Last week I visited Grand Canyon National Park, one of the places chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. We visited the north rim of the canyon rather than the more frequented south rim.
One approaches the north rim, which is quite isolated, passing through the forests and meadows of the Colorado Plateau. As the above photo shows, in October the aspens found among the pine forests turn gold. From the road we saw herds of grazing deer, and even a coyote, as well as cattle grazing in the multiple use national forest adjacent to the national park.
We were told that the National Park Service and the Forest Service differ significantly as to the methods that are most appropriate for protection of this environment. Moreover it was suggested that there have been significant changes in the Plateau due to the management techniques applied, and that that fact is evident from the difference in forest structure on the isolated mesa tops left by the canyon which have not been managed versus the managed systems of the national park and national forest.
The two images above are taken from the lodge on the north rim. Reconstructed after a fire that destroyed the original building, it is again an imposing and interesting building, which we were told is important in the architectural history of the United States, representing a peak achievement of the arts and crafts movement. Certainly the first view of the Grand Canyon itself from the lobby of the lodge leaves an indelible impression.
Walking along a rim trail one sees great views across the ten mile expanse of the mile deep canyon framed by tall and graceful pines. The canyons have of course been formed by the Colorado River and its tributaries, and the canyon ecosystem has been radically changed by the taming of the Colorado by a series of dams. Efforts continue to develop management techniques that both help maintain the biodiversity and character of the canyon bottoms and serve the needs of downstream populations.
A road branches off that to the lodge, traveling for miles along the Colorado Plateau, with viewing points provided on the rim providing views such as those provided above.
One of the great successes of recent years has been the reintroduction of wild populations of California condors in the Grand Canyon. The largest American bird, with a wing span of nine feet, the condor was almost extinct some years ago when a program was started to save the species by captive breeding. In recent years condors have been reintroduced into the wild and are successfully breeding in the Grand Canyon. The fortunate visitor can see them soaring over the canyon.
Archaeologists have discovered many prehistoric sites within Grand Canyon National Park itself, and even today there are Native American communities above and below the national park on the Colorado River. Indeed the history of the region through the expansion of the United States has fascinated Americans, and the larger region surrounding the Grand Canyon has been the site of many western movies. Thus the region offers tempting opportunities for social scientists. It also offers significant challenges for multidisciplinary teams to find ways for the long term management of a park system that receives millions of visitors per year, and is subject to pressures of many kinds from developers. Moreover, the system includes a very complex ecology, due in part to the wide range of elevations and climates it includes, and its site on the border between the Colorado Plateau and deserts to the south.