Magazine article Science & Spirit

The Grand Canyon of Time

Magazine article Science & Spirit

The Grand Canyon of Time

Article excerpt

The Grand Canyon, one of America's best examples of ancient time, will start teaching its visitors about the meaning of millions and billions of years. The South Rim of Arizona's natural wonder will soon feature a "Trail of Time," by which hikers can walk 4.6 kilometers (nearly 3 miles) and see rock laid down at most geological periods of Earth's history.

The canyon exposes 2 billion years of rock, according to geologists. But the trail will mark out the 4.6 billion years of the estimated age of Earth. To create the effect, geologists and park officials are dragging up rock from different levels of the canyon--which can reach nearly a mile deep to the Colorado River--for an outdoor display of rock, plaques, and tourist guides.

The backers of the project, which opens in 2009, say they hope to teach Americans a sense of millions and billions of years, especially since many hold the religious belief that Earth is only thousands of years old.

The trail is a "reaction" to the general public's "lack of sense of geological time and certainty of geologic events," said Mike Williams, a geologist from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who is helping on the project. The park's older exhibits on geological history have fallen into disrepair, so the Trail of Time will also be part of a new tourist and educational upgrade.

The Grand Canyon, which was not really known to Americans until after the Civil War, is believed to have been cut out by the Colorado River over 6 million years. The canyon is 277 miles long and ranges from 4 to 8 miles in width.

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"We got the idea to make a new type of exhibit that takes advantage of the canyon as a display," Williams said. "One of the goals is for it to be dynamic. We want to keep adding to it as the science is discovered."

The main feature of the trail gives visitors a sense of walking through vast periods of time, beginning with the first three hundred meters of the walk, which is called the "time accelerator. …

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