You think you know what grand means before you see it. People think they understand wide open places and the size and breadth of things. But when you lay eyes upon it, the sheer magnitude and beauty of a hole in the ground can completely overturn your reality. The human brain struggles to fit that much carved land into its vision. It tries to squeeze the sky down and compress it all into something that can be processed and fathomed. Grand is a fitting name, if only when looking at photographs. But by truly being there, it seems like there is no better word to use. That language falls short and is barely adequate to describe the majesty and mystery of the place.
Looking out from the rim most of what you see is dry and tan; Orange and red stone and stubborn rocks. The Sun bakes everything and greedily sucks up any drop of moisture. There seems to be no life. But below in the shade cast from the lip of the canyon, mighty fir trees rise from the cliff side. They cunningly grasp on and refuse to wither away, taunting the Sun to burn ever brighter.
And further down still, springs begin to appear, then tiny creeks, then tumbling tributaries, and finally the mighty Colorado. An ancient craftsman and carver who, mitigated by dams and droughts, continues to whittle his way through the landscape. Ever downwards he chisels, bringing life giving waters, while growing ever closer to the fiery hellish core of the Earth.
Here more than anywhere else the currents of the world are visible. The native peoples of the Hopi tribe called this place: Ongtupqa. They believed that the land was holy and connected to their destinies. That it contained both the forces of life: rain, health, fertility. And the presence of death necessary to maintain the balance of the world. In an endless cycle of life, quietus, and rebirth, their paths pulsed and waned with the quickening and diminishing of the land.
The animals too sense the order of things; bound to their natures. Scanning falcons and scavenging condors glide on the hot jets of air that rise out of the sweltering middle of the canyon. One searches for scurrying, living prey and the other for an already pre-made meal. Elk roam the hills and explore for patches of grass to feed on, and mountain lions spy from hidden alcoves waiting for the chance to make their next move.
The stars and sky sense it too.
As the Sun sets, the clouds and the cool of the night rush in, bringing with them respite and rain. Lightning flashes miles away and then thunderstorms are upon you in an instant. The once clear blue sky is replaced by crimson and gray, lit up by streaks of white-hot bolts. Your hair stands on end with the sudden charge in the atmosphere, reminding you that you are the highest point in the landscape, like a lightning ride.
But only one misstep away from plummeting down and down and down.
If “grand” is not word enough then maybe striking is. Like the lightning strikes. Or maybe imposing. Or resplendent with all the colors of the earthen rainbow. —The Resplendent Canyon –I can’t decide if that fits better.
I have a postcard from there of an oil painting to help me remember the strangeness of it all. In it the shaded cliffs are rust-colored, nearly purple, and the sunbeams highlight the pillars and crannies up high. The background turns to a haze of blue as the sides stretch into the distance beyond eyesight. On the back it reads, “Mythical paradise lives in the divine natural wonders of the Grand Canyon”. Perhaps mythical can describe what it’s like to someone who hasn’t seen it. Maybe a person could grasp its potency if they knew it as the birthplace of some creation story. If it was the rift left behind from a battle between giants.
This place is supernatural. Maybe the Hopi were right, and this land is divine.