The car nosed its way onto the narrow road, and my heart sank into my stomach. The “road” in question was a thin ribbon of faded asphalt that made its subsistent path along the spine of a jagged ridge that protruded abruptly from an equally-harsh valley, the bottom of which couldn’t be seen. The idea that cars actually drove on this road seemed ludicrous when we nearly scraped mirrors with a driver going the opposite way.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Unfolding before us was a primal landscape of Southwestern glory, pink and red-tinged canyon walls resonating with the afternoon sun. Shoving my cliff anxiety aside and replacing it with heart-tingling awe, I took out my camera and captured the landscape. This was the land where cattle wandered from the herd and died, their bones bleaching stark white; where cowboys roamed under the blazing orange sun; where the conquistadores sought silver and turquoise; where natives channeled ages-old spirit guides, like Coyote and Kokopelli. My God, this was the American Southwest!
My waxing nostalgic continued through the day, until we pulled into Tropic, Utah. If the Southwest was God’s Country, then this was the town He’d forgotten. A stay in a clap-trap motel stirred my father to write a scathing review on the Internet, a strong reaction from a man un-opined on most everything. After a frigid continental breakfast with French tourists, we left the town — the settlement, really — in the dust on our way to the Grand Canyon.
The day saw travel through the low country, driving along the valleys we’d previously skirted miles above. The little canyons of the Southwest are beautiful gems sometimes lost amidst tales of the epic craggy rock faces. Tiny streams babble along orange rocks, bringing life to verdant stands of small trees and lush grasses.
My father had prudently chosen to visit the less-populated North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Masses of foreign tourists flock to the South Rim for its postcard-perfect vistas and better amenities, but its northern counterpart is just as lovely — if not more so — due to the smaller crowds. We secured a site in a spacious campground populated by tall pines, Kaibab Squirrels, and German travelers. After placing a dinner order of pizza at the lodge’s café, we explored the grounds of the main village. The lodge itself was magnificent, containing a grand dining hall and a sitting room with breathtaking picture windows, built in the rustic style of similar edifices in the 1920s.
It was from the sitting room that I first saw the Grand Canyon itself; the sun was setting, casting a marvelous pink dusk over the incomprehensible void of the canyon and the enclosing orange rock. Pictures do no justice to that incomparable depth; miles upon miles of layered canyonland, threaded by the green Colorado River—which, at that distance, seemed insignificant. Tomorrow, we would go nearer, hiking in the protection of the morning sun, but for now, a roaring campfire awaited us.
I don’t know if everyone feels this, but I can’t get a sense of something’s size until I actually behold it. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, I felt like a speck on an unexplored planet. Seeing that unfathomable depth humbled me; looking across the divide to distant vistas painted with brilliant colors and shaped only by time and God, reminded me that we humans are the inferior architects. Nothing we design can ever stack up to the work of ages, and the great architects — sun, rain, wind… The American Southwest makes me feel utterly insignificant — but given its splendor, perhaps that is its purpose.
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