A Very Grand Canyon Passage
TOPIC: Grand Canyon Reconnaissance
PROJECT: Field Notes - Jennifer Sherowski
I’ve always loved the Southwest. The air smells like dust and piñon, and sunsets drip amber light down onto the rocks like nectar. It’s awash in an austere beauty, and especially during the shoulder seasons—i.e. spring and fall—the Southwest is one of my favorite places to camp and explore.
With this in mind, my friend/fellow adventurer Trycia Byrnes and I flew into Phoenix in the early autumn and drove north past Flagstaff to a place I’d somehow not yet been: Grand Canyon National Park.
At 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep, this colossal fissure exposes nearly 2 million years of geological history. It’s one of the 7 wonders of the natural world for a reason! And a whopping 4.5 million people make the trek to see it every year. It’s a place full of history: geologic history—and human history. Native tribes have inhabited the place for thousandas of years, and it’s been a National Park for a cool century (the Grand Canyon was first established as a National Monument by President by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and then, 11 years later in 1919, was designated Grand Canyon National Park by an official act of congress).
Now, everyone knows what the Grand Canyon looks like. We’ve seen pictures. But you go to the Grand Canyon for something else, like going on a pilgrimage. You go in order to look down into the pit and contemplate it solitarily. What you wind up seeing there is as much what’s within yourself as what’s before you—kinda like staring into a pile of burning embers.
Standing on the rim for the first time, though, I had to admit that looking at the Grand Canyon WAS a little bit like just looking at the photo. Way up there on the precipice, there’s a haze in the distance between you and the landscape, and you are very, very far away.
So, outfitted with heavy packs, we stumbled 9 miles down the Bright Angel Trail to see what things looked like from the very bottom. Even a mile down the trail, we both agreed that this was the only way see the “real” canyon. You get a sense of perspective, inspecting layers of rock first-hand as you step past them and feeling like an insignificant spec sneaking beneath looming cliffs that wear the stains of the ages.
After many, many, many switchbacks, we emerged onto a private nook of a beach, and with relief stuck our sore feet into the delicious cold waters of the Colorado River. I’m sure John Wesley Powell peeled off his dust-caked infantry socks and did the same on his expedition 150 years ago, don’t you think? While resting and cooling off, we gaped up at the rim towering over our heads and intuitively knew, or maybe suspected, the tiny place where we fit in the immense scheme of geology around us.
After a snooze and a granola bar, we hoofed it back to our campsite five miles up at Phantom Ranch. On the way, a savage downpour drove us into the shelter of an overhang. And that wasn’t the last of the storm. That night, we ate our camp dinner in the dark as a powerful electrical storm raged all around us, thunder bouncing off the cliff walls and lightening sparking up the esplanade. It was a wild one!
The next day, so sore we could barely walk, we hobbled the 4 miles back up to the rim to reclaim our rental car, and then we journeyed south toward Sedona in search of a festive meal. After contemplating the trip and the luminous desert sunset before us, we ate pizza and sipped cocktails until tipsy in celebration of life and all those other things. I remember what we were drinking: gin and soda with fresh lime, ginger, and sage. It was like they’d bottled the desert and served it up in a highball glass.
Although quick, it was an amazing journey—kinda cosmic. In fact, the Grand Canyon is a cosmic place—where us non-“devout” folks go to appreciate the mysteries of the universe.
Portland based Jennifer Sherowski is a former professional snowboarder and also an incredible adventure writer. Check her out at http://jennifersherowski.com/ and follow her awesome adventures @jensherowski because you should.