New Small Coin is Actually Quite Grand
Too many years ago, when I was very little and certainly not traveled, one of the cartoons featured Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty traveling out west from Bedrock to "Hollyrock, Calif." Like so many vacationers, their trip took them near what Fred proclaimed to be a "must-see," the Grand Canyon. Once there, Fred and Barney stood next to a tiny stream — about a foot wide — near a sign reading, "the Grand Canyon."
As the two stared at it, Barney noted, "I don't know Fred. It doesn't look like much to me." Fred responded, "I hear it's gonna be something pretty special some day."
Some years later, my family packed up the station wagon and followed the path of the Flintstones. As we drove, I naturally couldn't get the cartoon episode out of my mind. Then, we were there. To say the canyon is a natural wonder is — even from the eyes of a child — an absurd and pedestrian understatement.
The immense scope and unfathomable size of the Grand Canyon makes it tangibly impossible for any artist or photographer to capture it or a writer to put it into acceptable words. And if that's so, imagine trying to represent even a portion of it on a small coin. True as that may be, the U.S. Mint has endeavored to do just that on their latest offering in the "America The Beautiful" quarter series.
The new coin, the fourth in the series, shows a portion of the 16- to 17-million year-old behemoth called "Marble Canyon," so named by explorer John Wesley Powell, who marveled at the smooth, polished towering walls. Near the bottom of the image, you see a glimpse of the Colorado River, literally the reason for the wonder as its water flow slowly carved away the rock over those eons.
That portion of the canyon is a good representation for the coin because it affords vistas from the top of the rim to the river below as well as some scope of the width. Other portions of the canyon would have been less suitable as it measures 15 miles at its widest point, and at times it can be 6,000 feet deep. Including that dimension on a coin would have been miraculous at the least.
If you use a magnifying glass, there's another historic aspect to the view on the coin. Halfway up the right side of the design are small indentations in the canyon wall. These are actually stone bins or granaries built into the wall by the Anasazi Indians who, some 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, inhabited the area. In the granaries, they stored corn, beans and squash.
While American Indians may have appreciated and revered the majesty of the canyon, later explorers from Vasquez de Coronado to 1850s Army Engineer Lt. Joseph C. Ives found it not only unimpressive but also "useless." After his visit, Ives was quoted as reporting, "it can be approached only from the south and ... there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It ... shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."
Oh, Lt. Ives. You had a little vision. In 1919, The Grand Canyon was declared the nation's fourth national park. That year, some 44,000 people came to see it. Today, over 5 million people come annually from every corner of the world to marvel at its enormity, colors and splendor.
Clearly, a small coin can't do justice to the scope of the canyon, but the new quarter offers an impressive, portable and utilitarian glimpse into one of the world's most remarkable spectacles.
The quarters should start appearing in change after Sept. 21, and it can also be purchased directly from the U.S. Mint in collector rolls or bags. For more information, visit www.usmint.gov and click on "Shop Online."
Better still, when you have a chance, head to Arizona to take a peek for yourself. From experience, I can attest you'll find that Fred was right. It did become "something special." Best of all, the canyon continues to erode and grow deeper by 1 yard every million years. Unless we as a species really mess up, the canyon will continue to become even more special. I'll let you know when I write about it a million years from now.
Editor's Note: A visual of the new Grand Canyon quarter has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM