C (cataclysm) + T (time) = B (beauty)The worse the cataclysm and longer the geological forces have had to work, the more wondrous places seem to be. Turn an inland sea into a Sahara-scale desert, add two million years of sandblasting and erosion, and ta-da, nature at her best. We protect the parks for environmental reasons, but most are poster-children for eco-devastation. The world was fully capable of destroying itself before we came along. Many of our parks are testaments to disasters, albeit ancient or slow-moving ones. See enough of them and you begin to root for catastrophe: meteor strikes, epic floods, volcanic eruptions, mass extinctions, earthquakes that thrust mountain ranges into the sky in a single upheaval – all leavened by wind, fire, rain, and drought. Who knew that millenarian prophecy could be so cool? In fact, if you visit enough parks you begin to see the bright side of global warming: It might wipe out civilization as we know it, but in a few million years, the cockroaches that survive are going to have some awesome campgrounds. (Note to survivors: Be sure to book ahead on busy summer weekends.) Gazing out at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim, you can't help but feel that Al Gore's hand-wringing over climate change is a little silly. The Grand Canyon took a billion or more years to build up, and scientists say it took a mere 750 thousand or so years for the river to carve the canyon. In geologic terms, that's a flash flood. From our perspective now, the Grand Canyon is a national treasure, but it's really a poster child for nature's poor land-use practices. How's that for an inconvenient truth? Speaking of what scientists say, this brings me to another impression: Creationism makes as much sense as some of the scientific explanations you get for these landscapes. Take Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. According to science, hundreds of millions of years ago there was a tropical paradise near the equator that was dominated by giant alligators. Somewhere along the line, ancient forests were buried on a flood plain, infused with minerals, and turned into old-growth-log-sized agates of sparkling jasper and crystal. Then this land-mass migrated from the equator to Arizona. I like this story because it makes the border-obsessed state of Arizona itself an illegal immigrant from Latin America. But delicious irony aside, be honest: Is this account any more believable on its face than the idea that a god flicked his wrist for six days and created the world as we find it? It makes intelligent design seem like a less ridiculous explanation. No wonder creationists are using places like the Grand Canyon to make their case for Biblical accounts. To bolster their argument, read the Bible yourself. It records that the Judeo-Christian god's favorite M.O. was bringing down disasters of, well, biblical proportions: floods, famines, droughts, plagues, locusts, and it promises more apocalyptic destruction. Evidence of all this is enshrined in our National Park system and presented as wholesome family entertainment. God's country indeed. Pondering the flood damage of ancient seas in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, one begins to wonder if the best chance for a New Orleans recovery would be to turn the place into Katrina National Park. Forget FEMA. The government should send in rangers to maintain order and build a grand lodge so we can view the destruction in comfort. Surely it will also seem more beautiful if we give it a little time. Say, a million years or so.
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