Monday, May 4, 2015

A Grand Spring Break, Pt. II

From the beauties of Lake Powell and the towering cliffs of the nearby oxbow bend, the mighty Colorado wanders buried through a plateau along the toe of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, unseen unless you stumbled across it, as you can at Lee's Ferry in the picture below.

It is near here that boats put in for the ride of a lifetime, through the depths of nature's greatest canyon. This is the closest that river will come to the plateau's edge for hundreds of miles to the west.

At Desert View overlook the Canyon first broadens and deepens into the wonder it is.  At sunrise, the view is so inspiring that early visitors built the Watch Tower (below), a Mary Colter designed edifice, to take more of it in.

After stopping here briefly in the late afternoon, we made a bee-line to Mather Campground, in the heart of the South Rim, so that we would not have to set up camp in the dark.  It would become our home for the next few days, filled with pleasant daytime temperatures but very cold nights and mornings, which made for perfect campfires and their attendant joys -- long hours sitting and warming, talking and staring into the flames, and most importantly, an inordinate amount of smores.  

In fact, our first morning there Alden, who dubbed himself the "Pun Dragon Master" of the camp, woke up and proclaimed "its going to be a beautiful Smorening!" and promptly cooked one over the fire I had built.  It is safe to say that before we were done, we spent more on firewood and marshmallows than we had on the campsite itself.  Such are the joys of Mather Campground.

One other benefit of the Campground is its proximity to Mather Point and the Mather Visitor Center, where shuttle buses leave on ten minute intervals to all points west along the rim, where cars are now banned. Photographer that I am, at first I was very disappointed to learn that fact, but on our first day out to Mohave Point via the blue and red lines, we realized what a blessing it was. 

For one, it forced us to actually hike the rim trail from there to Bright Angel Lodge,  a little over three miles along a fairly level trail, with scenes like these:

The black rock you seen lining the river waaay down there is apparently 1.3 billion years old.  Back when it was last on the surface, the only living, multi-cellular organism was a red algae.

Now it has us and an ever-flowing river to contend with, but it seems to be holding its own, as anyone who has ever floated the rapids of the Canyon can tell you.

Keegan enjoyed the whole hike, and proved a ready model for my constantly snapping camera.

There is no way to do justice in a picture to the scale here, but there are people on top of the cliff to the left, which maybe helps a little.

It was also along this walk that we got our first (on this trip) glimpse of Bright Angel trail, which descends into the Canyon. It looks like this:

And this:

And that's not even the half of it.  At my ripe old age, it seems hard to believe that Kathleen and I hiked up that from the Canyon bottom once, but it felt good to remember we had accomplished something so impressive once (at least to us).

Here are a few pictures of the trail we hiked down to the bottom on that prior trip, known as the South Kaibab.  Can you see where it traverses down in the picture below? Look closely.

The next day I took a picture from a different perspective. You can see the trail on the right upper canyon wall below.  It is easily one of the most picturesque trails on the planet . . .

but as it descends, it is also crazy and hard on the knees.  I have been down that switchback and it is not one for those of weak quads.

At the bottom lies Phantom Ranch (just to the right of center in the photo below) where we overnighted next to the mighty river, which is so much wider and deeper than any of these photos show.

It is fair to wonder why we would take an impulsive eight year old (see my last post), as well as our other children, to the Grand Canyon, where just this past week a presumably life-loving and intelligent twenty-something fell four hundred feet to his death.  It is a dangerous place for both the curious and the incautious.

Without standing along its edges as the light shifts and fades at sunset, it is impossible to understand the pull of this place, and how powerfully it draws you to the edge of its forever precipices.  No picture can capture its ever-changing beauty, or give view to the epic scale that confronts even the most casual visitor.  As the sun sets, people from all over the world gather, speaking with hushed voices in reverence for the magic that is happening all around them. 

The picture above was taken from a perhaps-not-so-advisable location, atop a jutting outcrop of rock with hundreds of feet of drops all around.  More than a few declined scrambling out to the edge. But I will never forget that moment. 

I stood there with only a few others around, watching the light fade slowly as the sun went down.  It was peace and majesty and beauty and timelessness all wrapped into an hour of amazement and joy.  One young man that did brave the outcrop had driven from Chicago on a whim, and told me he was experiencing the biggest natural high of his life.  Two young men from Palestine dangled off the edge behind me, snapping selfies with the biggest grins in the face of near death that one can imagine.

For me, it feels life-changing every time I visit. Perhaps that is because time is a towering, palpable presence here, alive like nowhere else on the entire planet, a voice too majestic to really understand, tugging at your mind and your heart with the felt-rather-than-heard messages of eons and ages. It humbles you and assures you, speaking of a permanence and order that is impossible to fully understand in our short lifetimes, but real and powerful and long, epic in scale and gravitas.

To introduce your children to that feeling, that sense of time, seems important, risks notwithstanding.

Besides, it is simply beautiful, one of those special places which teaches that God is a giver of gifts-- color and light and patient beauty divine.

 And all of us can use that.