2019 Fall Gateway

mcaywood

came from a Scoutmaster who told me, “I don’t even take

boys on hikes that long until they were well into their teens.

What are you thinking taking two girls?”

He was sure my son would be fine, but my girls?

In true Edward Abbey fashion, all I could think was that he

wished for our trails to be “crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous

leading [us] to the most amazing view[s].”

And so, we went despite my uneasiness.

Truth be told, those naysayers had weaseled their way into

my head. Sure, I had purchased the best hiking boots and gear

money could buy and we carried more water than we could

drink on that journey, but it was hot, dry, and I was way out

of my comfort zone. The rest of my family - my cousins and

aunts - had walked ahead of us and now, as dusk slowly made

her way into the canyon, shadows from the smallest pebble or

bush appeared high up on the canyon walls -walls taller than

the Empire State Building- a realization that it was just me,

my three children, and the canyon. The Grand Canyon.

Now, decades later, I find myself on a bench just outside

the back doors of the Visitors Center at the

North Rim. The blistering sun feels hot on my skin

and beads of sweat trickle down my spine. Leaning back in

my chair I rest my feet on the stone wall built by members of

the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933, a huge undertaking.

On the South Rim, if you look closely at the wall

you will find a stone, shaped like a heart, installed by a CCC

worker in 1935 for his Harvey Girl Sweetheart (a hotel waitress).

Legend says they were married in that very spot a few

years later. Pondering this love story, I took a drink from

my water bottle and then raised the bottle over my head and

poured it down my back, sending chills down my spine leaving

me refreshed from my day hike along the edge of the canyon

rim.

As I sat there staring into the abyss of the grandest canyon

in the world the air seemed to once again soften with clouds

tumbling in from the distance and in this rare weather phenomena,

fog began to fill the canyon stopping just shy of the

rim’s edge. The clouds, fluffy and frothy in appearance gave

us the illusion that we could simply walk across them to the

other side of the canyon.

Air temperatures typically cool as it moves higher into the

Earth's atmosphere, yet during one of these rare inversion

events, “a layer of warm air traps cool air and moisture closer

to the ground, preventing it from dissipating as it normally

would, resulting in a total cloud inversion. It is said to be such

a rarity that most people don’t ever see it in their lifetime. I

walked back inside the visitor’s center past the bronze statue

of Brighty - a most legendary burro - stroking his nose for

luck and turned the corner into the restaurant where I stopped

in my tracks.

That moment hung in the air much like the fog in the canyon and

I recalled my first trip to the Grand Canyon where I sat in the chair

at the corner table by the window as a child, staring into the canyon

when suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, the clouds rolled and

tumbled into the canyon filling it with marshmallow clouds.

My mother seemed giddy at the moment, my dad took photos,

and then we just sat together staring out the window, sipping our hot

chocolate. I didn’t realize it at the time what a rare event I was privy

to see; neither did my parents but it was one of those moments where

the canyon etched itself into your memory, never to be forgotten.

John Wesley Powell said, “You cannot see the Grand Canyon in

one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain

might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil from month to month

through its labyrinths.”

Even then you may not fully see it at all. For it is rare, wild, and

much of it untouched. Unexplored even. For it is the Grand Canyon.

Fully wild and in the words of Wallace Stegner, “We simply

need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than

drive to its edge and look in.”

32 Gateway to Canyon Country

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