ROUND THE WORLD WALKABOUT
Part 9. The Grand Canyon.
15th September, 2001
America is vast, and after a long tedious drive we reach the Grand Canyon. Perhaps I’ve seen too many awesome sights, or have looked at enough pictures of this world wonder. It is a bit of a let-down, I suppose because I prefer to look upwards and admire high mountains which dominate the landscape. We arrive at a tourist centre and pitch our tents in a crowded camp site; long queues wait for turns at the showers. There’s nothing to titivate my anticipation and prepare me for what is to come. I’m reminded of the time I first approached the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe: there was nothing to see but some wisps of vapour in a dreary flat landscape of scrub…
Grand, it certainly is, but the people and cars scurrying about on the rim spoil the aura. We’re assured that because of the Twin Towers attack the crowds are nothing compared to usual, so I suppose I must be grateful. It is hazy. The sunset hides behind trees to the west. But the highlight of my evening are two California Condors circling majestically round a point just below us, creating midgets of the turkey vultures, which dart in and out of their path.
A variety of birds swoop over us, and I enjoy two peaceful morning hours sitting out on an exposed point with a couple of hawk watchers monitoring the migrating raptors, which fly southwards from Canada. Flimsy plastic chairs are chained to an even more flimsy bush growing out of the rock. I can’t understand it, and picture both bush and chair complete with hawk watcher disappearing over the edge in the gusty gale which buffets us on the rim. But I am assured the chain is merely to hold the chairs and prevent them from falling into the canyon below when the occupants stand up to get a better view of a passing hawk.
We spot half a dozen red-tailed hawks, and peregrin falcons come at us fast over the canyon, then rise to clear the rim and disappear southwards. Another condor soars above. Moving cloud shadows pass from west to east along the canyon floor. A shower develops, then falls towards the north rim. A thunderstorm threatens from the south, but passes us by.
We look forward to the hike down the Keibab Trail to the valley floor as a grand finale to our energetic tour. We’re fit, and anxious to escape from the trappings of civilisation. But Jane only allows us to walk for forty minutes down, and we have to turn round and trudge back up the same trail, which takes over an hour. I hate going back the way I came, and feel I can go much further down, especially as the weather is unexpectedly cool. Jane commiserates with us, but says her hands are tied by head office – they don’t want any more mishaps to mar our travels, and we’re lucky the whole trip hasn’t been cancelled. However, my new Zion walking stick is put to good use, and I experience a taste of the awesome size of the place when I look up to see how far we have descended.
Our afternoon helicopter flight is going ahead after all, as the authorities have lifted their embargo on all flights over the US, and six of us enjoy a luxurious ride. Canned music pipes soothingly through our headphones, and a pre-recorded voice describes the scene below as we smoothly speed at 110 mph over the pine-tops towards the 5000 foot drop. Not a bump do we experience as our pilot manoeuvres over the rim, and suddenly the vast expanse of the ten-mile wide canyon lies below us. The Colorado River is a small brown snake winding into the distance. We reach the north rim, 1000 feet higher than the south, turn round Dragon Point, and make our way back to base. Twenty-five minutes of wonder.
It is almost too good to be true.