Cat Flag: Grand Canyon Edition

Me at the Canyon

That’s right! I just got back from a trip to the Grand Canyon! I had a wonderful time, and I thought I would share with everyone my thoughts and reactions to my awesome experiences there.

First and foremost, I had no idea just how remote the Grand Canyon really is.

Driving out there, it was like this, for mile after mile after mile...

Driving out there, it was like this, for mile after mile after mile…

From my California coastal home, it was about 15 hours to Kingman, Arizona, where I stopped for the night. Then, it was a further two and a half hours to the Grand Canyon itself. In three days, I spent more than 36 hours in the car! It gave a me a new appreciation for just how huge the United States is; in fact, it gave me a new appreciation for how big California is. Most of those hours and hours on the road were spent simply crossing my home state. I only crossed one state line, twice, in all of that time.

Sure, I crossed a few cities and towns: Bakersfield, Tehachapi, Barstow, Needles, Kingman, and Williams. Yet most of the “towns” I passed through along the way were nothing more than a Pilot or Love’s truck stop strategically located where road trip tourists like me would need a toilet. Between these, there were often many, many miles with no sign of human habitation.

...after mile after mile after mile...

…after mile after mile after mile…

What a relief it was, after so much time in the car, to finally reach my destination. Then I was surprised to learn that there was actually a fee to get in the National Park! It costs $30 to drive into the park. While that fee does buy you access to the park for a full week, the fact that they charged a fee at all surprised me, since National Parks are owned and operated by the federal government for the good of the nation. I thought my tax dollars paid to maintain the park and allow me and all the millions of others who visit the park to enjoy nature’s beauty. Then again, as Congress finds as many places as possible to cut spending, perhaps charging a fee is necessary to keep the park in operation.

In any case, after all of that, I was greeted by this awesome sight:

Grand Canyon sign

Okay, so that was more just a relief than anything else. This, though, was an awesome sight:

Canyon 1

Here’s another one:

Canyon 2

It just keeps going and going and going!

It is one thing to rationally understand the size of the thing, but quite another to see it for yourself! It is amazing to see just how massive the Grand Canyon is in person. So massive, you can barely see the river that carved it all.

That’s the mind-blowing thing. It was just water. Well, water and the sand and rocks carried downstream by the water. The Grand Canyon is incredibly young in geologic time, barely a few million years old. Yet in that time, rain, the river, and erosion created one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world.

Yet one of my favorite places I saw while visiting the canyon was something… a bit more artificial.

Tower Close-up

The Desert View Watchtower sticks up from the canyon wall at the eastern end of the park. Stepping inside is like stepping into America’s ancient past.

Tower Interior 1

You can see amazing art on the walls…

Tower Interior 2

…and even on the ceiling.

Tower Interior 3

It looks like an ancient, centuries-old ruin, the remnants of a lost Indian settlement from long before Columbus arrived. Yet the tower was actually built in the 1930s from concrete and steel, designed by architect Mary Colter, one of the first female American architects and the designer of several other ancient-looking but actually quite modern structures in the Grand Canyon area. Colter was inspired by Native American and colonial Spanish architecture of the Southwest, and mimicked these styles in her work, laying the foundation (pun intended) for the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture.

While I was fascinated by this fake ruin, I was surprised to learn that there is an actual ancient Indian ruin not far from the tower. The remains of the ancient settlement of Tusayan lies just a short drive from the canyon rim, and I was able to pay it a visit, seeing the remains of the ancient kiva:

Yep. Here it is. The 800-year-old ancient place of worship. This is it.

Yep. Here it is. The 800-year-old ancient place of worship. This is it.

Yeah, in comparison, the actual ancient site was nowhere near as impressive. This really got me pondering. I remember hearing somewhere that people who see the Mona Lisa in person at the Louvre in Paris come away feeling disappointed at how small the actual painting is, given its reputation in our popular culture. I feel I may have experienced something similar.

Our imaginations of the past, viewed through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia, often lead us to paint a mental picture of history that simply isn’t accurate. Julius Caesar had to use the restroom, shave his beard, and eat his breakfast just like the rest of us do. People in the past just weren’t that different from people today. The Tusayan ruins are the remains of a practical people who had no need to build four-story monstrosities overlooking the canyon. Yet you can’t help but feel that the four-story monstrosity is far cooler.

What wasn’t cool? The idiots climbing all over the rocks.

Along the Grand Canyon’s edge, areas that are designated for the public to look out at the amazing sights have fences to keep people from falling.

Like this one.

Like this one.

Yet over and over again, I saw people – whole families even – climb over the fences onto dangerous cliff edges and rock overhangs. One of the people I was with said she saw parents out on these outcroppings with their three- or four-year-old children, a disaster waiting to happen. I even watched as one man climbed out onto a narrow rock face barely as wide as a person and take selfies. I remember thinking that he would fall to his death if the wind picked up even slightly.

I mean, what possesses people to do such things? Is it bravado? Are these people practically daring each other on to see who can prove themselves the bravest (or craziest)? Or was it a simple case of people acting like lemmings, with one person defiantly climbing over the fence, others seeing him or her, and deciding to follow? I don’t know, but I am not the sort of person who is willing to risk my life for something like that.

In any case, I really enjoyed this vacation, and I look forward to the next time I’m able to take an awesome road trip.


4 Responses to Cat Flag: Grand Canyon Edition

  1. auntleesie says:

    No matter how many times a person visits the Grand Canyon, it’s just… so… AWESOME! Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  2. Pingback: Cat Flag’s Southwest Tour | Cat Flag

  3. Pingback: Cat Flag: Utah Edition | Cat Flag

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