GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Imagine boulders as big as the El Tovar Hotel rolling down the channel of the Colorado River, battering the sides of the river and chipping off huge pieces of rock.
Geologists agree that's how the Grand Canyon was formed around 80 million years ago. However, exactly when the transformation occurred and what preceded it is still unknown.
Many theories abound, and Wayne Ranney, adjunct Geology professor in the Honor's Program at Northern Arizona University and author of "Carving Grand Canyon" said the challenge lies in the age of the rocks. The Canyon is just old enough and just large enough that much of the evidence of its earliest history was removed by erosion.
"I think it's an attraction to professional geologists, but I think it's a frustration to a lot of people who aren't professionals and want to jump to the final answer," he added. "And of course the fact that it can not be known is probably no more boon than of an idea than myself who's writing a book, not only on how it might have formed, but the thinking that went into how we think about it now."
Recently redesigned and reedited for its second edition, "Carving Grand Canyon" traces the history of the ideas, starting with the first geologist's theory to present day analysis. The Grand Canyon Association (GCA), the National Park Service's official nonprofit partner, published the book. The GCA raises private funds to benefit Grand Canyon National Park, operate retail stores and visitor centers within the park and provide premier educational opportunities about the natural and cultural history of Grand Canyon. Proceeds from the sale of GCA publications are used to support research and education at Grand Canyon National Park.
A 37-year veteran of the Grand Canyon, Ranney has written several books, but "Carving Grand Canyon" stands as his most popular. It has sold 27,000 copies since its first printing in 2005. Something practically unheard of for such a specialized topic.
Starting out as a backcountry ranger at Phantom Ranch, he became instantly captivated with how the Grand Canyon formed and his curiosity led him to study geology formally. Recognizing the need for a book on the topic came soon after.
"It has been in my head for at least 20 years," Ranney said. "My passion really revolves around the magic of how the earth works and the magic of earth history and what we are able to glean from these rocks that are just sitting out there and those rocks have a history of the earth," he said. "And for some reason that intrigues me."
The seasoned geologist is already planning on another book, but this time wants to switch things up a bit. Instead of writing a geology book first and a literature book second, he plans to reverse the order.
"It's not so much about learning the specifics of the geology, but it's telling geologic stories in a narrative form," he explained. "It's something that I think the world's ready for."
Ranney is hosting a talk on "Carving Grand Canyon" on Nov. 11 at Prescott Public Library, 215 E. Goodwin Street (one block east of Courthouse Plaza) Prescott, Ariz. at 2 p.m. On Nov. 15, he will present at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ariz. at 7 p.m.
His other works include "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau," "Sedona Through Time," and "Defining the Colorado Plateau: A Geologic Perspective."
Posted: Saturday, November 10, 2012
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There's no one else that I know of in geology that better conveys both the knowledge and passion for his field than Mr. Ranney. His ability to convey complex concepts regarding space and time pertaining to the evolution of the Grand Canyon in his literary works borders on the genius.
Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
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