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January 14, 2012

The Blink of an Eye

Every great road trip has moments that are... a little less than great. But then something amazing happens.

So it was on a hot day in July 1985. I was stuffed in a small minivan with my two sisters, my brother, and my parents. We had been driving ten hours from Los Angeles, through the Mojave Desert into northern Arizona. It was about 110 degrees outside, and inside, well, you know how siblings can be. Somewhere along the trip I had finally dozed off, and woke up as we pulled into a parking lot on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I stumbled out of the car, rubbed my eyes in the late afternoon sun, and what I saw was almost beyond the ability of my 13-year-old brain to comprehend.

Decades go by, but we collect only a handful of truly life-changing moments. Witnessing the birth of one's child. Catching that first perfect wave. Hearing the late, great Clarence Clemons wail his sax on "Thunder Road." For me, that first view of the Grand Canyon during our classic family vacation trip to the great parks and monuments of the American West is right up there.

I'm not alone, of course. The Grand Canyon is one of the world's great wonders, and millions of people have shared the awe I felt. One of them was an 11-year-old boy called Barry, traveling with his grandmother on a sightseeing tour of the West much like the one my own family made.

Now, four decades later, President Barack Obama has helped ensure the Grand Canyon will continue to endure and inspire. The Department of the Interior has announced a 20-year ban on new hard rock mineral leasing and mining (primarily for uranium) in one million acres adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. At stake is not only the canyon itself but also the safety of the water that the Colorado River supplies to 18 million people across the Southwest.

President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar deserve kudos for these protections (you can send them a message here). Let's hope this is just the beginning of what this Administration can do for protecting both the Grand Canyon and other wild places. For instance, designating Arizona's North Kaibab Plateau as a new Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would protect important sources of groundwater, preserve 22 sensitive species (many of which occur nowhere else in the world), as well as promote and protect the local tourism economy and jobs.

The Colorado River needed millions of years to carve out the Grand Canyon. Letting mining companies run rampant could ruin it in the geological blink of an eye. The good news is that protecting it can happen just as fast. Thank you and congratulations to the Obama administration for doing what's right.

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