This is not a guide book, although it was published as such some years ago by Houghton Mifflin. I think of it as a natural history biography of the Canyon, a sort of life story covering geology, plants, animals, anthropology, exploration, and current environmental issues. On its surface, the book is a description of the Canyon’s wonders, offering hard-as-rock scientific information — in the words of one reviewer — “as seen through the eyes of a first-class naturalist.”
But like the Canyon itself, the story becomes richer and more nuanced the deeper you go. Some tales are strange enough for science fiction. Giant lava dams, migrating forests, waterfalls to dwarf anything we know today, the terrifying, mysterious violence of debris flows — indeed, the rapid foundering of an entire geologic province — provide an improbable stage for some of the most delicate landscapes and life forms on Earth. Unexpected intimacy shelters among the grand shadows. Eden-like grottos, sweetly dripping springs, bright warblers, tree frogs, lush banks of wildflowers, and even tough critters like rattlesnakes and gila monsters have life stories as dramatic, in their own right, as those of the great Colorado River and the ancient echoing canyon walls that rise so high above it. This book attempts to reveal them all.
“I’m pleased to start with this disclaimer: I have known the author for a long time, which is an advantage to this review because I have read at least ten of his other books and have learned thereby to have the highest confidence in anything he writes. Jeremy Schmidt is one of our most conscientious and sympathetic nature writers; he has immersed himself not only in the wonder of the Grand Canyon but of the entire American West. He is a superb story teller, concise and evocative at the same time.
“I admired and acquired the original edition of this splendid book, recognizing it as a graciously written standard reference work on the Grand Canyon. This new edition improves on the original. The prose, the images, and the design all do justice to the amazing place they celebrate. It’s the sort of book you can read before ever going to the canyon just to set your mental stage; or read while you’re there for clarification of a host of questions about the geology, ecology, and humanity of this extraordinary landscape; or read after you come home, to remind you of how you’ve been blessed to visit such a place.” – BookRanger
“The best nature writing combines passion for a natural place with personal experience and a strong understanding of the underlying science. This book does it very well — in my view, it’s the best broad natural history of the Grand Canyon since Joseph Wood Krutch’s classic 1957 treatment of the subject. You can read it for pleasure and come away feeling both entertained and informed.
The book is new to Kindle, but it isn’t a new book. It was used as the foundation of a natural history workshop I took at Grand Canyon a few years ago. The class used specific guidebooks — to plants and animals etc — while Schmidt’s book gave us the broad overview that knit all the particulars together. It reads like a story, sort of a biography of the canyon, from start to finish. I was sorry to see it go out of print, and I’m happy to see it available again.
The book has three parts beginning, logically, with the geology and here the writing really shines. Rocks are interesting? Really? Tectonic movements can make a good story? They do here. The second part is mainly about plants and animals, where they live and how they survive and why the canyon has such an amazing variety of stuff living in it. Hint: if you know the geology, you can understand the cactus and the fish. And rattlesnakes and scorpions and other cool stuff.
The third part covers the human dimension, from native Anasazi people to modern conservation challenges. There’s a lot about the Colorado River, and how the Glen Canyon Dam upstream of Grand Canyon changed it forever. Or at least until the dam disappears. That’s one of the surprises I learned from this book. In the past there have been much bigger dams, natural ones caused by volcanic eruptions that flowed into the canyon and blocked the river completely for long periods of time. The river just kept chewing away and destroyed those dams. It will happen again. Read this book and you’ll learn many more interesting things like that.” – Katherine Yde