ROUND THE WORLD WALKABOUT
Part 7. Bryce Canyon
September 11th, 2001.
Disturbing news is quietly filtering through on the bus radio.
Explore have a policy not to allow broadcasts through the vehicle because it leads to disagreement among the passengers. But Manu has surreptitiously turned the radio on, and he is fiddling with the dials now. Jane is half-heartedly trying not to let us hear it. I happen to be in the front seat. Others behind me are listening intently to their walkmans. Every station is broadcasting the same story.
We arrive at Rubys General Store in Bryce Canyon shopping centre, and people are crowding around a TV listening to the radio, or talking urgently on their mobiles and in phone booths. The pictures on TV are like scenes from a thriller film as America reels under the shock of the four-plane hi-jack bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. There is no more light-hearted cheeriness; only subdued, sympathetic half-smiles and expressive eyes saying it all. Nothing will be the same again.
We are immediately affected, because our planned helicopter flight over Bryce Canyon is cancelled, as all aircraft over US airspace are grounded. We make camp and then drive into the Park.
What an extraordinarily wonderful place! We walk halfway round the rim of the canyon, marvelling at the castles in the rock created by enormous red hoodoos, shading into oranges, pinks, browns, yellows, and translucent purple, depending on the light and the angle.
Tall pines between the hoodoos try in vain to compete in height. It is a faery place. Well-defined horizontal layers of rock create uniformity throughout the vast basin of this other-world city. We conjure up all kinds of shapes among the pinnacles; there is the Titanic, sinking, and Queen Victoria with her stately crown; fairy castles and fortresses fade in the distance, and on the far side we make out an outsize table with fluted edges.
Two turkey vultures flex their wings high up on a pinnacled hoodoo, which rises above the level of the rim
There are a surprising number of people here. I chat to one who does not have the heart to go to his office as usual, but wants to touch base somewhere beautiful, which does not change and which will always be there for him.
“Why do they hate us so much?” he asks.
Then we descend along a closely winding path, which makes a serpentine into the basin floor. It is different world. The enormity of these amazing towers of layered red rock broods over us. We are as tiny ants as we stride down the serpentine and through minute man-sized tunnels worn at the pinnacle bases, until the path levels out on the canyon floor. We amble among tall trees and bushes and more rocks before ascending gradually to another part of the rim. Ants we are, and these hoodoos the anthills, tens of thousands of times larger than Kenya’s tallest termite mounds.
It is a cold night. At dawn, we return to “Sunrise point” on the rim for another feast of colour, and manage to catch the brief moment of light across the pinnacles with our cameras before the sun disappears behind looming clouds.
The fascination of America’s canyon lands awaits us, but all my life I will never forget this place, where I first witness the end of an innocent, trusting world.