Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Grand Canyon

I have to tell you, I haven't been looking forward to writing this piece.

It's all but impossible to describe to you the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Not only that but I'm under a great deal of pressure. I'm told that the ending to my last piece was crap, on top of which I am not feeling at my best today. A weekend of heavy drinking has not helped my already fragile state of mind. I'm not exactly focused, here. If only I were a tortured genius this sort of thing would come naturally. Alas, I'm not. I'm just a balloon with nothing else better to do on a Sunday evening. Sting once said that writing was it's own reward. Sting's a tosser.

So anyway, if you are still there I'll have a go at it. Since the Grand Canyon is situated in Arizona, some 290 miles from Las Vegas, we were on the road early. Our trusty sat nav estimated that the journey would take around four and a half hours. Double that for the return journey, add on any further delays (meals, our leaky bladders etc...) and it is easy to see why we had to be away early. This was going to be an all-dayer, in the non-alcoholic, lots of driving around sense of the term.

We had been told by the rude concierge that the South Rim would offer the best tourist experience. On the West Rim you can find the famous Skywalk, a glass bridge suspended 4,000 feet above the Canyon. Now those of you familiar with my lame attempts at wordsmithery (sorry, I really do detest myself today so you are just going to have to put up with this) will know that I once experienced the glass floor in the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. That is placed some three feet or so above a miniature display of the ancient Viking digs, yet this was enough to make me feel slightly woozy whenever I ventured on to it. So, can you really imagine me pushing around on a glass brige 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon? I really wanted to, but I was utterly convinced that I would get there, pay my $30 or whatever to get on the Skywalk, and then find that I couldn't actually do it.

We chose the South Rim.

The roads between Las Vegas, Nevada and Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona are fairly benign, uneventful territory. There was very little of the winding, mountainous terrain we had to endure on the way to Palm Desert, so let's skip four and a half hours to the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park, where we parked up and had lunch at the McDonalds there. McDonald's get everywhere. We were lucky to get any food whatsoever after Emma ordered our meals, then promptly forgot what ticket number she had been given.

"I gave the receipt to you." she said, incorrectly. Some eight hours later the receipt turned up in her handbag. Who'd have thought it? Anyway, just a few minutes along the road from McDonald is the IMAX cinema, which shows a 34-minute 'presentation' (pronounced pre-zentation) charting the history of the Canyon from the original Native American inhabitants some 4,000 years ago, to the madcap antics of Major John Wesley Powell who began battling the Colorado River to explore the Canyon back in 1869. The actual boat in which he and his crew made their epic journey is on view in the Visitor's Centre just outside the IMAX theatre.

The film leaves you in no doubt as to how treacherous the River was for those trying to explore the Canyon in the middle of the 19th century, and leaves you with more fairground thrills as it takes you on board a modern day white-water raft. In between times there is a fair smattering of death, disappearance and ugly wildlife on view as every aspect of man's relationship with this natural phenomenon is crammed into such a short space of time.

And so to the Canyon itself. Just when you think you are there, you are not. You have to buy your car park passes from the Visitors Centre and drive on another couple of miles to the proper viewing areas. We parked at Yavapai Point, but knew from the map that there was good, fully accessible viewing at Mather Point. Despite the sun beating down on us the whole day, it can get quite windy when you are 6,000 feet above the Canyon. I actually put my jacket back on. Well anyway, sunscreen is such a ballache. We turned on to the main pathway at the edge of the Canyon and Emma stepped over the rocks and dirt to get a closer look and some photographs. I was sat around 20feet back at this point but I could still see the ludicrous majesty of the thing. It would get more eye-opening as we walked along.

It is 1.7 kilometres from Yavapai Point to Mather Point and we took the walk slowly, taking in the breathtaking views along the way. Some strange individuals had seen fit to step out on to the very edge of the Canyon, dangling their legs over the edge as they just sat there, enjoying the spellbinding glory of the place. Like the Skywalk, their endeavours are something that I can only look back upon and wish that I had the brass balls to be able to do. And the wheelchair access, obviously. The IMAX film had led us to believe that we might encounter the odd snake, but instead visible wildlife was restricted to some reasonably sized lizards and great condors, soaring above the rock in the most matter-of-fact manner.

Finally we reached Mather Point, and I got to take my first real close-up look at the Canyon. I can describe it as nothing other than dizzying. And I mean that in both a good and a bad way. At first it fills you with awe, but within a minute or so of looking out over the sheer, vast open-ness of the whole thing I was starting to feel a little bit odd. I got to the point where I wanted my stomach back and actually had to take a push back. I went back for more at regular intervals and I have to tell you that at no point did it get any less bewilderingly beautiful.

We walked just a few kilometres and only stayed on the Canyon for a couple of hours, yet if you are travelling from somewhere a little closer you could easily spend all day there. The Canyon is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, offering plenty of opportunity for walking, hiking, and general exploration of it's magnificence. It really, really has to be seen to be believed.

We got back to Yavapai Point and the car, ready for the long, arduous journey back to Vegas but knowing full well that it had been completely worthwhile.

1 comment:

Sudohnim said...

Am really jealous Ste... all the dizzying shenanigans aside... I'm pleased you got there and it was so awesomely amazing :)