Snapshots: 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 1

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.

2

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

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 grandeur. 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,

3

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 eyepopping 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

4

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

5

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

6