CHAPTER VII. POINT SUBLIME.
Wherever we reach the Grand CaÃ±on in the Kaibab it burst upon the vision in a moment. Seldom is any warning given that we are near the brink. At the Toroweap it is quite otherwise. There we are notified that we are near it a day before we reach it. As the final march to that portion of the chasm is made the scene gradually develops, growing by insensible degrees more grand until at last we stand upon the brink of the inner gorge, where all is before us. In the Kaibab the forest reaches to the sharp edge of the cliff and the pine trees shed their cones into the fathomless depths below.
If the approach is made at random, with no idea of reaching any particular point by a known route, the probabilities are that it is first seen from the rim of one of the vast amphitheaters which set back from the main chasm far into the mass of the plateau. It is such a point to which the reader has been brought in the preceding chapter. Of course there are degrees in the magnitude and power of the pictures presented, but the smallest and least powerful is tremendous and too great for comprehension. The scenery of the amphitheaters far surpasses in grandeur and nobility anything else of the kind in any other region, but it is mere by-play in comparison with the panorama displayed in the heart of the caÃ±on. The supreme views are to be obtained at the extremities of the long promontories, which jut out between these recesses far into the gulf. Towards such a point we now direct our steps. The one we have chosen is on the whole the most commanding in the Kaibab front, though there are several others which might be regarded as very nearly equal to it, or as even more imposing in some respects. We named it Point Sublime.
The route is of the same character as that we have already traversed-open pine forest, with smooth and gently rolling ground. The distance from the point where we first touched the rim of the amphitheater is about five miles. Nothing is seen of the chasm until about a mile from the end we come once more upon the brink. Reaching the extreme verge the packs are cast off and sitting upon the edge we contemplate the most sublime and awe-inspiring spectacle in the world.
The Grand CaÃ±on of the Colorado is a great innovation in modern ideas of scenery, and in our conceptions of the grandeur, beauty, and power of nature. As with all great innovations it is not to be comprehended in a day or a week, nor even in a month. It must be dwelt upon and studied, and the study must comprise the slow acquisition of [14.-A lateral amphitheater of the second order.] the meaning and spirit of that marvelous scenery which characterizes the Plateau country, and of which the great chasm is the superlative manifestation. The study and slow mastery of the influences of that class of scenery and its full appreciation is a special culture, requiring time, patience, and long familiarity for its consummation. The lover of nature, whose perceptions have been trained in the Alps, in Italy, Germany, or New England, in the Appalachians or Cordilleras, in Scotland or Colorado, would enter this strange region with a shock, and dwell there for a time with a sense of oppression, and perhaps with horror. Whatsoever things he had learned to regard as beautiful and noble the would seldom or never see, and whatsoever he might see would appear to him as anything but beautiful and noble. Whatsoever might be hold and striking would at first seem only grotesque. The colors would be the very ones he had learned to shun as tawdry and bizarre. The tones and shades modest and tender, subdued yet rich, in which his fancy had always taken special delight, would be the ones which are conspicuously absent. But time would bring a gradual change. Some day he would suddenly become conscious that outlines which at first seemed harsh and trivial have grace and meaning; that forms which seemed grotesque are full of dignity; that magnitudes which had added enormity to coarseness have become replete with strength and even majesty; that colors which had been esteemed unrefined, immodest, and glaring, are as expressive, tender, changeful, and capacious of effects as any others. 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.
It is so with the Grand CaÃ±on. The observer who visits its commanding points with the expectation of experiencing forthwith a rapturous exaltation, an ecstacy arising from the realization of a degree of grandeur and sublimity never felt before, is doomed to disappointment. Supposing him to be but little familiar with plateau scenery, he will be simply bewildered. Must he therefore pronounce it a failure, an overpraised thing? Must be entertain a just resentment towards those who may have raised his expectations too high? The answer is that subjects which disclose their full power, meaning, and beauty as soon as they are presented to the mind have very little of those qualities to disclose. Moreover a visitor to the chasm or to any other famous scene must necessarily come there (for so is the human mind constituted) with a picture of its created by his own imagination. He reaches the spot, the conjured picture vanishes in an instant, and the place of it must be filled anew. Surely no imagination can construct out of its own material any picture having the remotest resemblance to the Grand CaÃ±on. In truth the first step in attempting a description is to beg the reader to dismiss from his mind, so far as practicable, any preconceived notion of it.
Those who have long and carefully studied the Grand CaÃ±on of the Colorado do not hesitate for a moment to pronounce it by far the most sublime of all earthly spectacles. If its sublimity consisted only in its dimensions, it could be sufficiently set forth in a single sentence. It is more than 200 miles long, from 5 to 12 miles wide, and from 5,000 to 6,000 feet deep. There are in the world valleys which are longer and a few which are deeper. There are valleys flanked by summits loftier than the palisades of the Kaibab. Still the Grand CaÃ±on is the sublimest thing or earth. It is so not alone by virtue of its magnitudes, but by virtue of the whole-its ensemble.
[U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING EAST. ANNUAL REPORT 1881. PL. XXXI.]
THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING EAST.
The common notion of a caÃ±on is that of a deep, narrow gash in the earth, with nearly vertical walls like a great and neatly cut trench. There are hundreds of chasms in the Plateau country which answer very well to this notion. Many of them are sunk to frightful depths and are fifty to a hundred miles in length. Some are exceedingly narrow, as the caÃ±ons of the forks of the Virgen, where the overhanging walls shut out the sky. Some are intricately sculptured, and illuminated with brilliant colors; others are picturesque by reason of their bold and striking sculpture. A few of them are most solemn and impressive by reason of their profundity and the majesty of their walls. But as a rule the common caÃ±ons are neither grand nor ever attractive. Upon first acquaintance they are curious and awaken interest as a new sensation, but they soon grow tiresome for want of diversity, and become at last mere bores. The impressions they produce are very transient, because of their great simplicity and the limited range of ideas they present. But there are some which are highly diversified, presenting many attractive features. These seldom grow stale or wearisome, and their presence is generally greeted with pleasure.
It is perhaps in some respects unfortunate that the stupendous pathway of the Colorado River through the Kaibabs was ever called a caÃ±on, for the name identifies it with the baser conception. But the same name presents as wide a range of signification as the world house. The log cabin of the rancher, the painted and vine-clad cottage of the mechanic, the home of the millionaire, the places where parliaments assemble, and the grandest temples of worship, are all houses. Yet the contrast between Saint Marc's and the rude dwelling of the frontiersman is not greater than that between the chasm of the Colorado and the trenches in the rocks which answer to the ordinary conception of a caÃ±on. And as a great cathedral is an immense development of the rudimentary idea involved in the four walls and roof of a cabin, so is the chasm an expansion of the simple type of drainage channels peculiar to the Plateau country. To the conception of its vast proportions must be added some notion of its intricate plan, the nobility of its architecture, it colossal buttes, its wealth of ornamentation, the splendor of its colors, and its wonderful atmosphere. All of these attributes combine with infinite complexity to produce a whole which at first bewilders and at length overpowers.
From the end of Point Sublime, the distance across the chasm to the nearest point in the summit of the opposite wall, is about 7 miles. This, however does not fairly express the width of the chasm, for both walls are recessed by wide amphitheaters, setting far back into the platform of the country and the promontories are comparatively narrow strips between them. A more correct statement of the general width would be from 11 to 12 miles. This must dispose at once of the idea that the chasm is a narrow gorges of immense depth and simple form. It is somewhat unfortunate that there is a prevalent idea that in some way an essential part of the grandeur of the Grand CaÃ±on is the narrowness of its defiles. Much color has been given to this notion by the first illustrations of the caÃ±on from the pencil of Egloffstein in the celebrated report of Lieutenant Ives. Never was a great subject more artistically misrepresented or more charmingly belittled. Nowhere in the Kaibab section is any such extreme narrowness observable, and even in the Uinkaret section the width of the great inner gorge is a little greater than the depth. In truth a little reflection will show that such a character would be inconsistent with the highest and strongest effects. For it is obvious that some notable width is necessary to enable the eye to see the full extent of the walls. In a chasm one mile deep, and only a thousand feet wide, this would be quite impossible. If we compare the Marble CaÃ±n or the gorge at the Toroweap with wider sections it will at once be seen that the wider ones are much stronger. If we compare one of the longer alcoves having a width of 3 or 4 miles with the view across the main chasm the advantage will be very decidedly with the latter. It is evident that for the display of wall surface of given dimensions a certain amount of distance is necessary. We may be too near or too far for the right appreciation of its magnitude and proportions. The distance must bear some ratio to the magnitude. But at what precise limit this distance must in the present case be fixed is not easy to determine. It can hardly be doubted that if the caÃ±on were materially narrow it would suffer a loss of grandeur and effect.
The length of caÃ±on revealed clearly and in detail at Point Sublime is about 25 miles in each direction. Towards the northwest the vista terminates behind the projecting mass of Powell's Plateau. But again to the westward may be seen the crests of the upper walls reaching through the Kanab and Uinkaret Plateaus, and finally disappearing in the haze about 75 miles away.
The space under immediate view from our stand-point, 50 miles long and 10 to 12 side, is thronged with a great multitude of objects so vast in size, so bold and majestic in form, so infinite in their details, that as the truth gradually reveals itself to the perceptions it arouses the strongest emotions. Unquestionably the overruling feature is the colossal wall on the opposite side of the gulf. Can mortal fancy create a picture of a mural front a mile in height, 7 to 10 miles distant, and receding into space indefinitely in either direction? As the mind strives to realize its proportions its spirit broken and its imagination completely crushed. If the wall were simple in its character, if it were only blank and sheer, some rest might be found in contemplating it; but it is full of diversity and eloquent with grand suggestions. It is deeply recessed by alcoves and amphitheaters receding far into the plateau beyond, and usually disclosing only the portals by which they open into the main chasm. Between them the promontories jut out, ending in magnificent gables with sharp mitered angles. Thus the wall rambles in and out, turning numberless corners. Many of the angles are acute and descend as a sharp
[U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING SOUTH. ANNUAL REPORT 1881. PL. XXXII.]
THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING SOUTH.
spurs like the forward edge of a plowshare. Only those alcoves which are directly opposite to us can be seen in their full length and depth. Yet so excessive, nay no prodigious, is the effect of foreshortening, that it is impossible to realize their full extensions. We have already noted this effect in the Vermilion Cliffs, but here it is much more exaggerated. At many points the profile of the facade is thrown into view by the change of trend, and its complex character is fully revealed. Like that of the Vermilion, Cliffs, it is a series of many ledges and slopes, like a molded plinth, in which every stratum is disclosed as a line or a course of masonry. The Red Wall limestone is the most conspicuous member, presenting its vertical face eight hundred to a thousand feet high, and everywhere unbroken. The thinner beds more often appear in the slopes as a succession of ledges projecting through the scanty talus which never conceals them.
Numerous detached masses are also seen flanking the ends of the long promontories. These buttes are of gigantic proportions, and yet so overwhelming is the effect of the wall against which they are projected that they seem insignificant in mass, and the observer is often deluded by them, falling to perceive that they really detached from the wall and perhaps separated from it by an interval of a mile or two.
At the foot of this palisade is a platform through which meanders the inner gorge in whose dark and somber depths flows the river. Only in one place can the water surface be seen. In its windings the abyss, which holds it extends for a short distance towards us and the line of vision enters the gorge lengthwise. Above the below this short reach the gorge swings its course in other directions and reveals only a dark, narrow opening, while its nearer wall hides its depths. This inner chasm is 1,000 to 1,200 feet deep. Its upper 200 feet is a vertical ledge of sandstone of a dark rich brownish color. Beneath it lies the granite of a dark iron-gray shade, verging towards black, and lending a gloomy aspect to the lowest deeps. Perhaps a half mile of the river is disclosed. A pale, dirty red, without glimmer or sheen, a motionless surface, a small featureless spot, inclosed in the dark shade of the granite, is all of it that is here visible. Yet we know it is a large river, a hundred and fifty yards wide, with a headlong torrent foaming and plunging over rocky rapids.
A little, and only a little, less impressive than the great wall across the chasm are the buttes upon this side. And such buttes! All others in the West, saving only the peerless Temples of the Virgen, are mere trifles in comparison with those of the Grand CaÃ±on. In nobility of form, beauty of decoration, and splendor of color, the Temples of the Virgen must, on the whole be awarded the palm; but those of the Grand CaÃ±on, while barely inferior to them in those respects, surpass the in magnitude and fully equal them in majesty. But while the Valley of the Virgen presents a few of these superlative creations, the Grand CaÃ±on presents them by dozens. In this relation the comparison would be analogous to one between a fine cathedral town and a metropolis like London or Paris. In truth, there is only a very limited ground of comparison between the two localities, for in style and effects their respective structures differ as decidedly as the works of any two well-developed and strongly contrasted styles of human architectures.
Whatsoever is forcible, characteristics, and picturesque in the rockforms of the Plateau country is concentrated and intensified to the uttermost in the buttes. Wherever we find them, whether fringing the long escarpments of terraces or planted upon broad mesas, whether in caÃ±ons or upon expansive plains, they are always bold and striking in outline and ornate in architecture. Upon their flanks and entablatures the decoration peculiar to the formation out of which they have been carved is most strongly portrayed and the profiles are most sharply cut. They command the attention with special force and quicken the imagination [Fig. 15-Pinnacles on the brink.] with a singular power. The secret of their impressiveness is doubtless obscure. Why one form should be beautiful and another unattractive; why one should be powerful, animated, and suggestive, while another is meaningless, are questions for the psychologist rather than the geologist. Sufficient here is the fact. Yet there are some elements of impressiveness which are too patent to escape recognition. In nearly all buttes there is a certain definiteness of form which is peculiarly emphatic, and this is seen in their profiles. Their ground-plans are almost always indefinite and capricious, but the profiles are rarely so. These are usually composed of lines which have an approximate and sometimes [U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING WEST. ANNUAL REPORT 1881. PL. XXXIII.] [U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. THE PANORAMA FROM POINT SUBLIME-LOOKING WEST. ANNUAL REPORT 1881. PL. XXXIII.] a sensibly perfect geometrical definition. They are usually few and simple in their ultimate analysis, though by combination they give rise to much variety. The ledges are vertical, the summits are horizontal, and the taluses are segments of hyperbolas of long curvature and concave upwards. These lines greatly preponderate in all cases, and though others sometimes intrude they seldom blemish greatly the effects produced by the normal ones. All this is in striking contrast with the evervarying, indefinite profiles displayed in mountains and hills or on the slopes of valleys. The profiles generated by the combinations of these geometric lines persist along an indefinite extent of front. Such variations as occur arise not from changes in the nature of the lines, but in te modes of combination and proportions. These are never great in any front of moderate extent, but are just sufficient to relieve it from a certain monotony which would otherwise prevail. the same type and general form is persistent. Like the key-note of a song, the mind carries it in its consciousness wherever the harmony wanders.
The horizontal lines or courses are equally strong. These are the edges of the strata, and the deeply eroded seams where the superposed beds touch each other. Here the uniformity as we pass from place to place is conspicuous. The Carboniferous strata are quite the same in every section, showing no perceptive variation in thickness through great distances and only a slight dip.
It is readily apparent, therefore, that the effect of these profiles and horizontal courses so persistent in their character is highly architectural. The relation is more than a mere analogy or suggestion; it is a vivid resemblance. Its failure or discordance is only in the ground plan, though it is not uncommon to find a resemblance, even in this respect, among the Permian buttes. Among the buttes of the Grand CaÃ±on there are few striking instances of definiteness in ground plan. 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.
On either side of the promontory on which we stand is a side gorge sinking nearly, 4,000 feet below us. The two unite in front of the point, and, ever deepening, their trunk opens into the lowest abyss in the granite at the river. Across either branch is a long rambling mass, one on the right of us the other on the left. We named them the Cloisters. They are excellent types of a whole class of buttes which stand in close proximity to each other upon the north side of the chasm throughout the entire extent of the Kaibab division. A far better conception of their forms and features can be gained by an examination of Mr. Holmes's panoramic picture than by reading a whole volume of verbal description. The whole prospect, indeed, is filled with a great throng of similar objects, which, as much by their multitude as by their colossal size, confuse the senses; but these, on account of their proximity, may be most satisfactorily studied. The infinity of sharply defined detail is amazing. The eye is instantly caught and the attention firmly held by its systematic character. The parallelism of the lines of bedding is most forcibly displayed in all the windings of the facades, and these lines are crossed by the vertical scorings of numberless water-ways. Here, too, are distinctly seen those details which constitute the peculiar style of decoration prevailing throughout all the buttes and amphitheaters of the Kaibab. The course of the walls is never for a moment straight, but extends as a series of cusps and re-entrant curves. Elsewhere the reverse is more frequently seen; the projections of the wall are rounded and are convex towards the front, while the re-entrant portions are cusp, like recesses. This latter style of decoration is common in the Permian buttes and is not rare in the Jurassic. It produces the effect of a thickly set row of pilasters. In the Grand CaÃ±on the reversal of this mode produces the effect of panels and niches. In the western Cloister may be seen a succession of these niches, and though they are mere details among myriads, they are really vast in dimensions. Those seen in the Red Wall limestone are over 700 feet high, and are overhung by arched lintels with spandrels.
As we contemplate these objects we find it quite impossible to realize their magnitude. Not only are we deceived, bug we are conscious that we are deceived, and yet we cannot conquer the deception. We cannot long study our surroundings without becoming aware of an enormous disparity in the effects produced upon the senses by objects which are immediate and equivalent ones which are more remote. the depth of the gulf which separates us from the Cloisters cannot be realized. We crane over the brink, and about 700 feet below is a talus, which ends at the summit of the cross-bedded sandstone. We may see the bottom of the gorge, which is about 3,800 feet beneath us, and yet the talus seems at least half way down. Looking across the side gorge the cross-bedded sandstone is seen as a mere band at the summit of the Cloister, forming but a very small portion of its vertical extent, and whatever the reason may conclude, it is useless to attempt to persuade the imagination that the two edges of the sandstone lie in the same horizontal plane. The eastern Cloister 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 3,500 to 4,000 feet, but any attempt to estimate the altitude by means of visual impressions is felt at once to be hopeless. There is no stadium. Dimensions mean nothing to the senses, and all that we are conscious of in this respect is a troubled sense of immensity.
Beyond the eastern Cloister, 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 [U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. VISHNU'S TEMPLE-HEAD OF THE GRAND CAÃ±ON ANNUAL REPORT 1881. PL. XXXIV.] abyss, over a succession of ledges as impracticable as the face of Bunker Hill Monument. All around it are aside 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 plexus of awful chasms between them. In such a stupendous scene of wreck it seemed as if the fabled âDestroyerâ might find an abode not wholly uncongenial.
In all the vast space beneath and around us there is very little upon which the mind can linger restfully. It is completely filled with objects of gigantic size and amazing form, and as the mind wanders over them it is hopelessly bewildered and lost. It is useless to select special points of contemplation. The instant the attention lays hold of them it is drawn to something else, and if it seeks to recur to them it cannot find them. Everything is superlative, transcending the power of the intelligence to comprehend it. There is no central point or object around which the other elements are grouped and to which they are tributary. The grandest objects are merged in a congregation of others equally grand. Hundreds of these mighty structures, miles in length, and thousands of feet in height, rear their majestic heads out of the abyss, displaying their richly-molded plinths and friezes, thrusting out their gables, wing-walls, buttresses, and pilasters, and recessed with alcoves and panels. If any one of these stupendous creations had been planted upon the plains of Central Europe it would have influenced modern art as profoundly as Fusiyama has influenced the decorative art of Japan. Yet here they are all swallowed up in the confusion of multitude. It is not along the magnitude of the individual objects that makes this spectacle so portentous, but it is still more the extravagant profusion with which they are arrayed along the whole visible extent of the broad chasm.
The color effects are rich and wonderful. They are due to the inherent colors of the rocks, modified by the atmosphere. Like any other great series of strata in the Plateau Province, the Carboniferous has its own range of characteristic colors, which might serve to distinguish it even if we had no other criterion. The summit strata are pale gray, with a, faint yellowish cast. Beneath them the cross-bedded sandstone appears showing a mottled surface of pale pinkish hue. Underneath this member are nearly 1,000 feet of the lower Aubrey sandstones, displaying an intensely brilliant red, which is somewhat masked by the talus shot down from the grey, cherty limestones at the summit. Beneath the lower Aubrey is the face of the Red Wall limestone, from 2,000 to 3,000 feet high. It has a strong red color, but a very peculiar one. Most of the red strata of the west have the brownish or vermilion tones, but these are rather purplish-red, as if the pigment had been treated to a dash of blue. It is not quite certain that this may not arise in part from the intervention of the blue haze, and probably it is rendered more conspicuous by this cause; but, on the whole, the purplish cast seems to be inherent. This is the dominant color-mass of the caÃ±on, for the expanse of rock surface displayed is more than half in the Red Wall group. It is less brilliant than the fiery red of the Aubrey sandstones, but is still quite strong and rich. Beneath are the deep browns of the lower Carboniferous. The dark iron-black of the hornblendic schists revealed in the lower gorge makes but little impression upon the boundless expanse of bright colors above.
The total effect of the entire color-mass is bright and glowing. There is nothing gloomy or dark in the picture except the opening of the inner gorge, which is too small a feature to influence materially the prevailing tone. Although the colors are bright when contracted with normal landscapes, there are decidedly less intense than the flaming hues of the Trias or the dense cloying colors of the Permian; nor have they the refinement of those revealed in the Eocene. The intense luster which gleams from the rocks of the Plateau country is by no means lost here but is merely subdued and kept under some restraint. It is toned down and softened without being deprived of its character. Enough of it is left to produce color effects not far below those that are yielded by the Jura-Trias.
But though the inherent colors are less intense than some others, yet under the quickening influence of the atmosphere they produce effects to which all others are far inferior. And here language fails and description becomes impossible. Not only are their qualities exceedingly subtle, but they have little counterpart in common experience. If such are presented elsewhere they are presented so feebly and obscurely that only the most discriminating and closest observers of nature ever seize them, and they so imperfectly that their ideas of them are vague and but half real. There are not concrete notions founded in experience upon which conception of these color effects and optical delusions can be constructed and made intelligible. A perpetual glamour envelopes the landscape. Thing are not what they seem, and the perceptions cannot tell us what they are. It is not probable that these effects are different in kind in the Grand CaÃ±on from what they are in other portions of the Plateau country. But the difference in degree is immense, and being greatly magnified and intensified many characteristics become palpable which elsewhere elude the closest observation.
In truth, the tone and temper of the landscape are constantly varying, and the changes in its aspect are very great. It is never the same, even from day to day, or even from hour to hour. In the early morning its mood and subjective influences are usually calmer and more full of repose than at other times, but as the sun rises higher the whole scene is so changed that we cannot recall our first impressions. Every passing cloud, every change in the position of the sun recasts the whole. At sunset the pageant closes amid splendors that seem more than earthly. The direction of the full sunlight, the massing of the shadows, the manner in which the side-lights are thrown in from the clouds determine these modulations, and the sensitiveness of the picture to the slightest variations in these conditions is very wonderful.
The shadows thrown by the bold abrupt forms are exceedingly dark. It is almost impossible at the distance of a very few miles to distinguish even broad details in these shadows. They are like remnants of midnight unconquered by the blaze of noonday. The want of half tones and gradations in the light and shade, which has already been noted in the Vermillion Cliffs, is apparent here, and is far more conspicuous. Our thoughts in this connection may suggest to us a still more extreme case of a similar phenomenon presented by the half-illuminated moon when viewed through a large telescope. The portions which catch the sunlight shine with great luster but the shadows of mountains and cliffs are black and impenetrable. But there is one feature in the caÃ±on which is certainly extraordinary. It is the appearance of the atmosphere against the background of shadow. It has a metallic luster which must be seen to be appreciated. The great wall across the chasm presents at noonday, under a cloudless sky, a singularly weird and unearthly aspect. The color is for the most part gone. In place of it comes this metallic glare of the haze. The southern wall is never so poorly lighted as at noon. Since its face consists of a series of promontories projecting towards the north, these projections catch the sunlight on their eastern sides in the forenoon, and upon their western sides in the afternoon; but near meridian the rays fall upon a few points only, and even upon these with very great obliquity. Thus at the hour of greatest general illumination the wall is most obscure and the abnormal effects are then presented most forcibly. They give rise to strange delusions. The rocks then look nearly black, or very dark grey and covered with feebly shining spots. The haze is strongly luminous, and so dense as to obscure the details already enfeebles by shade as if a leader or mercurial vapor intervened. The shadows antagonize the perspective, and everything seems awry. The lines of stratification, dimly seen in one place and wholly effaced in another, are strangely belied and the strata are given apparent attitudes which are sometimes grotesque and sometimes impossible.
Those who are familiar with western scenery have, no doubt, been impressed with the peculiar character of its haze, or atmosphere in the artistic sense of the word, and have noted its more prominent qualities. When the air is free from common smoke it has a pale blue color which is quite unlike the neutral gray of the east. It is always apparently more dense when we look towards the sun than when we look away from it, and this difference in the two directions, respectively, is a maximum near sunrise and sunset. This property is universal, but its peculiarities in the Plateau Province become conspicuous when the strong rich colors of the rocks are seen through it. The very air is then visible. We see it, palpably, as a tenuous fluid and the rocks beyond it do not appear to be colored blue as they do in other regions but reveal themselves clothed in colors of their own. The Grand CaÃ±on is ever full of this haze. It fills it to the brim. Its apparent density, as elsewhere, is varied according to the direction in which it is viewed and the position of the sun; but it seems also to be denser and more concentrated than elsewhere. This is really a delusion arising from the fact that the enormous magnitude of the chasm and of its component masses dwarfs the distances; we are really looking through miles of atmosphere under the impression that they are only so many furlongs. This apparent concentration of haze, however, greatly intensifies all the beautiful or mysterious optical effects which are dependent upon the intervention of the atmosphere.
Whenever the brink of the chasm is reached the chances are that the sun is high and these abnormal effects in full force. The caÃ±on is asleep. Or it is under a spell of enchantment which gives its bewildering mazes an aspect still more bewildering. Throughout the long summer forenoon the charm which binds it grows in potency. At midday the clouds begin to gather, first in fleecy flecks, then in cumuli and throw their shadows into the gulf. At once the scene changes. The slumber of the chasm is disturbed. The temples and cloisters seem to raise themselves half awake to greet the passing shadow. Their wilted, drooping, flattened faces expand into relief. The long promontories reach out from the distant wall as if to catch a moment's refreshment from the shade. The colors begin to glow; the haze loses its opaque density and becomes more tenuous. The shadows pass, and the chasm relapses into its dull sleep again. Thus through the midday hours it lies in fitful slumber, overcome by the blinding glare and withering heat, yet responsive to every fluctuation of light and shadow like a delicate organism.
As the sun moves far into the west the scene again changes, slowly and imperceptibly at first, but afterwards more rapidly. In the hot summer afternoons the sky is full of cloud-play and the deep flushes with ready answers. The banks of snowy clouds pour a flood of light sidewise into the shadows and light up the gloom of the amphitheaters and alcoves, weakening the glow of the haze and rendering visible the details of the wall faces. At length as the sun draws near the horizon the great drama of the day begins.
Throughout the afternoon the prospect has been gradually growing clearer. The haze has relaxed its steely glare and has changed to a veil of transparent blue. Slowly the myriads of details have come out and the walls are flecked with lines of minutes tracery, forming a diaper of light and shade. Stronger and sharper becomes the relief of each projection. The promontories come forth from the opposite wall. The sinuous lines of stratification which once seemed meaningless, distorted, and even chaotic, now range themselves into a true perspective of graceful curves, threading the scallop edges of the strata. The colossal buttes expand in every dimension. Their long narrow wings, which once were folded together and flattened against each other, open out, disclosing between them vast alcoves illumined with Rembrandt lights tinged with the pale refined blue of the ever-present haze. A thousand forms, hitherto unseen or obscure, start up within the abyss, and stand forth in strength and animation. All things seem to grow in beauty, power, and dimensions. What was grand before has become majestic, the majestic becomes sublime, and, ever expanding and developing, the sublime passes beyond the reach of our faculties and becomes transcendent. The colors have come back. Inherently rich and strong, though not superlative under ordinary lights, they now begin to display an adventitious brilliancy. The western sky is all aflame. The scattered banks of cloud and wavy cirrhus have caught the waning splendor, and shine with orange and crimson. Broad slant beams of yellow light, shot through the glory-rifts, fall on turret and tower, on pinnacled crest, and winding ledge, suffusing them with a radiance less fulsome, but akin to that which flames in the western clouds. The summit band is brilliant yellow; the next below is pale rose. But the grand expanse within is a deep, luminous, resplendent red. The climax has now come. The blaze of sunlight poured over an illimitable surface of glowing red is flung back into the gulf, and, commingling with the blue haze, turns it into a sea of purple of most imperial hue-so rich, so strong, so pure that it makes the heart ache and the throat tighten. However vast the magnitudes, however majestic the forms, or sumptuous the decoration, it is in these kingly colors that the highest glory of the Grand CaÃ±on is revealed.
At length the sum sinks and the colors cease to burn. The abyss lapses back into repose. But its glory mounts upward and diffuses itself in the sky above. Long streamers of rosy light, rayed out from the west, cross the firmament and converge again in the east ending in a pale rosy arch, which rises like a low aurora just above the eastern horizon. Below it is dead gray shadow of the world. Higher and higher climbs the arch followed by the darkening pall of gray, and as it ascends it fades and disappears, leaving no color except the after-glow of the western clouds, and the lusterless red of the chasm below. Within the abyss the darkness gathers. Gradually the shades deepen and ascend, hiding the opposite wall and enveloping the great temples. For a few moments the summits of these majestic piles seem to float upon a sea of blackness, then vanish in the darkness, and, wrapped in the impenetrable mantle of the night, they await the glory of the coming dawn.