It Looks Like Myst: A Reflection on the Grand Canyon

This was originally written around 1999.

It still holds true.

It looks like Myst.

I’m staring out at the Grand Canyon, one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of the world, hearing the early morning symphony of Japanese spoken by tourists fulfilling the camera-wielding stereotype. The light slants through awe-inspiring formations of colored rock, and all that comes to mind is that it reminds me of Myst.

Or Riven. Let’s not be old-fashioned about this. If I squint hard enough I can see the slight QuickTime distortion around the occasional swift or crow.

This is nothing compared to the lack of interest shown by my five-year old son. Right now he’s playing with a two-dollar die-cast jeep (as far removed from its origins as the tourists) by the side of the trail, utterly unimpressed with the grandeur laid out before him.

Sure, I got a “cool” out of him, and he’ll sometimes say “whoa” as a new formation comes into view, but he can’t quite seem to figure out what all the fuss is about. Sometimes I hear the beweeoo! or bdoosh! of imaginary alien invaders turning the park into rubble – but mostly he just seems bored.

Bored! Here!

Look out there, son! See the beauty?

Yesterday, in an attempt to help him understand that the power of this place is not just in the visceral now, I led him in an imagination exercise. We sat upon the rocks, and I had him close his eyes against the summer sun, pretending that we sat upon a level plain millions of years ago. We imagined days, seasons, years, millennia ticking by in seconds as the Colorado slowly dug miles into the plateau. Imagining the generations, civilizations, species that have come and gone as this place came to be, the massive stretch of time that is revealed by the slow action of rock on water.

Finally, I had him open his eyes and gaze at the breathtaking sight, hoping he’d see it with this new understanding of its history.

“Wow!” he said, and my heart swelled. He got it! He appreciates it!

“Everything looks blue!”

I fought the sighs as I explained that his eyes had just gotten used to the red light filtered by his eyelids, and they were just overcompensating now that they were seeing blue again. They’d do that anywhere – that’s not what was special here.

As a result, he spent a large part of the day shutting his eyes, trying to make everything look blue.

Right now, he informs me that his jeep is being destroyed by massive flows of lava – I’m sure with hyperrealistic computer graphics, with aliens and dinosaurs just over the horizon.

I sigh, trying to take in the landscape, determined that at least one of us will enjoy the natural beauty.


It reminds me of Myst.

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