Two Canyons

In Travels With Myself on July 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm


Every time I mentioned Utah to anyone as I was preparing for my trip, I was told that I had to go to Bryce Canyon. Well, all right, then, everyone; I went to Bryce Canyon. And Red Canyon. And, so, okay, you were right.
It’s a fairly long and roundabout ride from here to the canyons, but when you arrive it all comes as a surprise.
Red Canyon comes first. As we approached Bryce, I could see some ridges in the distance with the layers of red and brown that are so much a part of the scenery through Utah, but even with these hints, I was unprepared as we came around a long curve and the walls turned red all around. The road runs right against the walls along the floor of the canyon, and through it in two places where arches have been cut in the sandstone. I was so mesmerized by the color and by the literally fantastic columns and cliffs, that I didn’t have time to think about my camera, and had to resolve to get some pictures on the way back out.
As we continued on to Bryce Canyon, the road started to rise. I asked if we would be driving into the canyon or going up to the rim. The rim it was, but I was expecting to see the canyon as we approached. Instead, the road turns up into a visitor area that looks like what you might expect a National Park to look. There are log buildings, beautifully appointed, places to camp and to picnic and to buy souvenirs and food. There are well-kept grounds to walk through and large parking areas for all the guests who come each year. It was busy on the fourth of July, and the walk through the crowds was an invitation to an ever-changing chorus of accents and languages. Then we arrived at the rim and I was struck speechless by what opened up in front of me. The solid ground disappeared on the other side of a short fence strung between square stone pillars. I stood by one of the pillars and looked over.
First some observations about the canyon itself, and then I want to talk about its impact.
Four things struck me about the canyon. First was the size. A mountain had become a hole in the ground as big as a mountain. Then there was the sculpturing of the earth by millions of years of wind and water. Tall, fragile spikes and columns, called hoodoos, seem to grow like flowers from the canyon floor. Tall figures loom over the landscape, like ghosts keeping watch. Trees grow from the columns, their roots exposed by the slow wearing away of the earth, keep digging deeper into the rock, so they appear to be standing on tiptoe, looking over the edge. The color seems unnatural, as though some mad artist had painted nature to match his fancy: pink and white, like a strawberry cake with icing applied by an insane baker. And the whole looks soft, not rock, but an enormous sand box with Tolkien sand castles scattered about.
I felt overwhelmed. All I could do was point my camera and click, and even at that I sometimes had trouble keeping my finger on the shutter button, and kept turning my camera off unintentionally. There are places on the Earth that can simultaneously make us feel insignificant and immortal. We are small compared to these wonders, but we walk around them and peer into their vastness like gods walking down from Olympus. The First Peoples spoke of the spirits of these canyons, and you don’t have to believe to hear them whispering.
I don’t know that I have done a particularly good job of conveying the experience, or at least of doing it justice. I was tempted to simply write, “Went to Bryce Canyon. Struck speechless.”

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