I know that more than a few people over the last several centuries have claimed to have discovered Grand Canyon (not to mention those ancient, native peoples who called it home for several thousand years), but today I discovered it. Not that I didn't know it was out there somewhere. I had heard stories about how spectacular it was and caught glimpses of it from the rim yesterday, but until today I hadn't discovered what Grand Canyon means.
For one of the set pieces of this trip, we had pre-booked a morning flight over Grand Canyon. We successfully navigated our RV up Highway 64 to Grand Canyon Airport in plenty of time to check-in, be weighed (I’m 177lbs in case you were wondering) and board the 10am flight. I’m not sure how the airline would have rearranged the seating plan or even if I would have been allowed to board if I’d weighed a ton, but nonetheless on the stroke of ten we were up in the air.
We chose the plane above a helicopter ride because everyone was guaranteed a good view and we thought that a plane would give us a quieter, more serene experience. We were certainly not disappointed. In fact I would go so far as to say that it was the best $300 that I have ever spent.
The ride itself lasted for about an hour, sweeping up over the pine forest south of the canyon, heading first to the north rim and then following the canyon just above the rim line. As the commentary explained, the north rim is 2000’ higher than the south and can be covered in snow between October and May. It’s also home to mountain lions, elk and herds of deer, but none of these were waving up at us like the professional wavers along the tracks on yesterday’s train ride.
Seeing Grand Canyon from the rim certainly made an impression, but yesterday’s bus tour and photo opportunity spots didn’t prepare me at all for seeing the scale and beauty of the canyon from the air. With every passing minute and every change in the clouds and the sunlight, the canyon changes its mood. I’m sure that if I flew over the canyon every day for however many I’ve got left, that I’d never become tired of seeing it. I can only imagine how many ridges, caves and mini-canyons there are left to explore and how many places exist that no person has ever stood on.
A mile up from Grand Canyon Airport is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center with its own IMAX Theatre. It boasts The World’s Most Watched IMAX Movie. I’ve never been to an IMAX before and this movie really added to my appreciation of Grand Canyon by showing it both from the air and then from the Colorado River a mile below the rim.
The movie told the canyon’s story from it’s earliest Gatherer inhabitants, through its discovery by Spanish explorers to the first full exploration of the river in the canyon by boat. Despite the slightly cheesy commentary, the images put into perspective how small people are in the shadow of such a monumental natural wonder.
Of all the mysteries that there are surrounding Grand Canyon, I found myself fixated by what happened to the three explorers who left the expedition just before their companions rode the last rapid on the river to where is now Lake Mead. Maybe they were killed by Native Americans? Maybe they became dinner for a hungry mountain lion? Whatever happened to them, they were never seen again and their bones are possibly dust somewhere at the bottom on the canyon.
And that is what Grand Canyon means. It’s a stark reminder that no matter how important we think we are, no matter how much we hope that at least our memories will live forever, when we are dust blowing in the wind, the canyon will still be there, watching for who might come next.