“Nature has two powers: Her own physical power and the spiritual power of her beauty!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan
Other than seeing the Grand Ole Opry, Erin’s only other request for this journey was to make the short detour to the Grand Canyon and so with our schedule in great shape and good weather in the forecast, we started day five with eager anticipation. I had been to the canyon several decades ago – when I was eighteen and I knew it was one of those landmarks that you had to literally experience to believe the magnificence. I was particularly excited to share it with her. We packed up the car, checked the oil, and filled the gas tank. As we drove up the ramp Erin noticed that the service engine light was on. Reading about it in the manual (teaching Erin to inform herself first) – it suggests that there was an issue with the gas tank cap. We pulled over and tightened the cap… no change. Google to the rescue for additional information… verifying that it could be a cap problem and if so… it may take a week to resolve. I discovered that if it wasn’t blinking we were OK.
The scenery between Gallop and Flagstaff quickly disintegrated into flat, dry, and dusty desert without much interest. We had four hours before we turned on our northern detour to the canyon and so we listened to Shonda for a while. There are a few ‘attractions’ in that area of the country and since we had made a little time up the night before, we opted to pick one… we agreed on the 50,000 year old Meteor Crater. What do you think of when you imagine a meteor falling from space? Even the one that supposedly killed all of the dinosaurs? I am sure that I imagined a hole in the ground but never did I consider that the hole would be nearly one MILE across and 550 feet deep – deep enough that the Statue of Liberty can sit inside without peeking out. The impact was 150 times the blast of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb and it decimated the forest that existed there at the time. Eventually, the hole filled with water and a lake existed there long enough for 200 feet of sediment to accumulate (the original depth was 750 feet – taller than the Times Square Tower). The vastness of it is staggering.
We didn’t take time to see the movie or move through the little museum for long as the Grand Canyon was waiting but it was a great little stop and only six miles off the interstate so if nothing else – it was a good opportunity to stretch and use the facilities. We were there barely an hour and then hit the road again. In Flagstaff, the scenery begins to change to a more mountainous and pine forest environment. There were remnants of a recent snow storm and signs that warned us of ice on the highway as we made our way to the state highway that would lead us to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t tell if it was a really long fifty miles because of our anticipation or because we were back in the high desert with little variance in the landscape but the closer we got, the more red appeared in the rock and my memories were dancing with excitement to be reminded and refreshed.
It was cold. We were 7,000 ft. above sea level and the wind was whipping across the top of the canyon plateau – again, we were wishing for hats and gloves. All considering, there weren’t many people there and so it was a great time to visit; the visitor center was almost empty and after looking at a scaled relief for a few minutes, the suspense got to Erin and we made our way to the rim. “What….? Oh. My. Gosh.” – there really isn’t anything else to say and you find yourself saying it over and over, not matter the angle you turn to view. I had forgotten that the canyon is an entire mile DEEP… and the view across to the other side averages about ten miles – and we thought the Meteor Crater was impressive!
I wonder if it is the same for everyone who returns… how many times must one visit before your body adjusts and no longer skips a breath as you walk upon the incredible view? There really is no way to describe the grandeur of the landscape or the colors, which even on a cloudy day, when they are muted, are quite spectacular. Within moments of us standing there, the sun came out as if in answer to my silent calling to demonstrate to Erin the astounding vibrancy of sunshine against the canyon stone. She was in awe and motivated to move along the path, snapping photographs every third step, appropriately oohing and aahing. I think between us, we easily snapped a hundred photos in under an hour. It looks unreal, as if you could reach out and touch a canvas, a backdrop that was perfectly painted to fit into the immediate surroundings. In every one of the photos we took with a person it it… they look like they could have been taken at any Olan Mills or Sears Portrait Studio.
I have a photo of my eighteen-year-old self, sitting on a ledge with my legs dangling over the edge of the canyon. I remember my step-mom crawling out there on her hands and knees to get me off that ledge and I could suddenly appreciate her hesitation. Why is it, that as young people, we are so fearless? There were people crawling over and under railings all along the path to reach standing spots that looked impossible but allowed for amazing photo ops. I am completely surprised that only a couple of people fall to their death each year as the people I saw appeared to be quite close and I felt myself getting anxiety as I waited for it to happen.
Sadly, we were all too aware of our time constraints and lack of proper clothing so we headed back to the warmth of our car to notice that if we wanted… we could back track a bit and make it to Sedona in time for the sunset. We were only ninety-seven miles away and heck – after 2,200 … what’s another 100?
Motivated to squeeze one more intense sight into our day, we headed south again, then east for a bit (it felt quite misguided to turn onto 40 eastbound) before we exited onto Arizona-89A, a two lane highway stretching through pine forests that put the Pocono Mountains to shame. There had been some recent lumbering along the highway and we passed dozens of piles of timbered pine allowing my mind to imagine them lumbered and waiting for shoppers at Lowes or Home Depot… yes, my mind really does work that way!
Suddenly, the road began to descend and immediately in front of me a canyon appeared leaving me to wonder where in the hell the road went… I quickly found out as we were led into a deep switchback with six hairpin turns that had me gripping the steering wheel so hard that the word Nissan was imprinted in my palm when it was over. All along, Erin was exclaiming “oh my God, Holy Shit! Oh wow!” and more expletives in that genre to announce her awe at the beauty of the panorama in front of us. I was tempted beyond belief to look and take it in but there was traffic coming at me and no guard rail on my side so our lives depended on me staying focused on the road as we descended 4500 feet.
To be continued…
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