When I was a boy, as clear as crystal, I saw a meteor split the NOLA sky, during the day without fanfare or witness, silent and incomprehensibly fast, two-stories above my head during summer camp. In the moment, I recall the other kids playing, innocent and oblivious to the fact that had the arc of attack been slightly different, all those millions of years ago when the meteor likely came hurdling our way, even by an inch, we would have all been vaporized. I too was playing in the brutal summer heat, but unlike the other kids in the moment looked up and saw the meteor. The object was both rock and fire, its tail trailing behind, shimmering flames whipping wildly in the wind. It was and still is, the closest to seeing God I have ever been. I recall the slackjawed expression of the teacher on duty as he, not believing his eyes, seeking confirmation in mine that we had, in fact, saw the meteor. We had. Going to Meteor Crater was, therefore, something of a spiritual hajj for me. Even if it wasn’t my meteor, somehow I wanted to graft meaning onto that moment, a bewildering and transformative moment, where I stopped being a citizen of Earth and became a citizen of the universe.
Above is Meteor Crater. The speed upon impact is said to have been moving at 8 miles per second, striking the Arizona soil with the force of a 10 megaton nuclear weapon, larger than the combined attack yields on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined
The Grand Canyon
I was coming down with a cold. I couldn’t quite tell if it was the cold or the rigors of the drive to Canyon de Chelly, but the snotty, achy symptoms were all the same. Luckily I carried a few Alka-Seltzer tablets in my pack and washed them down with some eggs and a day (or two) old biscuit. Nothing was going to deter me from my schedule. After a quick shower, I grabbed my things and set off for the Grand Canyon.
The previous day’s trek took me northeast of Flagstaff. The Grand Canyon is about 1.5 hours drive northwest of where I was staying. Unlike the comparatively desert environment of the lands up through the Navajo Nation, the ride up through the Coconino Forest, with its large evergreen pines and various other conifers, was greener. When I arrived at the Tusuyan gate entryway for the Grand Canyon, I was greeted by a kind, yet bureaucratic park ranger. I took out my scribble napkin and pointed to a number of the outlooks, calling them out as I went to confirm I was at the “correct” Grand Canyon. (The medicine had to be working). What I meant to ask in the moment was whether or not I had made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as the North Rim is closed during winter. The ranger nodded with the shadow of a grin and confirmed matter-of-factly that I had made it to the “correct” Grand Canyon. He then requested $30, something that I hadn’t been prepped about in my investigation into the day’s trip. Luckily, I had a bit of extra cash on me for a quick transaction and much like Meteor Crater, my receipt guaranteed me repeat access to the park for 2 weeks. A good deal I thought to be able to see an American treasure.
From the Tusuyan entry point from the AZ-64 intrastate road, I drove another 15 minutes up to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, a good place to grab a coffee, a restroom break, directions, and various trinkets and souvenirs. Despite not having access to the North Rim, most of what I wanted to see was on the South. A helpful ranger at the information desk provided me information on some of my most requested sites and even directions on how to use the free shuttles to Hermit’s Rest and Desert View on the eastern and western sides of the South Rim respectively. Before seeing any of these other sites, the guide encouraged me to take a quick hike out to Mather Point (about 5min). There I was able to get my first peak at the Grand Canyon.
When I reached the outlook posts on Mather Point, the ground blossomed out before my eyes. A collage of reds, terracottas, burnt umbers, sand, and pops of green from the various ferns that grew on the canyon filled every inch of my retinas with panoramic breadth, and laser sharpness. It made IMAX look like Atari. When people say pictures don’t do something justice, I often find that the picture, in fact, did said thing justice. Photos do cats, contrived hygge-style, sunlit-designer-coffee, and girls pretending to meditate on mountains perfectly acceptable justice. In the case of the Grand Canyon, it’s hard enough to capture the depth and scale of the place, but nearly impossible to capture its energy and soul, of which you can feel. You simply have to see it to believe it.
There were a number of people scattered about: the requisite youth mission group, couples taking selfies, Japanese salary-men on their official non-work, work trip, and a few other unattached vagrants like myself. All in all, there couldn’t be more than 50 people milling about. While that number might sound sizable, we were nothing against the colossal, 10 mile wide stretch from point to point, that the Grand Canyon was. Unlike the oceans, which are effective in terms of conveying scale, it’s hard to see an end to them and thus their size is sort of incomprehensible, like the Universe. The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, commands the sort of ego gulping presence of bodies like the ocean, with a sense of definition and finality that we can judge clearly with respect to ourselves.
Mather Point is the first point of entry if you’re coming up from the south to view the Grand Canyon. I highly recommend seeing Mather Point as it sets the stage for other outlooks and primes you for the height and guaranteed death should you not exercise caution when being more adventurous
After grabbing a few shots of Mather Point, I decided to make my way east towards Desert View, the most visually interesting overlook on the South Rim and next up on my tour. Naturally, that isn’t where I ended up. After considering the Orange Line bus towards the Desert View Watchtower, the door flew open and a driver, looking, speaking, and behaving like Rosanne Barr, demanded I get on the shuttle with the “no-buts” attitude of a mom shuffling a toddler in the grocery store. I hadn’t felt 5 in a while. I found the entire ordeal unexpected and bizarre. Like a child, I griped to myself that I might have made the wrong choice: Somewhere between entering the bus and taking off, I realized that for time sake, it’d be better for me to have control over my arrival and departure schedule and that meant me driving on my own. The bus would end up taking me to the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum, slightly west of Mather Point. When we arrived, with the same zest in her voice, “Great Value” Rosanne order me off the bus, I assume for talking back, but more likely because she felt visitors should see everything the Grand Canyon offered. Regardless, I didn’t know whether to laugh or complain about what was happening to me. Now that I was on the bus I wanted to go to Yaki point! I’d have no such luck on this trip.