Earth Notes - Clarence Dutton

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Clarence Dutton

Most everyone associates the name John Wesley Powell with the Grand Canyon. Mention Clarence Dutton, and you're likely to draw a blank. Yet Dutton was an equally exceptional explorer, and explainer, of the Canyon's fantastic geology and geography.

Born in Connecticut in 1841, the son of a shoemaker, Clarence Dutton graduated from Yale at age 15. His years in the military took him to Washington, D.C., where he met Major Powell. Dutton accepted a detail to the U.S. Geological Survey, and spent much of the next fifteen years in Utah and Arizona.

On horseback, Dutton and his men explored the Kaibab Plateau and the Canyon's North Rim from 1879 to 1881. From those travels came a monumental work of Western literature and art the Tertiary History of the Grand Ca on District.

The oversized book was illustrated with extraordinary art by Thomas Moran (Mo-RAN) and William Henry Holmes. Dutton contributed eloquent prose that related his ideas about how the great chasm was formed and what its effects on people ought to be.

Savoring the panoramic view from the promontory he called Point Sublime, Dutton wrote, "The Grand Ca on of the Colorado is a great innovation in modern ideas of scenery, and in our conceptions of the grandeur, beauty and power of nature." The canyon, he wrote, "is the sublimest thing on earth."

Wallace Stegner later wrote that Dutton knew not only the Grand Canyon's appearance, but its meaning. And for Dutton that meaning was always best expressed by that one word: "sublime."

-Rose Houk