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Dave and Jan's travels, day 126:
Grand Canyon National Park

22nd September
Grand Canyon: what can I say. The raw statistics: twenty miles wide, 5,000 feet deep on the south side and 6,000 on the north. I'm going to quote Clarence Dutton, an early canyon geologist here:
Dimension means nothing to the senses, and all we are left with is a troubled sense of immensity.
Says it all really: no matter how hard you look, you can't quite take it in.

On our first night, we set off to walk along "Angel's Point" to see the sunset. (Regular readers may be slightly confused by now, suffice to say that around 75% of all the geological features in southern Utah are named after gods, angels or demons. No, we aren't back in Utah). In any case, the next thing we know clouds have appeared from nowhere, the view south is into blackness, and lightning fills the sky. And what lightning. Forks covering half the horizon, lighting the place up like it's the middle of the day for about 45 minutes. The rain followed just after, and fortunately we were able to watch the ensuing torrential downpour from indoors. Needless to say the storm finished in the morning and by lunchtime the sun had baked everything dry again.

We decide to hike down to the foot of the canyon. One day to descend (fourteen miles and 6,000 vertical feet), and two more days to return. The heat is formidable, even in September the temperatures at the base of the canyon are in the mid nineties, and they rise to well over 100 degrees in summer. So people hike in the early cool part of the day: we set off to descend at 6am sharp, and we were far from alone.

One cactus worth a mention is the agave. Mostly, these are small shrubs of two foot long sharply pointed leaves, emanating from a single root. The whole thing is never more than three feet high or wide, and is pleasant and unobtrusive. Then, one year (could be twenty years into the plant's life) the plant shoots up a stalk to fifteen or even twenty feet! Seeds are sprayed in all directions, and the plant promptly drops dead, exhausted but fulfilled.

The animals vary similarly: squirrels at the top, snakes on the way down and lizards at the bottom.

And the scenery varies too. Large, classical canyon formations at the top. Then an intermediate region of grassy hills, before the last few miles spent in a spectacular box canyon worn through vividly coloured volcanic rocks. The changes in the colour of the rock all the way down were  beautiful - white, red, pink, purple - as were the canyon walls and soaring rock formations.

Day two, we climbed half the miles back to the rim, but only 2,000 out of 6,000 vertical feet. This was relatively straightforward: and we celebrated with an afternoon sheltering from the heat in the rocks around Ribbon Falls. The third day we rose at 5am, to start walking at 6am, to avoid as much heat as possible. It was slightly annoying to then get the first overcast day the canyon's seen for some while, but only slightly so, as the climb was reduced from horrendous to merely exhausting. We eventually took five hours to cover the seven miles (and 4,000 feet up) that took us back to the rim, arriving just in time to avoid another torrential downpour. Crazy weather.

One source of entertainment was all the people we met "doing" the canyon in various ways. One approach to the canyon is just to hike from the north to the south rims in one day. It's about 23 miles, you descend 6,000 feet and rise 5,000. This is officially frowned upon, but it doesn't stop several mad people. Apparently the record time is 3 hours 20 minutes, which is quite unbelievable: it's not as if the paths are smooth, but instead they're mostly uneven hacks through solid rock covered in loose rubble. People of all ages take on the challenge in ways which they find easiest, and it's really fun to chat to them all. One favourite of mine was two sisters, who'd done the rim to rim trip eight years previously, and were now back to reprise the trip over two days, easily 60 years old the pair.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Views from the north rim

The scene descending...and ascending

A hiker, tired but unbowed.