Remembering the Desert, Part 4

This is one in a series of entries recounting the 2009 trip that Phil Rose and I took to the desert.  We are hoping to fund another such trip; for more details or to help out, please check out our Kickstarter.  The beautiful photography present in these posts is courtesy of my friend, the very talented Phil Rose.

The Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon.

After leaving the Navajo Nation, we were finally on our way to the South Rim.  We were really itching to see this hole in the ground, since we’d been turned away at the north rim and had to drive around the thing.  I remember we reached the high country on the Colorado Plateau for the second time, and everything turned back into pinyon forest.  I guess I expected us to be at the canyon very soon after that transition, but it seemed to take a really long time to actually get there.  Of course, a part of that was the fact that, in true Phil and Allison fashion, we stopped about every twenty minutes to check out something that looked beautiful… the Grand Canyon is surrounded with smaller canyons and creeks, like the legs of a millipede.  Eventually we realized that if we were going to reach our destination, we’d have to stop pausing to photograph every little canyon and vista that presented itself.  Such a problem; a glut of beauty.

I think it was twenty dollars to enter the park and then another twenty to camp.  We drove down a long lane to the campsite.  The landscape on either side was a closely maintained pine forest, with bare, grassy ground beneath the trees, and widely spaced straight, clean trunks.  Forests are a tangle where I come from, but my impression was that here they cleared underbrush regularly to reduce the chances of a fire.

The campsites were clean, but not particularly large or private.  It felt constraining to me after all of the backwoods and BLM camping we’d done so far.  There were sweet little ground squirrels with stripes down their backs… there are actually two different species of ground squirrels here; one on the south rim and one on the north rim.  Their common ancestor was so completely divided by the canyon and the Colorado river that they became distinct from one another.  There were also huge, fat ravens, birds the size of rugby balls.  This was a delight to me; I don’t think I’d seen actual honest-to-god ravens since I’d left Alaska.

We paid a brief visit to the rim, took some photos and gasped at the teenage boys dangling their legs over the edge.  The Grand Canyon is really a monstrous thing.  I know it seems very touristy, but it really is something that you should see before you die.  I remember looking down in to the mouth of this thing, and between the really incomprehensible scale and the sheer quantity of banded rock descending into the depths, I felt a moment of disorientation, when I couldn’t tell up from down or near from far.  That is how big this hole in the ground is.

We ate a hasty dinner from my cast iron skillet of canned ravioli and some ground beef that had been in the cooler for longer than I would’ve liked.  It had grit in it… the wind was strong on the plateau and it was impossible to keep the sand out of anything.  I ate it anyway, knowing that if it got thrown away I would lament the waste and go to bed with the hollow feeling of an empty stomach.

We were racing the sun at this point… we bundled up and rushed back out to the rim.  We photographed the canyon in the fading sun, and still more after nightfall.  We took one of the free shuttle buses along the rim.  It was cold;  I remember I had packed a load of desert wear, with some layers, but nothing to deal with the forty degree temperatures.  I was in two pair of flannel pajamas, a sweatshirt, two pairs of socks and my sneakers, and I believe I had a bathrobe on over the lot.  I’m sure I looked like a crazy person out on that windswept cliff at night while Phil took photos.  I didn’t care.

It was a relief, though, to climb out of the wind and into my sleeping bag.  In the morning we would take a couple more photos, but move on early, the exhilaration of this place exhausted… but when we left, I took with me the smell of ponderosa pine bark… the smell of vanilla and butterscotch.

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