“Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” by Michel P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers, 2001

Finished March 9, 2012

I visited Arizona and the Grand Canyon in March, and I got the impression everyone who works in the area has read this book, which is subtitled “Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders.” Each chapter covers a different way people have died in the Canyon: falling, dehydration, flash floods, drowning, airplane crashes, rock falls, poisonous creatures and plants, lightning, explosions, suicide, and murder.

I started the book while I took a break from the winter weather (a huge disappointment for a Canadian such as myself who was just trying to get AWAY from ice and snow) in front of a fire in the lobby of one of the main hotels on the edge of the Canyon. One of the first stories in the book recounted a terrifying situation in which a woman fell to her death from the edge just in front of where I was sitting. It made me pretty cautious for the rest of my visit.

The authors make the point that many deaths happen because people seem to think that a National Park is kind of like Disneyland, where everything is made safe for them and they don’t need to exhibit any common sense. Hence the stories of people walking right up to the edge, or hiking without a map or water, or rafting without a life jacket in the icy waters. At my first stop in the Grand Canyon I went to a fenced in lookout. Beyond the fence was a spire of rock about 3 feet square on the top, and beyond that was another, slightly larger spire. There were footprints in the freaking snow on these freaking tiny little icy, sloping plateaus. Was the view 20 feet out really worth risking your stupid life? So yeah, that was proof enough for me, as if I needed it, that humans can be remarkably idiotic.

The book really is gripping and well-written. I bought it for my even-more-morbid-than-me sister, but I couldn’t put it down. I wish there were photos in it though, of some of the more famous people and incidents. Not piles of festering guts or anything, but at least a photo of the vanished couple from 1928, Bessie and Glen Hyde. The authors discuss the last photo taken of them, and it would have been nice to have seen it. Particularly since they describe the wife’s body language as “shouting despair and lack of confidence – or worse.” Very thorough, and oddly entertaining. Recommended.