CANYON OF CONTRASTS

October 03, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi

expansive view from Point Imperial showing numerous buttes, peaks and ridgelines within Grand Canyon with the level Painted Desert off in the distance.

From Point Imperial on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we can see pretty much the whole 235 miles we drove to get here, a great semicircle of the Southwest. It's hard to exaggerate the astounding variety of geology and biology, climate and history, this overlook encompasses.

Across the canyon on the South Rim, it's central Arizona. The sun beats on the sparse Pinyon/Juniper forest. Between the short gnarled trees grow a prickly, spiky variety of bushes. Even among the Ponderosas, there is open space;they each need their own sunlight. The sensation, to an Easterner, is of a landscape teetering on the edge of disaster. Just a few weeks without rain, it says, and we'll pack it in and dry up for good. False, of course –the doggone trees have been there for a thousand years.

Colors range from assorted tans to the myriad yellow and red hues of the canyon. To the east, those colors are multiplied, from the Painted Desert past the Echo Cliffs and across the Vermilion Cliffs. The relentless light presses down, and heat rising from the gorge of the river shimmers. One hundred degrees is just a normal day. Caught between the two is to feel weight. It's like wearing a cement sombrero. No place to hide.

To drive along the Echo Cliffs, down and across the Navaho Bridge, is to follow a road from prehistory. The earliest Native Americans, followed eventually by the Spanish explorers, all made their way to the only crossing place on the Colorado River. Without air conditioning and at much less than 65 miles an hour, this was a long hot trail, and the sweet sight of the out of reach Kaibab Plateau, where we now stand, teased one all the way.

The South Rim from here is a silent fuzzy line –we can't hear the buses and trains in the Village. We can't hear the voices from the thousands of day-trippers, frantic to see the Grand Canyon in a short few hours. All that noise is blessedly far away. We don't miss the sense of constant motion and stress, or the smells of machines.

At Point Imperial, the only odor is that of pine needles and forest duff. The soft sounds are made by juncos scratching in the needles and sometimes a grumpy squirrel. The absolute absence of noise past the cliff's edge somehow has volume, gravitas. It speaks to us, without words, of our own insignificance.

Colors here are themselves cool. Not just green, but every shade of green up to and including black. Deep shadows are made of jade and verdigris, onyx and indigo. Now, at 8800 feet, we are in effect among the boreal forest of Canada. Thick and soft, the Fir and Spruce forest and the grass meadows transmit calmness. A modicum of darkness is comforting. One senses that life-giving rain cannot be far away in such a place. Indeed, on the drive in here, it hailed and poured for an hour.

The visitors get around in personal vehicles, or on foot, at the North Rim, not on buses and trains. Because of the distance it takes to arrive, most of them stay long enough to mellow out. We fell into another amusing contrast here –after luxurious Lodge meals that included Ahi, duck, and bacon-wrapped figs, we holed up in a Ranger cabin with a single bed. I slept on the floor on a camp pad.

Fifteen miles as the Condor soars, but a mile of altitude and the equivalent of a thousand miles of latitude have passed beneath our wheels. Under the infinite dome of azure sky lies an open space the size of Connecticut. It's like standing on a hill and seeing from Boston to New York, with the canyon a barrier dividing Red Sox fans from Yankee fans. 

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This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource. These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016

Last updated: October 3, 2016

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