their sculpture are very beautiful and thoroughly systematic, and every characteristic is sustained throughout their whole extent. The entire length of the chamber is seen perspective. Beyond its opening we see the grandeur of the central canyon with butte beyond butte, and the vast southern wall of the main chasm in the background fifteen miles away. To many spectators the dominant thought here might be that this stupendous work has been accomplished by some intelligence akin to the human rather than by the blind forces of nature. Everything is apparently planned and cut with as much definiteness of design as a rock-temple of Petraea or Ellore."
Traveler's Route of North Rim: Cape Royal Road- The North Rim is at an average 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and is covered with alpine vegetation. From the historic Grand Canyon Lodge you have an excellent view of the Bright Angel Canyon incised 11 miles into the plateau and over-shadowed by, Deva, Brahma and Zoroaster Temples.
Francois Matthes an immigrant from Netherlands, approached the rim with an excellent technical education plus engineering studies at MIT. In 1896 he joined the cartographie division of the US Geological Survey, serving as apprentice in rugged locales as Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and the Bradshaws of Arizona. Impressed, Director Walcott assigned him to the Grand Canyon a year after the Santa Fe railhead reached the South Rim. There Matthes began to map out the Canyon’s most celebrated features and so helped triangulate from its exploring past into its tourist future.
The challenge was formidable, and like Walcott, Matthes was compelled to blaze trails to the North Rim (first along Bass Canyon, then Bright Angel) as well as develop new techniques for analysis. With only a alidade and plane table as instruments, the mapping of the Bright Angel and Vishnu quadrangles became a technical triumph, a tour de force of draftmanship that demanded a different scale of contourized lines and developed concepts that were applied to other regions. In 1904 and 1905 moreover, Matthes studied geomorphology under William Morris Davis at Harvard, and when the Bright Angel quadrangle was published, it included on its back side a geomorphic analysis written by Matthes.
The Bright Angel quadrangle, in particular endured as an aesthetic and technical standard, unsurpassed until the advent of laser-based theodolites and aerial photography allowed for a revision.
Richard Evans: The remainder of the project developed on to Richard Evans, a Matthes prodigy. Over the period 1920-23 he mapped most of the eastern Canyon and complimented Dutton’s Oriental place names and Matthes’s Nordic ones with allusions drawn from Arthurian legendry. Lancelot Point and Excalibur joined Vishnu Temple and Wontan’s Throne.
Ray Chapman Andrews: Most revealing however, were expeditions mounted by the American Museum of Natural History in 1937 to two isolated mesas. One trekked to Wontan’s Throne, the other, to Shiva Temple. There they sought out evidence of speciation. A journey to the Canyon’s buttes could complement Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands, the expedition to Shiva and Wontan was thus a delayed echo of an age that had sent ships to every Pacific reef and across Arctic ice flows. Ray Chapman Andrews, director of the American Museum of Natural History, celebrated expedition leader, a later model for Indiana Jones, proclaimed Shiva Temple "a lost world".
National Geographic School Lesson Plan