The Grand Canyon
Read our very own Sarah Tucker’s Best Regional Article Award winning piece about her visit to the Grand Canyon, as endorsed by Visit USA Media Awards!
For awe-inspiring majesty the Grand Canyon is virtually unsurpassed. Sarah Tucker and son brave the heat to experience it
I have yet to visit all the wonders of the world. Hardly surprising, really, given the bewildering range of nominations for a place on contemporary lists. But this summer, during an eight-day trip with my son through California, Nevada and Arizona, I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Big tick in the box. In the currency of natural wonder, this place is pure gold.
For the sake of good mother-and-son relations, this was just as well. Tom had yet to forgive me for selling our Olympic beach volleyball tickets, and with texts pouring in to inform us of the incredible happenings we were missing back home, something pretty spectacular was required on this American trail.
Fortunately Alcatraz, with its infamous former prison in San Francisco Bay, and Las Vegas – the original Dubai – left Tom suitably impressed. A city of lights in the middle of the desert was enough to make him briefly forsake his Iphone. So too was Yosemite National Park, where I tried to hug as many trees as possible before discovering that this is prohibited – probably in an attempt to prevent all the born-again hippies from rubbing the bark away.
And then comes the Canyon. Brian, our enthusiastic 23-year-old puppy of a tour guide, makes us all close our eyes and hold hands, as we are led to a spectacular view out over this extraordinary place that geologists believe was fashioned by a vast river, the local Havasupai Indians believe was fashioned by God, and which I’ve always attributed to aliens.
On the count of three we open our eyes. The Canyon swallows up all thought like some emotional vacuum. It is simply too vast and overwhelmingly beautiful to take in, which is why so many visitors burst spontaneously into tears. As I did. All it would have taken to have me sobbing uncontrollably was Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
There are many moments like this over the next 24 hours. Tom has forgotten all about beach volleyball and is busily taking photos, but neither word nor image can do justice to something that simply defies definition. Gradually it strikes me how the place is full of people staring into the deep, wrinkled distance: men and women lost in the moment, looking for the meaning of life. Or just the meaning of theirs.
After a $250 helicopter ride over the Canyon – a stunning hour-long trip that seems to evaporate rapidly in the heat – I sit eating pizza in the quiet, watching the sunset form rainbows on the rocks below. We are camping nearby and need to get to bed early, before an eight-mile trek down the Bright Angel Trail in the morning. In August, the Canyon reaches 90 degrees by 9am. Only mad dogs and madder men would still be on the trail by then.
Fortified by coffee against the rigours of the 4am start, about 10 of us head off along the path, mostly young Germans and Australians, but with a French Canadian in his 40s leading the way. I follow on behind, breathing in the moment, yet conscious that the drop beside me is to infinity and beyond.
Gigantic rocks overhang the downward path, suspended as if recent earthquakes have yet to give them their final push into this silent quarry. A mountain goat stands as though glued to an almost vertical ledge. Then the sun appears above the rim, casting long delicious shadows, while threatening clouds speak of thunder and hail, as if the spirit of the canyon is railing against our intrusion upon the scene.
But the storm never comes. Instead, the rising sun reveals the path more and more clearly, while my footsteps rustle in the dawn. I feel that I can sense the Earth’s pulse. Or perhaps it’s just the beat of my heart.
Eventually I reach the Indian Garden Campground. The Germans and Aussies have already been and gone, have taken their photos and are on their way back up, urged on by the views like marathon runners by the watching crowds. As I join the ascent, the late risers – those who woke at six – are making their way down: honeymoon couples, the woman leading and complaining that they should have started earlier; men staring out glassy-eyed into the stillness.
It’s past 9.30am and over 90 degrees before I reach the top. The park rangers are politely encouraging trekkers to take their time and make sure that they have enough water – or wait till after four, when the temperatures cool, before making the descent. Each year more helicopter lifts are required on this route than on any other in the national park. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Canyon.
I listen to a seven year old telling her grandfather that she will bring her children here one day. They’ve spent the night camping in the canyon and it was the best experience of her life, she says earnestly. Tom doesn’t go quite that far, but he does tell me that this place is awesome and wonderful. That will do.