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The San Francisco Examiner from San Francisco, California • 220

Location:
San Francisco, California
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220
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1 Overlooking the Grand Canyon A very big thing to ignore, the gorge didn't become popular until the turn of the century HOW THE CANYON BECAME GRAND By Stephen J. Pyne Viking; 199 pgs; $24.95 Reviewed by Jim Doyle ixteenth century European explorers had little regard for the gorges of the Colorado Plateau. The Grand Canyon was an impenetrable barrier for those whose mission was to discover new civilizations, plunder gold and save lost souls. In 1540, the Spanish conquistador Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas came upon the canyon's rim and found it too immense to cross. In 1776, Father Francisco Tomas Garces alluded to the river gorge as a "prison of cliffs and canyons." Early fur traders also had little use for this freak of nature, and Mormon scouts quickly concluded that it was inhospitable for settlement.

MacArthur fellow and former North Rim firefighter Stephen J. Pyne's "How the Canyon Became Grand" is a fascinating, passionate history of one of the American West's last landscapes to be formally explored. But this flawed account also reveals a lofty arrogance that ridicules other perceptions of the canyon. Pyne's previous achievement, "The Ice," told the story of Antarctica in moving, accessible language. Here, the author's grandiose narrative and stilted prose undermine the text.

Pyne views the canyon through the prism of intellectual history a perspective at once enlightening and limited. He charts the evolution of great ideas, geographic expeditions and scientific discoveries that led to what he calls the "revelation" of the canyon's magnificence. The historian has little to say about the American Indians who inhabited the Colorado Plateau for 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived, or how they may have perceived this natural monument. Pyne acknowledges that the Hopi "probably attached some mythic significance" to the canyon, "but what other peoples believed about the site, they kept to themselves. Every society, after all, has its own sacred places." "The Canyon became transnationally grand," he writes, "only after far -voyaging Europeans peered into it and then 1998 only after a much-metamorphosed European culture created a metamorphic matrix by which to interpret it." From "How the Canyon Became Grand" President Theodore Roosevelt (foreground) descended the BOOK REVIEW canyon.

In 1908 he declared it a national monument. When the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers began surveying the canyon in the 1850s, its work coincided with a time of cultural upheaval that spawned such new sciences as geology and anthropology. This new age of enlightenment, Pyne writes, allowed educated elites to see the canyon as "a revelation, exposing the lost secrets of natural history." Not all realized its significance. In 1857, Army Lieutenant Joseph Ives surveyed the canyon with "wondering delight," yet concluded it was "altogether valueless. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality." But his chief scientist, John Strong Newberry, declared that it was a paradise for geologists and spoke of The Frenchman Who Fell in Love With Dinosaurs DINOSAUR IMPRESSIONS Postcards From a Paleontologist By Philippe Taquet Translated by Kevin Padian Cambridge University: 244 pages; $24.95 Reviewed by David Perlman Frenchman's sly sense of hu- nly a paleontologist with a mor would recall the bawdy musical "Oh Calcutta!" to describe the long tail of the dinosaur Diplodocus carnegiei.

That's because only a Frenchman would know the slang that gave the nude show its name: "Oh quel cul t'as" meaning, as the author of "Dinosaur Impressions" exclaims, "Wow, what a nice ass you have!" Philippe Taquet is indeed French, and often funny too, with an eye for beauty and an endless sense of wonder. He is also a distinguished scientist who has scoured deserts, mountains and jungles to discover the remains of Earth's most how the river had sculpted the canyon through erosion. In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell descended the Colorado River by boat. Writing about his voyage, he called the Grand Canyon "the most sublime spectacle on earth." In the 1870s and 1880s, Army engineer Clarence E. Dutton surveyed the Colorado Plateau seeing the canyon in a new romantic light that fused science and art.

Dutton's masterpiece, "Tertiary History of the Grand District," showed how "river and canyon worked against each other like chisel and marble," Pyne writes. Two prominent artists, Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes, painted the canyon around this time, and their landscapes were hung in Washington, D.C. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt stood at the canyon's rim and said it was "one of the great sights every American should see." In 1908 Roosevelt declared the canyon a national monument. Highways accelerated mass tourism, and soon the canyon "was becoming a museum piece, a fixture like statuary on the lawn of the national manor," Pyne writes. "Purveyors of the populist Canyon promoted their wares by and large without the aid of cultural elites.

Tourists came to see what they were told to see; they saw (or heard or read what they were supposed to see) without seeking to turn personal vision into cultural insight." The Grand Canyon underwent a classic confrontation over its future in the late 1950s. Plans were afoot to dam Marble Canyon and several nearby portions of the Colorado River, thus reducing the river's flow by 90 percent. To its supporters, the canyon became a national emblem of a "wild and free-flowing river," Pyne writes. "If we do not preserve it, then we shall have diminished by just that much the unique privilege of being an American," wrote critic and Thoreau biographer Joseph Wood Krutch in his 1957 book, "Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays." The environmentalists won out. The populist landmark still draws legions of visitors hikers, river rafters, kayakers and casual tourists.

Pyne's book is thin enough to tuck inside a backpack. Yet the author's mulish point of view diminishes the odds that his treatise will be savored by more than a tiny fraction of Grand Canyon lovers. Chronicle staff writer Jim Doyle spent the summer of 1978 working as a crew member on the movie "Wanda Nevada" along the Colorado River in northern Arizona. intriguing ancient animals. In this informative memoir, he takes his readers scientific and popular along on his 30-year quest.

Taquet's career began in Niger, digging and scraping out old bones in the Gadoufaoua desert where an ancient sea has left in its sediments the fossils of Mesozoic sharks, lungfish, crocodiles, mussels and a zoo full of dinosaurs. Here as a young graduate student he made his first major find, the virtually complete skeleton of a -eating Ouranosaurus, big as a stretch limo. Taquet describes its discovery in detail so we can appreciate its evolutionary significance, never once neglecting the beauty of the African scene: "There were some nights, under a spectacular sky," Taquet recalls, "when all the constellations and the Milky Way seemed to be at arm's reach, while the Southern Cross, so beautiful and fascinating, was surrounded by fireworks of shooting stars Time, sand, and distance take on entirely new meanings in the desert." tures than many readers may want, Taquet beguiles readers with they slip by quickly, and he tells so speculation about the long extinct many splendid stories that we recreatures he has brought to life: "I main absorbed in his tales. He also could imagine my African and offers vivid insights into the evoluSouth American crocodiles whirling tionary controversies and geologic around in some sort of ungodly theories surrounding his trade: romp, a mixture of Brazilian voodoo Are birds the descendants of dinoand Niger possession dance." saurs? The evidence is persuasive, Dinosaur hunting calls for leaps and Taquet's story, from Archaeopof imagination; profound anatomi- teryx to pigeons and chickens, procal knowledge; the patient drudgery vides it. of shovel, pick and sand- Have continents drifted for eons plus a sharp eye for the tiniest re- across the globe? Taquet's recountvealing slivers of bones, teeth and ing of the long ago split that separatfossilized skin scattered on sandy ed Africa from South America, leavsurfaces or embedded in rock.

Ta- ing virtually identical crocodilian quet, now director of France's Na- fossils on both continents, is more tional Museum of Natural History, engaging than any textbook. vividly describes the daily search, And what of the riddle of dinothe patient reconstruction and the saur extinction? Was it an enormous creative effort necessary to deduce asteroid that plunged into Earth's what life was like in the Cretaceous crust and made the planet unlivperiod, which ended with the ex- able? Taquet is not so sure. Was it tinction the dinosaurs some the great Cretaceous volcanoes of of 65 million years ago. India spewing up globe-girdling poiIf here and there he offers more son gases for 500,000 years? Taquet technical descriptions of his crea- doubts all such catastrophe scenari- Philippe Taquet os and prefers a slower explanation: a long series of "ecological stresses" that gradually eliminated many other plants and animals of the era. As always, Taquet provides lucid evidence for ongoing debate.

Even if the questions remain unresolved, this excellently translated book should intrigue anyone. David Perlman is The Chronicle's science editor..

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