Known as one of America’s most diverse, extraordinary National Parks, the Grand Canyon ranges across the northwest corner of Arizona.  With a depth of six thousand feet and a width of eighteen miles, the Canyon is the eleventh largest National Park in the U.S. (Newman 1).  Aside from its size, the age of the canyon walls range from 270 million years old to about 1.8 billion years old (Newman 1).  An iconic representation of the American West, the Grand Canyon stands as one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S. and has strong ties to spirituality.  

View of the Grand Canyon valley

The Grand Canyon provides a strong connection to sacred spaces in the American West through its sublime attributes.  Kerry Mitchell describes the importance of the sublime in relation to a sacred space: “This sublime experience is a key element in creating a sense of investment in the park, an attachment to it” (Mitchell 434).  One of the ways in which the sublime is enhanced is through the Grand Canyon’s website.  For example, there is no human presence in any pictures on the website’s homepage.  By showing “no humans” in photographs, the NPS website remains consistent with Mitchell’s idea of “the purity required for the sublime experience” (Mitchell 439). In addition, the National Park Service has implemented numerous regulations to control damage to the Grand Canyon and its sublime attributes.  For example, the Vanishing Treasures program involves “the conservation of architectural remains through research, documentation, and preservation treatment” (United States National Park Service, “Vanishing”).  Given the issues with erosion and human interaction with the Canyon, this program plays a major role in limiting damage to the park.

The Grand Canyon has great relevance in the study of religion in the American West through its preservation of history.  In fact, many Native Americans have strong ties with the Grand Canyon, which reflects its importance to western culture.  For example, Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet, compared the amazing experience of journeying through the Canyon to the history of Native American people.  She described how recent history of the Grand Canyon “doesn’t contain the vision of those who, for thousands of years, have known the land in all its sacred power and detail” (Newman 178).  In this passage, Hogan claims that recent analysis of the Canyon does not account for the Native Americans, who inhabited the area for centuries.  A deep significance and sacrality exists in the Grand Canyon, and it is reflected through the history and perseverance of the Canyon’s physical attributes.  In the eyes of Hogan, the Grand Canyon provides a spirit that represents the Native Americans who, despite losing their land, survived and maintained their culture over time.

-Michael Grassey, December 2016

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Featured Image: View From Moran Point, by Daniel Mayer, cropped for use here. Used according to the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Image 1: The Grand Canyon, by Ratte, cropped for use here. Used according to the terms of the Creative Commons License.