I got a tip from a fellow working at the UBC Botanical Gardens. “Take a look at some of the descriptions the US National Park Service uses,” says he, “and compare the more politicized parks to the others.” Well, we know which park gets the most attention from the creationists—that would be the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is more than a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. It is more than an awe-inspiring view. It is more than a pleasuring ground for those who explore the roads, hike the trails, or float the currents of the turbulent Colorado River.
This canyon is a gift that transcends what we experience. Its beauty and size humble us. Its timelessness provokes a comparison to our short existence. In its vast spaces we may find solace from our hectic lives. The Grand Canyon we visit today is a gift from past generations.
“Millennia” is a word often used vaguely, so I’m not going to get too cranky over saying it was carved over thousands of years. But that second paragraph…bleh. I don’t even know what most of that means. It’s a gift? From who? Past generations? That makes it sound like my great-grandpa might have labored at carving it out. And that “transcend” bit is trying a little too hard.
So I looked at some of the other parks. Here are the Badlands.
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The Badlands Wilderness Area covers 64,000 acres and is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America. The Stronghold Unit is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and includes sites of 1890s Ghost Dances. Established as Badlands National Monument in 1939, the area was redesignated “National Park” in 1978. Over 11,000 years of human history pale to the ages old paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old. Scientists can study the evolution of mammal species such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros and pig in the Badlands formations.
It isn’t exactly poetry, but it gets right to the point, and is unambiguous about the history. I looked up a couple of my favorite places, like Olympic National Park…
Glacier capped mountains, wild Pacific coast and magnificent stands of old-growth forests, including temperate rain forests — at Olympic National Park, you can find all three. About 95% of the park is designated wilderness, which further protects these diverse and spectacular ecosystems.
Olympic is also known for its biological diversity. Isolated for eons by glacial ice, and later the waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Peninsula has developed its own distinct array of plants and animals. Eight kinds of plants and 15 kinds of animals are found on the peninsula but no where else on Earth.
…and the John Day Fossil Beds:
Within the heavily eroded volcanic deposits of the scenic John Day River basin is a well-preserved fossil record of plants and animals. This remarkably complete record, spanning more than 40 of the 65 million years of the Cenozoic Era (the “Age of Mammals and Flowering Plants”) is world-renowned.
So maybe the Grand Canyon had the bad luck of a poor copy writer who wasn’t too focused on the details. “Try googling some of the phrases in the Grand Canyon copy,” my tipster suggests. That turns up something interesting—a combination of quotes from the park service (as expected) and a mix of sermons…
…we have been given a gift that transcends all these experiences. That is the gift of being blessed.
…and religious reflections.
…God’s true gift must be seen through the eyes of faith, as a gift that transcends the here and now…
I suppose one could argue that Christians are a gang of plagiarists pilfering the good copy of the National Park Service, but I think it more likely that the Park Service was using the vague language of scripture, ladling in a few lumpy keywords of faith like big airy dumplings of inoffensive meaninglessness. No harm in avoiding irritating the religious visitors, right?
Except, of course, that they’ve managed to strip all of the information from the description. That’s what we face when we bow to the sensibilities of an uninformed and sometimes actively anti-intellectual majority—the erosion of content.