The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was on our First Great American Road Trip. I don’t remember getting there, although I remember the drive from there to Phoenix. I DO remember the startling nature of seeing it the first time.
I was 8 years old, 1967. At that time there were no drones, no documentaries that I had seen about it. I am certain my mom would have shown us pictures of it in the ubiquitous World Book Encyclopedia. I understood it was a really big, deep hole in the ground. In my 8-year-old mind, I thought, perhaps that it was a bigger hole in the ground than the gravel pits that dot the Wisconsin landscape. That’s the only thing that would have been a hole in the ground with which I was familiar.
OK, so the Grand Canyon isn’t really a hole in the ground with a river at the bottom. And it isn’t like a gravel pit. Just sayin’.
I remember vividly standing at the edge, South Rim, winter. WOW. My first thought was that somehow, all the people standing, looking, including my family, were going to become airborne and fly off the edge. It wasn’t a thought of jumping, it was a thought of an expanse of space, below my feet. It was hundreds of times as big as any gravel pit I’d seen, which was my only point of reference.
Colors, once again, I return to the colors of Arizona, amazing brilliant, other worldly color. I had never seen rocks that color in my life. I couldn’t imagine what those were, how they came to be. And then, the layers, just like a multi-layered cake, flat, symmetrical, as far as I could see. And, always my favorite – what’s around that plateau (and I knew what a plateau was, thanks to my mom and that World Book Encyclopedia), that bend in the river, behind that column of rock? Who saw this first, who named it? What did they think – that first moment they saw it?
What to think? To my 8 year old mind, it was wild, crazy, how can this be?! What am I looking at? And that river, so far, far away. And still, I wanted to fly above it.
Years later, in a geology class at Arizona State University, our field trip was a two-day trip to the Grand Canyon – to hike it. Not quite to the bottom, but to Plateau Point, which is the last part of the layer cake rock formations. Below that is the beginning of time on Earth – Precambrian rock – the oldest rock that we can see on Earth. Before the beginning.
We were told to bring sleeping bags. Sleep in your clothes, get up the in morning, brush your teeth, eat something and we are on the trail at sunrise. That was amazing. Seeing what I’d seen many times before, but inside, going deeper and deeper into the chasm. Size, distance, depth are very deceptive as we were traveling down. Which, I say, was quite simple and easy.
That going up part? I believe I was the, or, one of the very, very last stragglers to come out of the Grand Canyon. I was more than a little exhausted. Someone had stolen my sleeping bag, there was snow on the ground, so I slept a little on a seat in the bus, with my clothes on. It occurs to me now that hypothermia was a real possibility.
Nonetheless, I survived. It was amazing, remarkable, incredible. One of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my life. I want to do it again. In better physical shape, perhaps having spent the night in the most luxurious hotel room possible at the top of the canyon.
This postcard shows the Kaibab Trail, which is not the trail I hiked. These people are on mules. A lesson I learned in my geology class. Mules are surer footed, not high strung and therefore, enormously less likely to do something that would throw said adventurer off the side of the trail.
I hope that you adventure to look over the edge, dream of flying, hike the trail, run the river or wander your imagination the next time you think of the Grand Canyon.