Earth Notes: Eddie McKee

Feb 22, 2012

The Grand Canyon has always attracted people who fall deeply in love with the landscape and its lessons. One of those who made the place his life’s work was Edwin Dinwiddie McKee.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1906, McKee was influenced by his scoutmaster Francois Matthes, an early Grand Canyon mapmaker. A summer paleontology internship at the canyon was all it took to ignite young Eddie’s life-long love affair with geology.

In 1929 McKee became the park’s full-time naturalist when his predecessor, Glen Sturdevant, drowned in the Colorado River. Geology was always his first interest, but McKee was also an all-around good naturalist. In the pages of the classic publication Grand Canyon Nature Notes, he wrote about everything from bats and birds to lizards and limestones.

He soon met Barbara Hastings, and impressed her by hiking across the canyon to visit her on the North Rim. They soon married, and spent their first eleven years together in the park. They banded birds, collected butterflies, and completed a study of Havasupai baskets.

McKee went on to a long career in geology. His monographs on the canyon’s major rock layers added greatly to an understanding of how the striking scenery had formed. He’s been called the “premier research scientist of Grand Canyon geology” in the twentieth century.

Eddie McKee died in 1984. His ashes, and Barbara’s, are buried in the Grand Canyon Cemetery on the South Rim. On his grave marker, a slab of Tapeats Sandstone, is inscribed a simple word: “Teacher.”