Visiting a Big Ditch: An Evening in Grand Canyon National Park
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARIZONA—Of all the wonders that Teddy Roosevelt laid his eyes on in his life, he was most impressed with a large hole in the ground, the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt had long heard stories from Rough Riders, ranchers, and frontiersmen, a kind of man with which he felt a special kinship, about the wonders of the Grand Canyon and how there was no place like it on the earth.
Upon visiting, he declared that it was “the most wonderful scenery in the world”, quickly enacting legislation to protect this large hole in the ground. In the abstract, it’s really not that impressive. It’s a large, grand, canyon. It’s a big ditch. You drive up to it and you think huh, am I going to be a bit disappointed by the time I look over the rim? Is the Grand Canyon something that I can see on the approaching roadway, much like Mt. Rushmore, which is visible from the parking lot? Where part of the wonder of the experience is diluted when you can see what you came to see from your car?
The Grand Canyon is at least twenty to thirty miles off the “main road”. It’s a deceptively long ride as you wind through the forest of Kaibab trees, not exactly what you’d expect next to the Grand Canyon, which I envision as a strictly desert environment. Yet Kaibab trees are all over the place. It makes you feel as if you’re driving into a different world, approaching this big ditch.
When I finally get to the Grand Canyon, it has an element of sensationalism to it. You pull into the parking lot, and there are tons of people milling about with cameras, water bottles, large floppy sun hats, grandmothers, children, mothers, fathers, Germans, Asians, and people like myself. Everyone here to see the Grand Canyon. It’s late afternoon, so the light is still harsh, but you can tell it’s about to reach that magical hour, especially at the Grand Canyon, a place with its peaks, troughs, shadows, and harsh colors, you can really appreciate when the sun begins to go down.
The traditional tourist overlook on the south rim, near the watchtower, is rather uninspiring. It’s a cool shot to take with your camera phone, but you walk up to the edge, you look off in the distance and you see the Colorado River snaking through the gorge. It’s cool, but it’s not that cool. You didn’t climb from the valley up to the top of the rim to reward yourself with this view. It’s not like a mountain where once you summit you realize you’re the only person up there, and you’re seeing something that you really have to work hard to be able to get. Since you drive to the edge of the Grand Canyon, there’s a little bit less of that spectacle of having earned that incredible view.
Walk down the rim trail though, and your thoughts start to change. The sun dips below the horizon, and golden hour begins. When you walk down into less populated places, you take note of the vegetation that grows around the canyon rim, certainly not something I expected in the desert-like environment. Electric green vegetation creeps right up to the edge of the canyon. Getting off the trail and going onto some of the overlooks sneaking out, you find yourself peering into the depths and realizing that wow, this canyon is actually a mile deep.
This isn’t something that you can just descend and ascend in an afternoon. It’s a hike that would require serious effort—maybe even danger. Sitting at the edge of the lip of the canyon makes you appreciate just how big the Grand Canyon really is. How it was formed by years and years of a river running through, washing away rock, sediment, and plant life to see what it is we see today,. It’s two hundred miles long. I’m standing at just one small, tiny little strip, representing just one small, tiny little view in this grandest of canyons. Sure, it’s a big hole in the ground. But it’s so much more than that.
Everywhere I’ve visited in the southwest really does make me think about earth’s geological formation and how the earth got where it is today: that’s where the real value lies in the Grand Canyon and other places like it. It makes you appreciate how we are one, we are a part of this earth. We are not the sole beings—there are places that have been here long before us, and will be here long after us. These are the kind of thoughts that you find yourself thinking as you stare at this massive hole in the ground, and you can certainly see why T.R. resolved to save this national treasure as soon as he saw it.