Book Review: Canyon Crossing by Seth Muller

I purchased this book on a trip to Arizona some three years ago, a trip in which a visit to Grand Canyon is obviously compulsory. I was pleased to be able to cross that off of my bucket list and found the place incredibly awe inspiring. The book was one of several mementos of my one day trip.

What is it about Grand Canyon that draws millions of visitors every year? Is it the sheer size and its ability to humble us in a near spiritual realisation of our insignificance? Is it the knowledge that it has been on this planet for 1/3 of its life? Perhaps it is that the oldest stratigraphic layer pressures all life on the planet, maybe it’s that a barely perceptible fraction of an inch at the bottom of the canyon represents all of human history. Very humbling indeed.

Muller wants to take us on a journey from rim to rim, from top to bottom, from east to west, from the earliest visits to modern National Park and all the legal protection that entails. He loves The Canyon and has clearly spent a lot of time there. His knowledge and understanding of the geology, the life forms, the climate and what it means to people has all been carefully and passionately set out here. It reads as well as any “real” travel guide and is full of anecdotes as we’ll as eye opening facts.

It’s told in the form of a walking diary or journal, and the author wants to show us his favourite walks, highlights from each and every part of the unique topography and landscape of this feature that cuts across two US states. He tells us about the animal life and how the plant cover can change dramatically over just a few feet. He tells us of the difference between the north and south rims and what he likes about both. The way it is told reminds me a little of Jared Diamond’s style, though a little less academic in nature – approachable, engaging and often passionate.

My only gripe is that he lays it on a bit thick sometimes. In an attempt to tug on the heartstrings, he covers it with a thick layer of saccharin. I think this is a style particular to American writers and I guess my European tastes to understate rather than overstate is one of personal preference rather than writer’s fault.

Whether you have been there or not, you will feel just a little closer to The Canyon after this.

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