Imperial Ain’t In It

by wjw on July 15, 2008

At the end of our trip we spent two nights at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon in something like thirty years: I went with my dad as a teenager, and some time in the late 1970s there was a LepreCon on the South Rim, and I traveled out with some friends and crashed many-to-a-room.

Things haven’t changed much. Our room was not quite large enough for ourselves and our bags; likewise the bed. The Grand Canyon is not for sleeping anyway, not if you’re dedicated to the gorgeousness of it. Both mornings found me awake at 5:30— a practically unheard-of hour for me— to watch dawn break over the canyon.

The first morning I drove the 15 miles to Cape Royal, a point surrounded on three sides by the canyon. (Kathy decided to view the canyon from the lodge, where she could drink coffee.) The point was covered with sagebrush in bloom, and with other colorful flowers taking full advantage of the North Rim’s short growing season. The far rim of the canyon, fifteen miles away, was already glowing pink as I arrived. As I danced from one vantage point to the next, the sunrise gradually crept down the canyon’s walls, illuminating each geological layer in turn. I documented this with what must have been over a hundred photos. After an hour or so, before sunlight could reach the lower parts of the canyon, the sun went behind clouds, and the walls of the canyon became dull.
I returned to the lodge for breakfast. The North Rim’s HQ is a spacious building with terraces overlooking the canyon, and a dining room with plate windows through which diners can find their inspiration.
I went back to bed. There were showers, and the sun came out in the afternoon, so Kathy and I retraced my steps of the morning. I snapped another hundred pictures from Cape Royal and from Point Imperial, which I hadn’t visited in the morning. The cloud cover was breaking up, and the shadows of dozens of clouds moved across the canyon walls, producing brilliant contrasts and ever-changing subtleties.
The Grand Canyon is so huge that the vista is always changing, even if there’s cloud cover. I snapped a great many pictures trying to document these subtle changes, with little success. In my attempt to chart the changes I created a great many more-or-less identical pictures of formations like the Temple of Vishnu and Wotan’s Throne. (The “heroic style” in which the formations are named is amusing, but more appropriate than a prosaic modern style, where you’d have formations like the Spare Tire and the Cheeseburger.)
Basically I could stare at clouds moving over the canyon all day. If I hadn’t had work to do, and bills to pay, I might still be there.
Leaving the Grand Canyon on Saturday we dropped through the canyon’s formations one-by-one, from the Kaibab Formation at the top through the Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, and Redwall Limestone. For hundreds of miles we passed through vistas of brilliant red cliffs, and drove through towns with descriptive names like Cliff Dwellers, Marble Canyon, Bitter Springs, the Gap, Moenkopi, Tuba City, Kykotsmovi, Shungopavi, Keams Canyon, Steamboat, Ganado, and the capital of the Navajo Nation at Window Rock. (Fans of Tony Hillerman’s novels may recognize some of these locations.) We drove through the Navajo Reservation and onto the Hopi Reservation, and then back into Navajoland once more, moving in time as we went (metaphorically enough, Arizona, the Navajos, and the Hopis all live in different time zones).
Eventually we connected with the Interstate system and the white man’s world at Gallup, and from there it was a swift journey home.
We were nine days away. I think I have seen more natural wonder in this period than I have in any similar period in my life— and add to that Shakespeare and teepee motels.
Mundane life, right now, is providing an unfortunate contrast.
halojones-fan July 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm

“(The “heroic style” in which the formations are named is amusing, but more appropriate than a prosaic modern style, where you’d have formations like the Spare Tire and the Cheeseburger.)”

Indeed. The modern style lacks pretense, but it also lacks ceremony. The Latin names of the Moon’s geography make it sound like a place for exciting adventures. The names of the features at the recent Mars landing sites sound like a bunch of nerds addicted to “Buffy” trying to out-twee each other.

Bruce July 22, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I remember that Grand Canyon LepreCon (1977).Don’t remember you there, though I remember Robert Silverberg showing up with sandals on to find patches of snow still unmelted in shady spots and heavy frosts every morning. (“It’s Arizona! You’re not supposed to need shoes in Arizona….”)

That was also the con where I found out that having sex at 7,000 feet really calls for a threesome: two people and an oxygen tank.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.