Throughout America: 20 Years of Personal Discovery – Chapt. 4
A River Eats Through It
With the impression of Meteor Crater still creating excitement, we were off to see Grand Canyon National Park. Located about 125 miles northwest of Winslow, Arizona, the drive was an easy one to navigate, staying mostly on Interstate 40.
“I’ve read a lot about the Grand Canyon,” I told my friend Lee as we got closer to the park. He chuckled with a smirk, replying, “Reading about it and looking at pictures is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is going to take your breath away.”
We arrived after about two hours to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. A winding, two lane road led past gift shops and small restaurants, as well as signage detailing the history of varying views along the way.
Recognized as a landmark since the late 1800’s, the Grand Canyon was officially dedicated a national park in 1919 by the signing of the Grand Canyon National Park Act by then-president Woodrow Wilson. However, the first president to show his love for the park was President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, he said of the Grand Canyon:
The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.
The park itself is nearly 1.25 million acres in size. The canyon is about 18 miles across at it’s widest point and as deep as one mile in some places. I found it difficult to fathom that the Colorado River carved out the tributaries deep in to the Earth on such a grand scale. But it didn’t happen over night. The rock (some of the oldest on Earth) is made up of sediment, as layer upon layer can be seen dating back to the Precambrian period. Over the course of a billion years, the area went from a canyon, then to a mountain range that rivals todays Himilayas, then back to a canyon again surrounded by a plain. Once below an inland sea, it surfaced again, and that’s when the Colorado River began carving the canyon as we see it today.
Most tourists see the Grand Canyon primarily from the South Rim (Mather Point), as the North Rim is slightly less accessible.
There is a walking tour on the Rim Trail, but before embarking on such a hike, do beware that the walk is 8 miles in length, and if tourists want to reach the bottom of the canyon, walking back up is even more tiring. The park offers mules for this journey, but if a fear of heights describes you, do know that the mules walk on the outter-most edge of the trail, where in places it’s quite a drop.
I have a fear of heights. While this fear is healthy for all, I’m a little bit more extreme with the concern of falling than most people. Walking up to the edge of the canyon from Mather Point was a slow process for me, but Lee assured me that visitors rarely fall from the ledge unless it’s intentional.
Most deaths at the Grand Canyon resulted from plane crashes (375), compared to “Over the Edge” deaths (108). I didn’t bother looking in to how many of those were suicides, but it’s reported that the Grand Canyon is a leader among state park locations, getting its fair share.
Eventually I managed to get close enough to the ledge (where there were rails to cling to tightly, I might add) to see the mile drop. The view made my heart skip a few beats, and the shear size of the canyon left me in awe. It was true; there’s no real way of descibing the Grand Canyon to its fullest. Simply indescribable, and by-far the most spectacular place I’d ever seen in my life.
I knew after we departed the Grand Canyon that what I had just experienced was going to be hard to top. But as I would later realize, each place I visited during nearly 20 years of travels had its own beauty unrivaled by the last. Aiming the car towards California, there was a long list of things yet to see.
The journey was just getting started