Busting a Hawaiian Myth

waimea canyon on kauai
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Busting a Hawaiian Myth

Have you heard the story about Mark Twain and “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”? If you think you know the real story, read on.

“I have visited, a great many years ago, the Sandwich Islands-that peaceful land, that beautiful land, that far-off home of profound repose, and soft indolence, and dreamy solitude, where life is one long slumbrous Sabbath, the climate one long delicious summer day, and the good that die experience no change, for they but fall asleep in one heaven and wake up in another.”

This is an excerpt from an article that Twain wrote for the Boston Daily Globe that ran on April 9, 1889. And these words are what I found framed in the condo my husband and I rented during our first visit here. Someone had taken great creative liberties with Twain’s writing, and by taking the parts they liked best, composed a “poem”, that ended with “my beautiful Kauai.” It lent validity to the “fact” that Twain named Waimea Canyon “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

It is true that Twain was in Hawaii from March 18 to July 19 in 1866, but Kauai is never mentioned in Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii, because Twain never set foot on Kauai, and he never laid eyes on Waimea Canyon.

John Wesley Powell (who discovered the area that is now called the Grand Canyon), didn’t begin his exploration until 1867, one year after Twain had stayed in Hawaii. In Powell’s Explorations of the Colorado River of the West, he does not mention the name “Grand Canyon” anywhere.

The Grand Canyon got its name when Teddy Roosevelt set it aside as a national monument in 1908, two years before Mark Twain died.

So, now you know what informed Hawaii locals know. Waimea Canyon is a gorgeous canyon laced with waterfalls and vibrant layers of red, cream and green. The canyon depths are 2500 feet, it reaches 13 miles across and is 2.5 miles wide. The Grand Canyon plunges 5700 feet, stretches 277 miles, and is 10 miles across. Quite a difference, although, they are both striking canyons.

Source: Kauai’s Geologic History – A Simplified Guide by Chuck Blay and Robert Siemers.

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