🚧 Detour: the Grand Canyon 🧗‍♂️

Reaching the unexpected at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

There are a number of National Parks along Route 66, which aligns nicely with one of my goals for 2021: to visit as many National Parks as possible. I want to share some of the experiences from each National Park along the way. There won’t be much of a coherent storyline — just a few vignettes of experiences. The first one we stopped at was the Grand Canyon.

I’ve always been struck by the experience of entering National Parks. They’re frequently marked by a transition from the everyday and the mundane to the spectacular in a matter of moments or a few feet. In that moment, it can feel like you’ve suddenly been transported to a completely different world.

The transition into Grand Canyon National Park is among the most stark. One moment you’re traveling through flat scrubland marked with stumpy pines dusted with snow and the next moment you’re peering down into one of the greatest testaments to the forces of nature on planet earth. If you look South you see a scene that’s identical to countless other scenes across the Southwest; if you turn and look North you’re overwhelmed by one of the most iconic vistas known to mankind.

We arrived early so that we could hike the 17 miles all the way down to the Colorado River and back up before sunset. It’s an inverted hike: the ease of descent comes first and the drudgery of ascent comes second.

As we descended through the layers of history, I quickly came to a realization: all of the iconic views and photographs of the Grand Canyon come from the surface. You can’t even see the Colorado River in those iconic photographs from the top: the canyon is too deep and too steep. The great actor is completely concealed and behind the scenes in all those photographs! But as you descend the canyon you are constantly confronted with images that are far less well known.

As you make your way down along the curves of the canyon, the shapes and colors of the rock become less familiar and eventually you catch your first glimpse of the river. By the time you reach its shores, the walls of the canyon are completely foreign. There are no more bright reds, oranges, and yellows with broad curving protrusions that are recognized around the world. Those well known rock faces are completely obstructed by the narrower, steeper, less well defined canyon walls in the inner sanctum.

Down there the actor is revealed: the Colorado River stretches across the entire width of the canyon with the occasional sandy beach clinging to the canyon walls as the river continues its work. Gone are the spectacular views. Gone are the well known colors and curves. Gone are the tourists and the busses. There is only the cold stillness and the sound of the river grinding its way deeper into the earth.

In moderation, Matthew