25 September 2008

Canyon sunsets

I guess I had some more summer stories in me, after all... I wrote this the other day just after saying that I didn't. (Maybe I did it to prove myself wrong.) The post describes a couple of days in mid-August, after the family gatherings in Iowa and South Dakota.


After flying into Las Vegas and spending the night at my uncle's house, the Mister and I threw our suitcases and some borrowed camping equipment into the rental car. Said camping equipment consisted of: a pup tent, two sleeping bags, an air mattress, a flashlight, and a water bottle. (You might say we were betting on good weather and the availability of prepackaged foods.)

We drove merrily to the Grand Canyon, impressed along the way by the Hoover Dam and also slowed down by the traffic at the Hoover Dam. (Only a couple of hours into the nearly 2,500 miles of driving we did was the closest we came to an accident: a pickup behind me, annoyed at the slow pace up the curvy hill, beeping and swerving, decided to pass me on the right just as I decided to let him pass me by pulling off to the right, WITH blinker clearly blinking. Thankfully, with a last-second head-check I saw him zooming by and yanked us back into the lane. And THEN pulled off, to let my pulse get back to normal.)

Hours later, we entered the park and asked the ranger at the booth if there were campsites available. The look she gave us told us we were foolish to arrive at 7 pm during peak season at the GRAND Canyon, for Pete's sake, and expect a campsite, so our hopes were not high as we drove on to the campground. Yet, we were in luck. They still had a spot! Furthermore, in reading the handy park newspaper, we had discovered that sunset was at 7:33. I thought it would be fantastic if our first view of the canyon was during sunset, so campsite secured and tent hurredly set up, we drove as close as we could get, parked, and walked the trail to the edge of the void.

These were my thoughts as we hurried down the quickly-darkening path (it was already 7:45): Isn't it strange that I could drive so close to the edge with no visible sign of... anything? Here I am, walking in a pleasantly flat forest, only meters from one of the natural wonders of the world, and I just can't see it coming. It's not like a mountain, which you can see from miles away, and prepare for. It's a mountain in reverse, it's a gash in the earth, it's...sudden. A drop-off. Why is my heart beating so fast? I am nervous, as though I'm about to pet a wild animal. A very very huge wild animal.

There it was, only dimly visible as vast receding darknesses under the orange border of the dark northern rim. Ungraspable. The crowds of people around us, mostly teenagers, were already dispersing, because they had seen the sunset we had missed. We took a series of pictures in a futile attempt to get the canyon on film (the two days we spent there we were aware of the futility of our picture-taking yet constantly took pictures anyway), gazing at the last glows of sun.

And then we went and had pizza and beer at the dining hall. Among the things I was not prepared to find inside Grand Canyon National Park: a huge grocery store, Amy's organic frozen food, microbrews, pizza (especially not pizza with spinach and goat cheese), fresh baked goods, and delicious coffee.

We spent the next day hiking as much of the rim as we could, and taking many more pictures, because every spot seemed more photogenic than the last. We ate lunch on the trail and dinner at our very own campsite, and then strategically prepared for our second, and last, sunset at the grand canyon.

We wanted a spot that wouldn't be inundated with teenagers, a little more off the beaten track. It had to be nearby, of course, but not right off the Mather campground trail. We decided to drive out to Yaki point, near the second trailhead for descending into the canyon. When we got to the road, however, there was a problem: we couldn't turn onto it; only the shuttle could pass. So we had to drive down the road until we found parking, and then walk back to catch the shuttle. But the shuttle didn't have a stop at the intersection! And time was running out. Calculating hastily, we decided to walk the last stretch out to the point. Waylaid by a cute little deer that wasn't at all disturbed by our camera-snapping (none of those pictures turned out anyway), we ended up half-jogging to get there so we wouldn't miss the sunset again.

We found ourselves completely alone on an outcropping of rock, with spectacular views back over the length of the canyon. The sun descended as if just for us. After a while, a French couple appeared, so we traded photo-ops with them.

Finally, we made ourselves put the camera down, and put our arms around each other instead. Perched on the tiniest portion of the long winding edge of an immense stone basin, we soaked in the last rays of light and that heart-stopping sense of our own human smallness.

1 comment:

Sara said...

hey. how does one get in touch with you these days? i just happily stumbled upon your blog bookmarked in my favorites...
how are you??
email me if you have a sec so i have your new email...