5/21/2012 3:54:00 PM A deeper look at Canyon geology Yavapai Observation Station geology museum
Above, signs explain what visitors are seeing outside.
Interactive exhibits cover all aspects of the Canyon’s geological history and the people who have explored it. Photo/Jackie Brown
To learn more about how Grand Canyon really rocks, visit the museum at Yavapai Observation Station. Opened last spring, the interactive exhibits chronicle the geological history and composition of the Canyon as well as providing information on a spectacular view overlooking this wonder. Admission is free.
The original building, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places and eligible for National Historic Landmark status, was dedicated in 1928.
It served as an early model not only for the use of natural materials in park design but also as one way for the Park Service to carry out its interpretive mission.
The first exhibits were devoted to geology, with the main one out beyond the windows, in the panoramic view of the Canyon. Bringing that focus back was one of the starting points in the planning new exhibits.
While that main room presents the overview, both literally and academically, other exhibits look at different parts of the story in depth. A series of backlit panels use a combination of text, floor-to-ceiling visuals and interactive lessons to explain the geologic forces that shaped the Canyon and the human history that shaped what we know about it.
There is also a floor-to-ceiling model of the Canyon's rock layers with each labeled and a three-dimensional relief map tabletop, like the one at Canyon View Information Plaza, in the main room.
This exhibit also tells some newer parts of the story for the first time. For instance, global maps representing research into landscape evolutions were created by geologists at Northern Arizona University especially for this exhibit. To read and explore everything would take about 90 minutes though it's also designed for the visitor who will spend considerably less time.
The drive to give visitors not just a view but also some insight into the natural world is a legacy of famed park naturalist Eddie McKee. While he wasn't the first to explore the science of the Canyon - Maj. John Wesley Powell had been there before - he was among the most influential in shaping the study of it, through establishment of the Grand Canyon Natural History Association (now Grand Canyon Association), his role in developing interpretive themes for visitors and his contact with young geologists whom he mentored and inspired.
The opening last spring ends a process that started in 2001. It also marks a step forward in the park's goal of comprehensive interpretive treatments for each of its five themes, one of which is geology. The Tusayan Museum speaks to Native American culture, while Kolb Studio explores how the Canyon has inspired art. The other themes are water for its life-sustaining and recreational qualities and history.
For more on what goes into making exhibits for the National Park Service, visit Harpers Ferry Design Center at http://www.nps.gov/hfc/.