When Congress passed the 1987 National Parks Overflights Act, it challenged the National Park Service to “substantially restore natural quiet” to Grand Canyon National Park. The agency has been steadfast in its attempt to achieve this objective. However, the air tour industry and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have effectively blocked fully implementing the law as intended by Congress. Twenty-four years after it was enacted, barely 50 percent of the park is free from aircraft noise 75 percent of the time.
Despite more than 50,000 air tours over the park each year, it is still possible to find places to experience the sound of silence. For example, writer Ian Frazier read his impressions from a recent visit to Grand Canyon on the June 4, 2011 radio broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion:
As I stood there, I was overcome by the quiet…the immensity of the quiet in the Canyon…[It] was like the quiet in an empty concert hall, a waiting quiet, a pregnant quiet, a quiet that seemed full of suggestion. But unlike in a concert hall, the suggestion here was both unimaginable and without limit. Arizona, with its immense and empty desert spaces has this to give the rest of the country: immense and profound quiet and darkness at night, darkness and quiet and the inaudible hum of time. To listen to the broadcast, please visit: Ian Frazier
A single broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion has a listening audience of nearly 4 million, about as many people that visit the Grand Canyon in a whole year. And yet those listeners who heard Ian Frazier’s description of its “immense and profound quiet” might be quite disappointed if their visit to the Grand Canyon includes a walk beneath the “Dragon Corridor” where barely a moment passes on an average air tour day when the thumping of helicopter blades cannot be heard.