September 11, 2017
Before I even begin walking down the stone steps that lead onto the overlook I can hear the conversation ahead, and a bit more disappointment sets in. The SUV in the dirt parking area was evidence I wouldn’t be alone, but from the voices it’s clear that there are more than one or two people here. This is the sixth or seventh trip I’ve made to this semi-secret spot on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and it has started to feel like my personal property. Though it is of course public, part of the National Park, there are few visitors who have the time, energy, and knowledge to hike a two mile round trip to see the same canyon they can see from the bus. Of an average of ten thousand Park tourists a day, perhaps a half dozen find their way here - and usually not so early in the morning.
If you know whereof I write, you won’t have to be cautioned to let this location remain tranquil. If you don’t, ask me and I may share the directions anyway - if I like you. One of the special attributes of the Grand Canyon is the fact that this vast open space contains no sound but the wind. There are few places remaining in civilization where that’s true, and most of the south rim is included in that sad category. Unlike the dozens of named Points on the Park Map frequented by those thousands of chattering camera-centric humans, this site with its 280 degree view makes us want to whisper to each other, even to wish we came alone. As I thought I would be today.
The group clusters on the very edge of the cliff, some with arms around each other, one tightly holding the hand of a small child. Down in the inner gorge it is still cool and dark. Pastel blues in lower parts of the canyon are slowly giving way to the day’s blinding reds and yellows. The family faces out across ten miles of nothing but serenity and dry desert wind, to where Cape Royal on the North Rim guards Wotan’s Throne and Vishnu Temple. I have to admit, the conversation is muted, and they look like nice folks.
The mile long walk to this spot, a gradual uphill, is full of life. The forest is mixed Ponderosas and the Pinyon/Juniper community, sharing this altitude. Birds sing constantly. Once an old and ornery Bull Elk gave us pause; once a flicker of movement below my feet turned out to be a baby Horned Lizard, tiny and tubby. Walking through the woods is part of my DNA, probably has been since my ancestors walked out of Africa, ready to take on the northern hemisphere. Upright on two straight legs, I see the world as a predator does. Yet I feel vulnerable too. This is Cougar territory. I’m not in charge here. Was it Ed Abbey who, when asked to describe Wilderness called it “anyplace where there are large mammals that can kill and eat you”? There is death here as much as life; we all get dealt the pair. Ante up, gents. Burnt trees illustrate fires past, ravens cackle out of my sight, and above the canyon Turkey Vultures endlessly circle.
Solitude nurtures philosophical musing. Found here and there on deserted Arctic island are manmade cairns of rocks called “inukshuk,” shaped like humans. Built long ago by Inuit travelers, they are perhaps signposts, billboards, road maps. A poignant guess as to meaning, though, is that they signal “I was here, too”. Thus a lost hunter, finding one and not finding a nearby skeleton, can conclude that he is not the first guy to be trapped here, and there is a way home if he can just find it. The most common inukshuk is a simple vertical rock standing up in the landscape, tall and erect as only the human race is.
There is one right here. The huge upright boulder on this Grand Canyon point is only a dramatic natural feature, yet it reminds me of that human-created symbol. We desire our lives to have meaning, as they can seem short and painful, and we often see meaning in the geological features of the planet as well as other places where it is not there. Each of us walks alone. Nevertheless we are inspired by a vision of community in which we hold each other’s hand on this path we all travel.
I sit down by this tall and ancient landmark, respecting that the group before me was here first. I’ll step out to the edge of the precipice only after they have had their fill of wind and stone and light. It takes just a few minutes before I realize they are spreading ashes across the timeless silent void. The picture becomes clear. Somebody else loved this place the way I do, made the request of family to end up here, and I suspect it comforted him or her in their last days. Promises were made with love, promises are being kept. Whatever else we may be, we’re all children of the Earth. I share a sad smile and nod with one of the mourners, then stay back, sacrificing my own blessing for theirs. And I leave after a few minutes of quiet prayer.
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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 2017
Last updated: September 11, 2017