[Originally published as The Best Ballad Ever Written]
I’m a huge fan of the classic Western ballads. I like a song that gets somewhere and tells a compelling story. The best ballads make you laugh, cry, shudder a bit, and leave you inspired. There have been some fantastic ballad writers/singers over the years: Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dean, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Tom T. Hall, and many others. However, these are completely forgettable names when compared to the ballad God wrote when He formed Grand Canyon.
The Ballad of Grand Canyon inspires from the first note. Launching from Lee’s Ferry carries the equal of the anticipation of all childhood Christmas Eves combined. The fragrance of wonder and awe flavors all conversation as rafters search for words to express what is being seen and felt.
The mostly quiet waters of Marble Canyon are intermittently punctuated by the thrill of fast-moving whitewater. The perfect mix of flat water, whitewater, far-stretching side canyons, and towering walls carry the rafter away from all the considerations of life outside the canyon. Wristwatches are ignored and smartphones have been dumbed down to glorified cameras. The world of the Ballad of Grand Canyon consumes every sense and transports the sojourner to another time and place where life is simplified and its true beauty arises.
The moment is embraced, but a sense of anticipation stands strong.
The Little Colorado River adds a new verse to the ballad. The sky blue waters of the “LC” bring smiles and laughter as life jackets are worn like diapers, and rafters link up to form a train and float through the rapids. The wide open spaces of “furnace flats” expand the horizons and usher the rafter into the depths of Grand Canyon.
Here the ballad takes on an introspective note as the immensity of Grand Canyon is on full display. The peace of the ballad seeps into the marrow and soothes the soul. However, in the background, you can faintly see that the ballad is about to crescendo into a fury.
The rapids of the upper granite gorge swiftly carry the rafter to a level of living unfathomable by those still wandering around up top. The Ballad of Grand Canyon is racing along now, full of a strange mix of laughter, fear, thrill, joy, anxiety, and relief. The constant thrill of whitewater gives way to the surprises of legendary side canyons, quiet evenings, and deepening friendships.
The embrace of God is dynamically tangible, and His Word clear and profound. His character and Word are the substance of the ballad, as the canyon provides the mechanism for delivery. The ballad once again crests to a deafening roar as it marks its dramatic end.
Lava Falls provides the physical thrill for a perfect finish. However, the true delight is in the sharing of the people. The final evening is filled with the stories of great remembrances, changed hearts, and inspired living. The truth of God’s love, wrath, mercy, judgment, and redemption are spoken of with a new depth of understanding and experience. People who were complete strangers a week earlier are now comrades and friends. Their parting embrace is the sweet final note, sparking a smile on the face of God.