April 18, 2012: Grand Canyon
We wake from restful sleep and, after a quick hostel breakfast of instant oatmeal and orange, we are on the road again, bound for the Grand Canyon. After driving for just over an hour and a half, we follow the signs to a large parking lot on the Canyon’s south rim, park Dixie for the day, and step into the cool morning breeze - a breeze we don’t mind as it makes the heat of the day more bearable.
It takes us awhile to orient ourselves and, though we know we are only steps away from the Canyon (the maps tell us so), we are, as of yet, untouched by its grandiosity and mostly concerned with eating enough food and transporting enough water on our hike down the South Kaibab Trail.
We shuttle to a cafeteria, eat some greasy pizza (me) and some veggie chili (L) and fill our bottles with fresh spring water. Then, before hitting the trail, we decide to take a peak at the Canyon itself. It is better, we feel, to see the Canyon from above, to get a glimpse of the “big picture” before descending into its gaps and crevices and experiencing it from within.
We make our way to Mather Point, just a few steps away from the Visitor Center, anticipating something great (surely, the Grand Canyon is great) but unsure of what, exactly, awaits us.
One step, two steps, three steps, four…and then we are there, standing on one of the many edges of the Grand Canyon, looking out into a vast sea of peaks and valleys, limitless slopes and infinite gullies – a wilderness of rocks, chiseled and shaped over millions of years into the astonishing scene before us.
There are no words big enough to describe this, no way to properly verbalize the internal pirouettes taking place inside both of us. “Oh my God” is repeated again and again as we scan the vista before us, feeling a hint of vertigo and lightheadedness. “It doesn’t even look real,” says L, in an enchanted voice reminiscent of childhood.
She is right. It doesn’t look real. It looks like a sweeping painting – a man-made fabrication, aimed at deceiving those souls foolish enough to think it true. And it is impossible, we realize, to see the "big picture." The Canyon can only be looked at in sections for it is too huge for human eyes (and, possibly, human hearts) to take in all at once. We stand in awe, mouths gaping open, and snap pictures of each other, trying hard to smile through our feelings of disbelief and utter wonder.
After a time (hours?) of admiring the view (it is so much more than “a view”), we shake ourselves free of the Canyon’s mesmerizing pull and hop on the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Although some people choose to experience the Canyon from the many lookout points scattered for miles along various roads, we are determined to leave Dixie behind and to explore it on foot, to feel what it feels like to be inside of it, cradled in the belly of this colossal thing, place, being.
We hike. From the South Kaibab Trailhead to Cedar Ridge – a hike of moderate difficulty, lasting between 3 to 5 hours (we do it in 4). The hike thrusts us into a world of staggering beauty and, as the light starts to change in early-afternoon, the crests and ridges and colours become more distinct and real, less illusory, and all-the-more (if you can believe it) breathtaking. We take off layers, put on hats, and trek along the unobstructed switchback. The trail is not crowded, but we do cross paths with other hikers who smile a knowing smile, one that seems to say, “Just look at where we are right now. Just look at where we are.” And look we do, stopping every few minutes to breathe in the stunning landscape of which we are now a part.
At Cedar Ridge, we find a spot in which to sit, reflect, write, and have a little snack. We do not talk much; this is not a place for talking. It is a place for listening to the circling windsong and to the deepest silence I have ever known.
Blackbirds (ravens?) sweep and soar above and below us, their bodies gliding on the nothingness that is everything that separates the Canyon crags. I am enthralled by these birds – by the effortless way they fall and rise again, carried on the wind, barely moving their wings.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Free is how I feel at this particular moment. Free and young and in love and in awe, as well as very small (in size) and very big (in power), amidst the mighty rocks.
After some time of quiet contemplation, the energy shifts and L and I both feel it is time to stand up again and make our way out of the Canyon. Canyons, unlike mountains, require you to first hike down and then up and out, reversing the usual order of things. Up and out we go, legs and lungs burning, propelled by the sun, the wind, the very spirit of the place.
At the top, we hug and the blackbirds swoop and swirl above us, as though they, too, are rejoicing in our hike.
The rest of the day consists of more mind-numbing vistas, of shared bewilderment, and of sunset viewing, through a cloudy sky, from Yavapai Point.
We drive back to our hostel, encounter some deer (elk?) along the road, and vow to get up in the middle of the night (in a few hours, actually) and make our way back to the Canyon for sunrise.
We fall into bed, I set my alarm for 2:50am, and before my eyes close I feel the weight of my heart inside my chest – it is so full, so satiated, pumping blood through my body, feeding my tired muscles, fuelling my wildest dreams.