The first time I visited the Grand Canyon was on a freezing cold morning after a long road trip from Phoenix the night before. I wasn’t prepared for what I would see, as the sun started to rise and the pinks and blues of the canyon rock appeared. Tears formed in my eyes while in front of me, I tried to comprehend the vastness of the steep walls. I was alone that morning and wished that I had been with someone to share the overwhelming experience. Years later, I insisted my husband go. He was also moved to tears when he saw it for the first time. Last week, I got to take my sister-in-law and her daughter for their first glimpse of what is known as “The Vault of Heaven.”
It’s impossible to describe the canyon, though I tried for hours in the car before we arrived. At the Grand Canyon Village, it’s a mile deep and ten miles across. You feel the smallness of your life and the greatness of God at the Grand Canyon. It’s a wilderness and a sanctuary all at the same time. Everyone I know who has seen the Grand Canyon has described it as a spiritual experience.
You are shocked at how close you can come to animals. We saw a raven, chipmunk, squirrel, and mule deer. You’re also thrilled that you can make a trip to the park anything you want it to be. If you have several days, you can take a ride down by mule and spend the night at Phantom Ranch. It’s also a dream of many to camp on the floor of the canyon, though I have no desire to fight the elements or rest on a rock bed. I plan to check into the El Tovar on my next trip! I would love to go whitewater rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, but I hear that takes months of planning and reservations that are next to impossible to get. So, I am content to walk the South Rim and enjoy the view of this great natural wonder while I scare myself and my traveling companions because I like to get too close to the edge. It’s probably the last public place in America where you can take whatever risk you want to. Most trails don’t have a ledge or rail. That adds to the beauty of the wilderness that is the park.
There are only a few structures at the rim of the Grand Canyon and each is special and fits the landscape like it was part of the master plan. The Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio both look like they could crumble into the canyon with one more step of a visitor. The views they offer are stunning and it’s hardly offensive that both now sell photography books and trinkets to tourists. Same for the Hopi House where the trinkets are more expensive and even more beauitful.
My niece, Rebecca Durden, was asked to bring a rock home from the Grand Canyon by her boyfriend. We searched and searched for the perfect rock, but that’s like trying to find the perfect grain of sand on Destin Beach — it’s just not possible. You’re afraid that if you remove one, the whole south rim might collapse into the river. And, if it’s not against the law to remove rocks from the Grand Canyon, it ought to be. Every rock goes together to form the perfect beauty that visitors enjoy.
I bought a book on my first visit titled The Grand Canyon: The Vault of Heaven. There is a beautiful story in it about a man who spends a summer as a volunteer picking up litter and repairing trails. In the end, he found this:
“This was the Canyon’s gift to him, as it is to all of us: it teaches us to accept what we think is impossible. It stirs our imaginations, assuring us that the world is full of glorious possibilities. Under its influence we become like children, enchanted by both the tiny and the splendid all around us. Grand Canyon tests the character of all who seek to know it well. With its steep walls, extremes of temperature, and thin, dry air, it challenges us literally body and soul. As we struggle up its rocky trails in the hot sun, gasping for air and water, the Canyon’s magnificence and utter indifference humble us. It is an archetype of the natural world; in the words of the poet Keats: a “vale of soul-making.”