by Matt Bergstrom
Though it may seem obvious, or even silly, the Grand Canyon is BIG. It is so large that the Midwesterner cannot help but feel uncomfortable here. The other side seems so close, and yet it is perhaps five miles away.
From the rim of the canyon the view is impressive, seen from the very spot the Brady Bunch had their magical views, but it is only a picture of a canyon. Most visitors do not realize that the canyon is more than the two-dimensional masterpiece it appears. If one is willing, it is possible to enter the painting and explore its three-dimensional reality.
Many of the tourist type ride mules down to Phantom Ranch, a resort at the bottom of the gorge, but some of the braver sort of visitors venture out on the lesser-used trails accessible only by backpack.
Camping in the park requires a permit issued from the backcountry office at the park headquarters on the rim. Camping is only allowed on or below the Tonto platform, a large, flat bench dividing the canyon evenly into an Inner Gorge and upper canyon. This means that four-thousand feet, half the depth of the canyon, must be descended or ascended in one day.
Our party of thirteen descended the rugged Boucher Trail on Easter Sunday. The old hermit for whom the trail is named was perhaps a little crazy to build the ten-mile trail clinging to cliffs and picking its way down the treacherous slops in search of a way to the camp below. An Eden of a tiny stream flowing through a side-canyon never looked so good as at the end of that ten-hour day.
Water is one of the most crucial items to be carried here. In the summer, low altitudes, low humidity and the direct sun can drive the heat up to 115 degrees at the bottom of the canyon. In late March, the time of our visit, the afternoons only reached 85 or so. The Colorado River, by contrast, is a chill 45 degrees year-round, as it comes from the bottom of Lake Powell, upstream behind Glen Canyon Dam. The numerous side canyons conceal spring-fed seasonal and perennial streams of only slightly warmer water.
It was in these side canyons that we discovered the most accessible and intriguing scenery. Here there were plenty of lizards, scampering on the bare rock. Here the walls rose to close off the sky. In places the water channel carved its tortuous rout through the 1.6 billion year-old Vishnu Schist, creating playful slides and flumes. In Hermit Creek canyon, we discovered perfect pools and waterfalls, creating magical crystal swimming holes. In Monument Creek canyon, strange sandstone shapes had formed, like lumps and folds of skin. Climbing the rocks left one's hands raw and scratched.
The desert of the canyon is raw: raw feet, raw muscles, raw thorns on many of the plants, the raw power of water to carve rock, and the raw stones walls of the canyon itself.
The rock is the most prominent feature of the canyon. Over a billion and half years of history are to be seen from top to bottom. After several days of living with the vastness of time, space and mass of the canyon, it is possible to become conscious of what the Earth is made of the true place of humans walking on its surface. Standing on the edge of the abyss, on can feel the solidity of rock straight down and all the way to the continental plate boundaries.
It is indeed a most enlightening and humiliating experience, as a hiker we met on our way back up to the rim sang, "The ants go crawling up and up, hurrah, hurrah!"