Interview: David Roberts, Author of "Below the Rim"

Author David Roberts talks about what he found surprising while exploring the Grand Canyon.

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But maybe we should put in a disclaimer--don't try this unless you're an experienced climber.

Do many people even try to attempt the trails you explored?

No, we didn't see anybody on any of our hikes, not one other person. But the ten years ago, when I rafted through the canyon, they had everybody hike out the Bright Angel Trail, which is the most popular trail. It's 5000 feet and it takes about 5 hours. So as we were hiking up it, I decided to count the number of people coming down--how many people I crossed paths with. And it was 396. That's the typical hiking experience in the Grand Canyon. It's not a wilderness experience at all--you're in this magnificent place, but you might as well be going into the subway.

What is it about the Grand Canyon that draws all these tourists? You mention in the article that early white explorers saw it as an obstacle rather than a natural wonder.

Yes, it is striking how recently we've learned to see the Grand Canyon as beautiful. There's that wonderful quote from Lieutenant Ives, "This is the most profitless locality." That's even after romantics had taught us to see nature as beautiful, and to Ives this was just simply disgusting--ugly.

It's not at all naturally human to see something like the Grand Canyon as beautiful.

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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