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Time in the Canyon

Before the field trip, a photograph on the front of an Arizona

Highways magazine represented the Grand Canyon in my mind. A

perfect shot of the canyon dressed in its winter coat of pure white snow.

Or a summer photo of the canyon kneeling before the angry front of an

approaching storm. The image of the Canyon and nature intermingle to

create the perfect snapshot of a time and a place that exists only to be

admired from afar. Neither truly captures the exquisite natural beauty of

rock layered red upon brown upon beige and the breath-taking expanse

of the canyon itself. The Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the

World, exists in my backyard.

The trip to the Grand Canyon started out like any other trip—a

crisp fall morning, black coffee, and a gathering of people with a

destination in mind. The first part of the journey began on the highway

leading out of the metropolitan Phoenix area. The low deserts, dressed in

scruffy green bushes, emerge outside the city limits and cover the rolling

mountain slopes along our path. The conversation inside the van

mirrored the landscape whizzing past the windows—light and airy.

A light smattering of outpost cafes, trading posts and secluded

homes stood out amid the desert greenery. With the exception of a

cinder mine and a gravel pit, the mountainsides survived man’s

thumbprint unmarred. Forested countryside soon replaced the low

desert shrubbery. The rise in elevation indicated our ascent from the

valley floor onto the high plateau. The air began to turn crisp and cool

replacing the pleasant warmth of the ASU West parking lot. Anticipation

and saddle soreness fueled the need to just get there.

The Canyon, at an elevation of 7000 feet, encompasses nearly 217

miles of Northern Arizona. The temperature in the canyon ranges from

50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to a chilly 0 to 20 degrees

Fahrenheit in the winter. A welcome change from the stifling heat of the

southern desert valley we call home.

After entering the National Park the Canyon Express’ first stop was

the look out area at the South Kaibab Trail. A footpath on a bluff to the

east of the lookout point seemed to start from nowhere and end up in the

same place. A small stretch of the Colorado River could be seen from our

vantage point. A light smattering of snow deposited the night before still

lay on the ground

The view struck me as being unreal as if I were viewing a painting

within a painting. Muted color stacked upon color all following the same

line broken by sheer cliffs yet unbroken by time and distance. Vivid

shades of earthy red interspersed with layers of ancient brown seemed to

leap from the canyon walls, creating a living snapshot of time seen

through the viewfinder of an Olympus camera and forever imprinted on a

tiny brain cells hidden within the canyons of my mind.

Light colors of lime or sandstone and the top layer of dark gray

earth against a pale blue cloudless sky expose their essence for a view

a pale blue cloudless sky expose their essence for a view finder—click another photograph. The straight

finder—click another photograph. The straight edges of the canyon mesa

tops are captured in a millisecond, a picture of God in the mist of


Looking, quietly across the expanse of the canyon is like looking

back through time. Imagine the same scene viewed by the first person

that stood on that very same spot perhaps thinking, “How great thou

art.” The shadows of time creep slowly down the side of the canyon walls

toward the undulating canyon floor. Dusty reds morph into dark browns

and light greens into light browns as time marches across the distances

from plateau to plateau.

Down in the canyon below the cliffs far from the milling crowd the

IMAX camera captures life on the Colorado River. The IMAX experience

was high impact in-your-face excitement. The river speaks. The river,

ageless and timeless, coursing through the heart of the canyon calling

out with a voice all it’s own as the muddy brown waves splash, churn,

break, roar, and then lounge at the screen.

Shadows fall on the canyon walls obscuring its secrets yet untold,

then we are soaring high and higher up over the towering cliffs then

plunge down, down to the surface of the smooth water again all while

sitting in a darken theater. The dramatic water scenes and the eye-

popping fly-over scenes sent my stomach into depths deeper than the

canyon itself still.

The breath-taking beauty of the canyon translated well onto the

large IMAX screen; however, the film version falls short when compared

to a view of the pale blue sky as it disappears behind one multicolored

plateau. The quiet voice of the canyon riding upon a frigid gentle breeze

calls out to all who listen. The colors muted by distance and haze come

to life under the gaze of an appreciating eye. Film can not capture the

smell of pine scented air and the cool breeze wafting out of the canyon.

The cold rocks and the squirrel that seemed to follow me around added

to the real feel of the canyon.

The story of the canyon lies in the layers upon layers of jeweled

colored rock—ruby reds and emerald greens. At the South Rim lodge a

bright urgent red springs from the earth up through the subdued browns

that surrounds it. The lifeblood of the canyon seeps through here and

screams life. A squirrel skitters over the cold beige rocks. I wonder if

he’s looking for food or just checking out his visitors. A fellow tourist

poses for my camera. He says he’s is Mr. America, 1922. I think he’s

just another part of humanity in the landscape.

On the drive to the observatory, the Canyon walls were visible at

times through the trees like a postcard framed by the window of the van.

Trees, tall and short, with golden leaves that hint of sunlight wave their

hello in the traffic breeze. Thick woods of old growth probably

undisturbed by man are living along the synthetic road like sentinels

guarding the secrets of the ages. The road crawls higher and higher and

then gently slopes downward only to begin the climb again.

On the way home, the jagged cliff faces of the canyon walls appear.

The land is flat and then drops off like a giant maw stretching across the

landscape. Zigzagged pieces of green topped earth separated by beige

and brown cliff faces--pieces daring you to fit them back together again.

At milepost 290 strange rocks flake off the side of a small hill. The

rock formation like shaved chocolate lay on the side of the mountain as if

placed there for artist value. Finally, scenes of man’s permanent

thumbprint on the landscape come into view--an empty fruit stand the

color of turquoise sits on the roadside. Further ahead steel towers stand

silently atop gentle rolling hills announcing humanities arrival as the sun

dips behind the earth.

The Grand Canyon looms larger than a photograph on the cover of

an Arizona Highways magazine or a towering image on an IMAX screen.

The tourists, the squirrels, the dizzying heights and beautiful colored

rock all combine to give the canyon life, a small bit of the life I captured

on film, in these words, and in my heart.

Written for college credit back in the day by sassy.baz AKA