My favorite thing about the aptly named Grand Canyon is that it’s so inconspicuous…
What I mean is that as I drove up route 64 to the east rim, it didn’t look like canyon country. I had expected some kind of increasing visual drama as I approached, like with most dramatic terrain. But no: the landscape leading up to it was as flat and bland as anything I’d seen in west Texas.
Heck, I was actually in the parking lot and I still couldn’t see the damn thing. For something that huge, being so inconspicuous is quite a trick. I had to actually walk past the last row of trees to finally see it. And there it was.
I imagine the early folks who came across it were just making their way along through the brush when suddenly they take a step out onto the edge unexpectedly. After a moment of taking in the astonishing view one of them says to the other, “Well shit.”
I really liked the canyon. Definitely lived up to the hype. I walked up and down the rim for over an hour. My favorite bit was finding a precipice with a slight overhang, crawling out, laying on my belly, and sticking my head out over the edge. I tried this at a few spots and I think it really gives a particularly nice impression. It’s a little like flying, or being disembodied in space or something. No railings, no ledge, not even the familiarity of your own hands or legs visible to ground you. Just… open.
At a particularly comfortable spot I lay like this for maybe 15 minutes, watching hawks or eagles circling below me. Squirrels approached and a fellow tourist said good naturedly “Look at that nut over there on the ledge… hey! The squirrel thinks he’s a nut too!”
I actually got an early start today; after being frustrated at not being able to fall asleep until nearly 3AM, I awoke naturally at 8:30. I shot over to meteor crater quickly. It’s a big hole in the ground.
I don’t want to talk ill of the crater, it is impressive in it’s size and history. But I was a little let down. Perhaps in part because I’d been fantasizing about visiting it since I was a kid. Also perhaps because I saw what I thought was a more impressive volcanic crater a little while back.
Also, the spot isn’t run by the national park or monument services, it’s a private corporation. So rather than the the laid back atmosphere that government establishments seem to engender, this place had a slightly smarmy feel to it. Signs as you approached extolling the virtues of the site, complete with exclamation points. An audio commercial ringing outside by the ticket counter, telling you of all the wonders you’ll see for your $15. Overall, I prefer the take-it-or-leave-it attitude of the US Gov’t run spots. Who says the government can’t do anything right?
But the owners have put a lot of work into the place, and I respect that. The museum is comprehensive and very well done. The crater itself is what it is. It’s really big — round, wide and deep. But it’s just so weathered that looking at any one portion of it just seems like a random desert hill. From the upper deck it is reasonably dramatic.
More interesting to me was learning that until this crater was closely studied early last century, it was believed to be volcanic, as were most large craters. In fact it was this crater that first opened up the idea about large scale meteor impacts, until then the idea was not very much considered. Studies of the crater gave rise to much of our understanding of such collisions. It changed the way we looked at and understood the surface of other planets and moons. So, you know… cool.
Then I drove down to Montezuma’s castle, which I liked very much. You couldn’t get right up close to it like with the Aztec ruins I had seen in NM the day before, but the oddity of such elaborate buildings so high in the cliffs was certainly dramatic, and made me think about how and why those industrious folks would do such a thing, and how they might have lived there for hundreds of years. The museum had some good artifacts, too. Turns out the site actually had nothing to do with the Aztecs or Montezuma; it was made by a people called the Sinagua, ancestors of the modern Hopi tribe. But the English name stuck.
Across the street from the real site is a modern casino done in the motif of the ruin. I figured I owed it to myself to drop by for lunch. It was like every other casino. I had a Cobb salad.
Then I drove up to the Grand Canyon, which I’ve already described. I think I did the sights in the right order; a nice escalation of being impressed and slowly drawn into a consideration of our place in the world.
The immediate Flagstaff area was surprisingly lush to me — I had envisioned all of Arizona as a deserted wasteland, but not so. It’s quite varied. There were lots of deserts, but there was some lovely forest too. The weather around there was absolutely perfect. I started heading home after the canyon. At about four hours, it was an easy drive even after the rest of the day’s exploring.
I crossed the Hoover Dam at around 8:30 PM; they’re building a large bridge over the chasm. It was all lit up and they were working on it as I passed. Looked like quite a job.
When I pulled over the last crest in the hills to look down on the Las Vegas valley, I wondered at the big bowl of light. With all the driving I’d just done, this was still a unique sight along that path. I felt a little sad that the journey was over, but more so I felt glad to be getting home.
Today was Lisa’s last day at Zappos, so we’re both starting some fresh things in our life. We went out and had a killer steak dinner to mark the occasion.