The Grand Canyon is a gorge 217 miles in length, through which flows a great river with many storm-born tributaries. It has a winding way, as rivers are wont to have. Its banks are vast structures of adamant, piled up in forms rarely seen in the mountains.

Down by the river the walls are composed of black gneiss, slates, and schists, all greatly implicated and traversed by dikes of granite. Let this formation be called the black gneiss. It is usually about 800 feet in thickness.

Then over the black gneiss are found 800 feet of quartzites, usually in very thin beds of many colors, but exceedingly hard, and ringing under the hammer like phonolite. These beds are dipping and unconformable with the rocks above; while they make but 800 feet of the wall or less, they have a geological thickness of 12,000 feet. Set up a row of books aslant; it is 10 inches from the shelf to the top of the line of books, but there may be 3 feet of the books measured directly through the leaves. So these quartzites are aslant, and though of great geologic thickness, they make but 800 feet of the wall. Your books may have many-colored bindings and differ greatly in their contents; so these quartzites vary greatly from place to place along the wall, and in many places they entirely disappear. Let us call this formation the variegated quartzite.

Above the quartzites there are 500 feet of sandstones. They are of a greenish hue, but are mottled with spots of brown and black by iron stains. They usually stand in a bold cliff, weathered in alcoves. Let this formation be called the cliff sandstone.

Above the cliff sandstone there are 700 feet of bedded sandstones and limestones, which are massive sometimes and sometimes broken into thin strata. These rocks are often weathered in deep alcoves. Let this formation be called the alcove sandstone.

Over the alcove sandstone there are 1,600 feet of limestone, in many places a beautiful marble, as in Marble Canyon. As it appears along the Grand Canyon it is always stained a brilliant red, for immediately over it there are thin seams of iron, and the storms have painted these limestones with pigments from above. Altogether this is the red-wall group. It is chiefly limestone. Let it be called the red wall limestone.

Above the red wall there are 800 feet of gray and bright red sandstone, alternating in beds that look like vast ribbons of landscape. Let it be called the banded sandstone.

And over all, at the top of the wall, is the Aubrey limestone, 1,000 feet in thickness. This Aubrey has much gypsum in it, great beds of alabaster that are pure white in comparison with the great body of limestone below. In the same limestone there are enormous beds of chert, agates, and carnelians. This limestone is especially remarkable for its pinnacles and towers. Let it be called the tower limestone.

Now recapitulate: The black gneiss below, 800 feet in thickness; the variegated quartzite, 800 feet in thickness; the cliff sandstone, 500 feet in thickness; the alcove sandstone, 700 feet in thickness; the red wall limestone, 1,600 feet in thickness; the banded sandstone, 800 feet in thickness; the tower limestone, 1,000 feet in thickness.

These are the elements with which the walls are constructed, from black buttress below to alabaster tower above. All of these elements weather in different forms and are painted in different colors, so that the wall presents a highly complex facade. A wall of homogeneous granite, like that in the Yosemite, is but a naked wall, whether it be 1,000 or 5,000 feet high. Hundreds and thousands of feet mean nothing to the eye when they stand in a meaningless front. A mountain covered by pure snow 10,000 feet high has but little more effect on the imagination than a mountain of snow 1,000 feet high - it is but more of the same thing; but a facade of seven systems of rock has its sublimity multiplied sevenfold.

Let the effect of this multiplied facade be more clearly realized. Stand by the river side at some point where only the black gneiss is seen. A precipitous wall of mountain rises over the river, with crag and pinnacle and cliff in black and brown, and through it runs an angular pattern of red and gray dikes of granite. It is but a mountain cliff which may be repeated in many parts of the world, except that it is singularly naked of vegetation, and the few plants that find footing are of strange tropical varieties and are conspicuous because of their infrequency.

Now climb 800 feet and a point of view is reached where the variegated quartzites are seen. At the summit of the black gneiss a terrace is found, and, set back of this terrace, walls of elaborate sculpture appear, 800 feet in height. This is due to the fact that though the rocks are exceedingly hard they are in very thin layers or strata, and these strata are not horizontal, but stand sometimes on edge, sometimes highly inclined, and sometimes gently inclined. In these variegated beds there are many deep recesses and sharp salients, everywhere set with crags, and the wall is buttressed by a steep talus in many places. In the sheen of the midday sun, these rocks, which are besprinkled with quartz crystals, gleam like walls of diamonds.

A climb of 800 feet over the variegated beds and the foot of the cliff sandstone is reached. It is usually olive green, with spots of brown and black, and presents 500 feet of vertical wall over the variegated sandstone. The dark green is in fine contrast with the variegated beds below and the red wall above.

Climb these 500 feet and you stand on the cliff sandstone. A terrace appears, and sometimes a wall of terraces set with alcoves of marvelous structure. Climb to the summit of this alcove sandstone - 700 feet - and you stand at the foot of the red wall limestone. Sometimes this stands in two, three, or four Cyclopean steps - a mighty stairway. Oftener the red wall stands in a vertical cliff 1,600 feet high. It is the most conspicuous feature of the grand facade and imparts its chief characteristic. All below is but a foundation for it; all above, but an entablature and sky-line of gable, tower, pinnacle, and spire. It is not a plain, unbroken wall, but is broken into vast amphitheaters, often miles abound, between great angular salients. The amphitheaters also are broken into great niches that are sometimes vast chambers and sometimes royal arches 500 or 1,000 feet in height.

Over the red wall limestone, with its amphitheaters, chambers, niches, and royal arches - a climb of 1,600 feet - is the banded sandstone, the entablature over the niched and columned marble, an adamantine molding 800 feet in thickness, stretching along the walls of the canyon through hundreds of miles. This banded sandstone has massive strata separated by friable shales. The massive strata are the horizontal elements in the entablature, but the intervening shales are carved with a beautiful fretwork of vertical forms, the sculpture of the rills. The massive sandstones are white, gray, blue, and purple, but the shales are a brilliant red; thus variously colored bands of massive rock are separated by bands of vertically carved shales of a brilliant hue.

On these highly colored beds the tower limestone is found, 1,000 feet in height. Everywhere this is carved into towers, minarets, and domes, gray and cold, golden and warm, alabaster and pure, in wonderful variety.

Such are the vertical elements of which the Grand Canyon facade is composed. Its horizontal elements must next be considered. The river meanders in great curves, which are themselves broken into curves of smaller magnitude. The streams that head far back in the plateau on either side come down in gorges and break the wall into sections. Each lateral canyon has a secondary system of laterals, and the secondary canyons are broken by tertiary canyons; so the crags are forever branching, like the limbs of an oak. That which has been described as a wall is such only in its grand effect. In detail it is a series of structures separated by a ramification of canyons, each having its own walls. Thus, in passing down the canyon it seems to be inclosed by walls, but oftener by salients - towering structures that stand between canyons that run back into the plateau. Sometimes gorges of the second or third order have met before reaching the brink of the Grand Canyon, and then great salients are cut off from the wall and stand out as buttes - huge pavilions in the architecture of the canyon. The scenic elements thus described are fused and combined in very different ways.

We measured the length of the Grand Canyon by the length of the river running through it, but the running extent of wall cannot be measured in this manner. In the black gneiss, which is at the bottom, the wall may stand above the river for a few hundred yards or a mile or two; then, to follow the foot of the wall, you must pass into a lateral canyon for a long distance, perhaps miles, and then back again on the other side of the lateral canyon; then along by the river until another lateral canyon is reached, which must be headed in the black gneiss. So, for a dozen miles of river through the gneiss, there may be a hundred miles of wall on either side. Climbing to the summit of the black gneiss and following the wall in the variegated quartzite, it is found to be stretched out to a still greater length, for it is cut with more lateral gorges. In like manner, there is yet greater length of the mottled, or alcove, sandstone wall; and the red wall is still farther stretched out in ever branching gorges. To make the distance for ten miles along the river by walking along the top of the red wall, it would be necessary to travel several hundred miles. The length of the wall reaches its maximum in the banded sandstone, which is terraced more than any of the other formations. The tower limestone wall is less tortuous. To start at the head of the Grand Canyon on one of the terraces of the banded sandstone and follow it to the foot of the Grand Canyon, which by river is a distance of 217 miles, it would be necessary to travel many thousand miles by the winding Way; that is, the banded wall is many thousand miles in length.

Stand at some point on the brink of the Grand Canyon where you can overlook the river, and the details of the structure, the vast labyrinth of gorges of which it is composed, are scarcely noticed; the elements are lost in the grand effect, and a broad, deep, flaring gorge of many colors is seen. But stand down among these gorges and the landscape seems to be composed of huge vertical elements of wonderful form. Above, it is an open, sunny gorge; below, it is deep and gloomy. Above, it is a chasm; below, it is a stairway from gloom to heaven.

The traveler in the region of mountains sees vast masses piled up in gentle declivities to the clouds. To see mountains in this way is to appreciate the masses of which they are composed. But the climber among the glaciers sees the elements of which this mass is composed, - that it is made of cliffs and towers and pinnacles, with intervening gorges, and the smooth billows of granite seen from afar are transformed into cliffs and caves and towers and minarets. These two aspects of mountain scenery have been seized by painters, and in their art two classes of mountains are represented: mountains with towering forms that seem ready to topple in the first storm, and mountains in masses that seem to frown defiance at the tempests. Both classes have told the truth. The two aspects are sometimes caught by our painters severally; sometimes they are combined. Church paints a mountain like a kingdom of glory. Bierstadt paints a mountain cliff where an eagle is lost from sight ere he reaches the summit. Thomas Moran marries these great characteristics, and in his infinite masses cliffs of immeasurable height are seen.

Thus the elements of the facade of the Grand Canyon change vertically and horizontally. The details of structure can be seen only at close view, but grand effects of structure can be witnessed in great panoramic scenes. Seen in detail, gorges and precipices appear; seen at a distance, in comprehensive views, vast massive structures are presented. The traveler on the brink looks from afar and is overwhelmed with the sublimity of massive forms; the traveler among the gorges stands in the presence of awful mysteries, profound, solemn, and gloomy.

For 8 or 10 miles below the mouth of the Little Colorado, the river is in the variegated quartzites, and a wonderful fretwork of forms and colors, peculiar to this rock, stretches back for miles to a labyrinth of the red wall cliff; then below, the black gneiss is entered and soon has reached an altitude of 800 feet and sometimes more than 1,000 feet; and upon this black gneiss all the other structures in their wonderful colors are lifted. These continue for about 70 miles, when the black gneiss below is lost, for the walls are dropped down by the West Kaibab Fault, and the river flows in the quartzites.

Then for 80 miles the mottled, or alcove, sandstones are found in the river bed. The course of the canyon is a little south of west and is comparatively straight. At the top of the red wall limestone there is a broad terrace, two or three miles in width, composed of hills of wonderful forms carved in the banded beds, and back of this is seen a cliff in the tower limestone. Along the lower course of this stretch the whole character of the canyon is changed by another set of complicating conditions. We have now reached a region of volcanic activity. After the canyons were cut nearly to their present depth, lavas poured out and volcanoes were built on the walls of the canyon, but not in the canyon itself, though at places rivers of molten rock rolled down the walls into the Colorado.

The next 80 miles of the canyon is a compound of that found where the river is in the black gneiss and that found where the dead volcanoes stand on the brink of the wall. In the first stretch, where the gneiss is at the foundation, we have a great bend to the south, and in the last stretch, where the gneiss is below and the dead volcanoes above, another great southern detour is found. These two great beds are separated by 80 miles of comparatively straight river. Let us call this first great bend the Kaibab reach of the canyon, and the straight part the Kanab reach, for the Kanab Creek heads far off in the plateau to the north and joins the Colorado at the beginning of the middle stretch. The third great southern bend is the Shiwits stretch. Thus there are three distinct portions of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado: the Kaibab section, characterized more by its buttes and salients; the Kanab section, characterized by its comparatively straight walls with volcanoes on the brink; and the Shiwits section, which is broken into great terraces with gneiss at the bottom and volcanoes at the top.

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado is a canyon composed of many canyons. It is a composite of thousands, of tens of thousands, of gorges. In like manner, each wall of the canyon is a composite structure, a wall composed of many walls, but never a repetition. Every one of these almost innumerable gorges is a world of beauty in itself. In the Grand Canyon there are thousands of gorges like that below Niagara Palls, and there are a thousand Yosemites. Yet all these canyons unite to form one grand canyon, the most sublime spectacle on the earth. Pluck up Mt. Washington by the roots to the level of the sea and drop it headfirst into the Grand Canyon, and the dam will not force its waters over the walls. Pluck up the Blue Eidge and hurl it into the Grand Canyon, and it will not fill it.

The carving of the Grand Canyon is the work of rains and rivers. The vast labyrinth of canyon by which the plateau region drained by the Colorado is dissected is also the work of waters. Every river has excavated its own gorge and every creek has excavated its gorge. When a shower comes in this land, the rills carve canyons - but a little at each storm; and though storms are far apart and the heavens above are cloudless for most of the days of the year, still, years are plenty in the ages, and an intermittent rill called to life by a shower can do much work in centuries of centuries.

The erosion represented in the canyons, although vast, is but a small part of the great erosion of the region, for between the cliffs blocks have been carried away far superior in magnitude to those necessary to fill the canyons. Probably there is no portion of the whole region from which there have not been more than a thousand feet degraded, and there are districts from which more than 30,000 feet of rock have been carried away. Altogether, there is a district of country more than 200,000 square miles in extent from which on the average more than 6,000 feet have been eroded. Consider a rock 200,000 square miles in extent and a mile in thickness, against which the clouds have hurled their storms and beat it into sands and the rills have carried the sands into the creeks and the creeks have carried them into the rivers and the Colorado has carried them into the sea. We think of the mountains as forming clouds about their brows, but the clouds have formed the mountains. Great continental blocks are upheaved from beneath the sea by internal geologic forces that fashion the earth. Then the wandering clouds, the tempest-bearing clouds, the rainbow-decked clouds, with mighty power and with wonderful skill, carve out valleys and canyons and fashion hills and cliffs and mountains. The clouds are the artists sublime.

In winter some of the characteristics of the Grand Canyon are emphasized. The black gneiss below, the variegated quartzite, and the green or alcove sandstone form the foundation for the mighty red wall. The banded sandstone entablature is crowned by the tower limestone. In winter this is covered with snow. Seen from below, these changing elements seem to graduate into the heavens, and no plane of demarcation between wall and blue firmament can be seen. The heavens constitute a portion of the facade and mount into a vast dome from wall to wall, spanning the Grand Canyon with empyrean blue. So the earth and the heavens are blended in one vast structure.

When the clouds play in the canyon, as they often do in the rainy season, another set of effects is produced. Clouds creep out of canyons and wind into other canyons. The heavens seem to be alive, not moving as move the heavens over a plain, in one direction with the wind, but following the multiplied courses of these gorges. In this manner the little clouds seem to be individualized, to have wills and souls of their own, and to be going on diverse errands - a vast assemblage of self-willed clouds, faring here and there, intent upon purposes hidden in their own breasts. In the imagination the clouds belong to the sky, and when they are in the canyon the skies come down into the gorges and cling to the cliffs and lift them up to immeasurable heights, for the sky must still be far away. Thus they lend infinity to the walls.

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. The elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedingly diverse. The Cyclopean forms which result from the sculpture of tempests through ages too long for man to compute, are wrought into endless details, to describe which would be a task equal in magnitude to that of describing the stars of the heavens or the multitudinous beauties of the forest with its traceries of foliage presented by oak and pine and poplar, by beech and linden and hawthorn, by tulip and lily and rose, by fern and moss and lichen. Besides the elements of form, there are elements of color, for here the colors of the heavens are rivaled by the colors of the rocks. The rainbow is not more replete with hues. But form and color do not exhaust all the divine qualities of the Grand Canyon. It is the land of music. The river thunders in perpetual roar, swelling in floods of music when the storm gods play upon the rocks and fading away in soft and low murmurs when the infinite blue of heaven is unveiled. With the melody of the great tide rising and falling, swelling and vanishing forever, other melodies are heard in the gorges of the lateral canyons, while the waters plunge in the rapids among the rocks or leap in great cataracts. Thus the Grand Canyon, is a land of song. Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks, and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies. All this is the music of waters. The adamant foundations of the earth have been wrought into a sublime harp, upon which the clouds of the heavens play with mighty tempests or with gentle showers.

The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon - forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain. But more: it is a vast district of country. Were it a valley plain it would make a state. It can be seen only in parts from hour to hour and from day to day and from week to week and from month to month. A year scarcely suffices to see it all. It has infinite variety, and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, though many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun; lights and shadows appear and vanish with the passing clouds, and the changing seasons mark their passage in changing colors. You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths. It is a region more difficult to traverse than the Alps or the Himalayas, but if strength and courage are sufficient for the task, by a year's toil a concept of sublimity can be obtained never again to be equaled on the hither side of Paradise.