The Grand Canyon is most certainly a wonder. On a recent trip to the South Rim, I felt insignificant gazing out at its immense void, as if humans were powerless in its domain. The day before, however, I was hiking in the canyon and felt like I was a part of something grand, not some speck.
And so came to light the differences about being above something rather than being a part of something. A mountain, a canyon, a cool building – perspectives differ from afar than when you are within their respective territories. That perspective is a key factor in how travelers see the world.
The Canyon Below
On my first day at Grand Canyon National Park, I took the popular Bright Angel Trail to the three-mile marker below. I soaked up all the sights at the beginning since the trail was easy enough for people with flip-flops to trek. The views weren’t the canyon’s best, but you got a glimpse of the surprising amount of greenery, the fathomless pitfalls and vibrant wildlife – mules, deer and scavenging squirrels.
At the first bend, the trail separated the tourists from the adventurers. The all-downhill descent was steep and brutal on the knees. You need concentration to avoid stumbling or falling off the edge, so I stopped focusing on the scenery. I was here to battle the canyon and test my will, not to shoot photographs. I made it to the bottom, ate lunch, then shot my way back up – head down, focused on the road ahead.
Overall, the hike was easier than I expected. I didn’t see the true face of the Grand Canyon – that would come later – but I was satisfied. There is a certain gratification when putting your meager human strength against nature’s indomitable presence. Even if you try to conquer it, nature has a way of swallowing you whole, making you part of it.
The Canyon Above
My second day in the canyon was a more typical sightseeing experience – where you get to see just a slice of the canyon’s gaping expanse (you can’t really see it all at once unless you’re in space). If you’re on the South Rim, take the blue shuttle to the red shuttle transfer (the Hermit Road route). That’s where you’ll get the most scenic views of the Grand Canyon, along with snippets of the Colorado River.
This is when my perspective changed from dauntlessness to humility. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and about 18 miles wide – numbers you can’t comprehend even when gazing out at the canyon’s highest point.
Sure, I hiked in the canyon the day before, but I didn’t make a dent in the “grand” scheme of things. When you reach the top of a mountain, you feel like the king of the world. But the Grand Canyon conquered me while I was looking at it from above.
Starting at Hermits Rest, I worked my way backward along the Rim Trail to the first stop on the red route – the Trailview Overlook. This neat little vista tied the whole trip together. There you could see the Bright Angel Trail in its entirety. I saw the top, the midway point, and the lunch spot at the bottom – everything I did the day before. From up high, it looked like an amazing accomplishment.
The canyon told me two things that day: I am nothing and I am incredible.
If you want the full experience of what it means to be a human among nature, being both of and above will give you an all-encompassing perspective. As long as you can rationalize the two revelations, your adventures can be both humbling and inspiring. Just another one of Mother Nature’s many helpful lessons.
When’s the last time you’ve had existential thoughts while exploring the world?