May 20, 2008
I came to another crossroads.
At 27 years old, I already experienced a fair share of adventures. I’d backpacked the Appalachian Trail and bicycled across the United States.
After the bike trip I gave up the illusion of going to college anytime soon, and chose to continue exploring.
So in 2007 I backpacked Vermont’s Long Trail.
The homecoming after The Long Trail would be most temporary – I’d discovered the viability of seasonal employment (with housing) via Coolworks.com.
Despite my previous travels, I’d never been to the Desert Southwest. More specifically, I’d never been to the Grand Canyon. So I applied for a position to work at the Canyon’s South Rim.
I figured I’d spend a summer living there, with the Canyon as a launching point to explore the greater area’s attractions on the weekends – such as Utah’s National Parks. Afterward I’d move on to something else, wherever the wind would take me.
So I thought.
I knew little of Canyon’s magnetic enchantments.
Friends dropped me off at the Philadelphia airport on the morning of May 19th. I took a direct flight to Phoenix, and hailed a taxi to take me to the Greyhound station. I remember being awed at the quality of the landscape at Sky Harbor airport.
The trees and cacti grew straight out of the dirt!
Bare dirt, that is. As an east coast native, I was accustomed to trees and bushes growing out of the grass. Arizona would take some getting used to.
I rode the Greyhound from Phoenix to Flagstaff that evening. The sun had gone down by the time I was out of the city. I distinctly remember straining my eyes to get a sense of the mountains on the horizon – they looked huge. I gazed out the window of the bus, into the darkness as the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack played on my iPod.
The Greyhound station in Flagstaff was behind the Jack In The Box on Milton Road. I had an unsatisfying dinner there, and wheeled my luggage a short way down the sidewalk to the first motel.
The next morning, I woke early and wheeled my luggage to the train station in the center of town. It was a mile or two. There I caught a ride on the Arizona Shuttle van to my destination, the Grand Canyon. The driver asked if I wanted to be dropped at Bright Angel or Maswick.
Unfamiliar with each, I blurted out Bright Angel. It felt like the main place to be.
I was right. Bright Angel Lodge sits virtually on the edge of the Canyon. I found a breezeway to the left of its main front door that allowed passage behind the building.
I went through it, luggage and all.
Through the breezeway there was a stone patio, a stone wall, and beyond it, the Grand Canyon.
I was not impressed.
It did not take my breath away – no, not at first sight.
It was very big. And very pretty. But there were no epiphanies, no significant floods of emotion, etc. There behind the Bright Angel Lodge, the Canyon was more of an object to be seen – something to pose with for a picture. It didn’t look like a real landscape – more like a green screen from a movie set.
If anything, there was an underlying feeling that I had arrived.
I’d been traveling for 48 hours, and was anxious to get settled.
I don’t have a photo from that first meeting. I snapped one on my cell phone (I still had a flip-phone, a “dumb” phone). The image was so hazy and poor (compared to others) that I must have deleted it.
I walked to the Xanterra Human Resources office to check in. There I signed some paperwork and was told how to get to the Rowzer Hall dormitory, my new home. I was offered a ride but declined, insisting “I like to walk.” I figured the walk would help me get oriented.
I found my room after 3 sweaty miles across Grand Canyon Village – with 2 backpacks and a rolling suitcase in tow. I should have taken the ride. I met my roommate and dropped my luggage without even bothering to unpack, opting to immediately go look at the Canyon again. I’d brought a new Nikon D40 DSLR camera in anticipation of moving to the Canyon, and I was anxious to go use it.
I studied the map at the bus stop outside the dorm, and plotted the most logical course on foot to the Canyon’s edge. I walked through Market Plaza, across the road to Park Headquarters. A paved trail led through the woods from there to the rim.
I reached the rim and turned right, toward Yavapai Point. There was a significant number of people milling about the rim trail, but not enough to mar the evening’s experience.
I took in the view at Grandeur Point. It would be many weeks (or even months) until I’d learn that the promontory had such a name.
This was prior to the construction of the “Trail of Time” through this section of the Rim Trail.
Upon arriving at Yavapai, I naturally browsed the interior of the “Geology Museum.”
So there I was for sunset, among perhaps a hundred others that flocked to the overlook for the evening’s show.
Viewing the sun as it sank over a jagged, wild, distant horizon was very nice.
Can you feel the desert breeze?
But it was before the actual sunset – maybe ten, maybe twenty minutes prior, when the entire eastern side of the canyon lit up with a fiery red glow.
Long shadows fell from every butte and mesa and sparse blade of grass in that vast world below – the sheer size and complexity of which I had not even begun to comprehend. Dare I say it took my breath away.
It was then that I saw The Grand Canyon for the first time.
It would be a good summer, and the Grand Canyon would have a measure of influence over the rest of my life.
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