Going to the Grand Canyon was pretty surreal. Well, this whole trip has been pretty surreal, but the Grand Canyon was surreal in some new and different ways. It began at the entrance gate. Most parks have one booth on the road going in where you pay the fee (or flash your pass if you’re cool like us.) Actually, a lot of parks don’t even have a booth, or an extra person to staff it, and operate on the honor system. Which goes to show how underfunded these places are: a lot of them can’t even afford to collect revenue. In contrast, the Grand Canyon had five booths and a long line of cars like an NYC bridge. Saying this place is popular would be an understatement.
We made it through and tried to hit the visitors’ center on the way to the campground. Despite the big parking lot and the bigger auxiliary lot, there was nowhere to stop. “So, this place is Nature Disney Land,” Kate said, and I had to agree. We did see a whole herd of mule deer in the trees, apparently used to all the traffic. They look like their white tailed cousins at first glance, but then you recognize that they are taller and have a big furry mane on their necks.
Defeated but undaunted, we drove over to the campsite, where at least we had a reserved spot. We got the tent set up using every guy line and peg after a few crazy windy nights, and took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center. The first bus was full according to the driver, but in New York, eight more people could have fit. Oh well, it was good practice at being gracious and appreciating how many people were out enjoying this country’s natural splendor. We got on the second bus and made it to the visitor center, got our info, our movie, and our chat with the ranger which concluded with her excitement in learning we were about to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.
Boom. Standing on the South Rim looking out into the canyon was surreal. We’ve seen a lot of beautiful vistas and natural wonders on this trip, but this one was so truly grand that it didn’t really compute. It looked like a backdrop, as if it were just some painted curtain or protected image.
Another mile and the rim trail became “The Trail of Time” with each step representing a year, then a century, a millennia, and ultimately a million years, corresponding to the age of the rock strata exposed in the canyon walls. It was fascinating and very well done, with samples and explanations of each type of stone that are layered and eroded here. This trip has sparked a love of geology in me, but more than anything it was the sense of deep time that impacted me.
At the bottom of the Grand Canyon are the “basement” layers of stone (named after Hindu deities, perhaps because they’re the oldest?) that are two billion years old. That’s billion, with a B. And you can touch it; there’s a beautiful piece of it sitting right there. Two billion years. That’s half the age of the Earth. Surreal. It’s meaningless at first, then the first little edge of significance asserts itself, but it can’t all fit in my mind.
We walked for miles and saw different aspects and angles of the canyon. At one point we even got a peak at the Colorado River a mile down below us, carving the canyon deeper at the rate of the depth of a sheet of paper per year. We stopped at viewpoint after viewpoint, and I hate to say it but it all started to look the same. It’s just too big. The Grand Canyon goes on for two hundred miles and it’s just too much at a certain point, your mind can’t contain it. At least not from the top…