Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Grand Canyon's North Rim and The Four Seasons

Upon leaving Zion we drove through a tunnel dug through the sandstone cliff. Although only a mile long, once inside it feels much longer. Emerging on the other side we are met with a sight that is almost lunar. Here the elements have ground the rock down to smooth rolling mounds. Some have had swirling patterns etched into them by the wind, sand and time.

We are headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We have done some research and discovered that the nearest place to it where we might be able to get a room for the night is in Knapp, Utah. It is 90 miles from the canyon, about midway between it and Zion. We stop there first and secure a room at the Four Seasons motel. This has led to a long running joke regarding how we once stayed at the Knapp Four Seasons.

The terrain had once again turned to desert. It could not, however, have been more different than the flat, featureless expanse that surrounds Las Vegas. For the next several days we would hold our breath at each rise in the road in anticipation of the vistas the would reveal themselves on the other side. Buttes, mesas, cliffs and sand in the most amazing array of colors would fill the horizon. We drove through this wondrous landscape to the Grand Canyon's north rim. Along the way a line of vermilion cliffs could be seen in the distance.

Arriving at the Grand Canyon we were surprised to see a large stand of evergreens covering a portion of the canyon's rim. It was a few miles away from where we were. A column of smoke rose from it. We thought it was a controlled burn. Later we were to find out that it was a raging wildfire. The day after our visit everything from Jacob's Lake, the tiny town at the junction of the main highway and the smaller road which leads to the north rim itself , was closed. Had we not gone that day we would not have been able to experience the canyon from this side.

The north rim is the "high" side of the canyon at 8800 feet. The view is down and across the canyon. It is a spectacular sight, though not as colorful or expansive as the more famous south rim view which we would be visiting the next day. Again the elements have carved the rock into shapes that look like they sprung from the mind of Salvador Dali. Due to the high elevation the air is fresh and cool, even during midsummer. There is a small natural outcropping along the rim. Clinging to the rail installed there we inched our way out onto it to get this slightly different perspective.

My friend took a short trail down a bit further into the canyon. I attempted to follow but, between the slant of the trail and outcroppings of the canyon I was overcome by vertigo by the myriad of angles. I bided my time along the rim. A mother was taking a photo of her daughter against the backdrop of the canyon. I offered to photograph both of them together, happy knowing that photo would become a cherished memory of their trip.

My friend returned from his sojourn. We got a quick snack and started to return to the car. Night was coming on. As we walked through the parking lot scores of bats emerged from their daytime hiding places and flew overhead feeding on the insects that are brought on by nightfall.

Earlier, when we were driving to the canyon, my friend noted the desolation of the, area and lack of ambient light, which would afford us extraordinary stargazing conditions. The night was crystal clear resulting in a thick blanket of lights in the sky. The stars were so numerous it was impossible to pick out even the major constellations. We pulled to the side of the road, laid our heads back on the headrests and gazed at the heavens in awe. It was at this point that a thought occurred to me. "We're sitting in a warm car with the top down in the middle of the desert. A situation which is probably attracting venomous snakes and lizards from yards in every direction." We quickly started the car and continued on our way. 

The town of Knapp appeared as a thin line of lights sparkling in the distance. We drove towards them and made our way back to the motel and our room for a nights rest after another amazing day.

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