Our Final Goal Grand Canyon
Sunday, April 1, 1923. This was Easter Sunday. This was April Fools’ Day. This was the day we would see Grand Canyon. We had joined the road in from Williams. A sign told us the Canyon was just seven miles ahead. By 9:30 a.m. we reached the park ranger station, registered and received a packet of free literature, then spent five or ten minutes talking with the ranger, gaining valuable information about all that lay ahead.
We were in Grand Canyon National Park — but still no Canyon. If this was an April Fools’ joke it was the biggest one on record. All about us was a pine forest, on terrain as level as the cutover timberlands of upper Michigan. Since leaving the rain tanks of muddy water, all the land had been equally level. The largest scar in the earth’s surface was hereabouts somewhere, but we bought groceries at the village store, hunted up the tourist camp, passed it up in favor of a secluded private place which we found out in the forest, all without seeing the Canyon.
This Grand Canyon was the only place on our trip — except for Ashfork — where water had to be purchased, at the Santa Fe station. We borrowed some from a kindly camper, cooked a huge meal at our own private camping spot, ate and cleaned up, then headed for the Rim. We did not want our first view of Grand Canyon to come on empty stomachs.
Neither of us said much at first. We were not disappointed. We were calmly excited. But it was too hard to grasp — all at once. Perhaps we had had more difficulty reaching this spot than almost any other travelers since the auto road was put in. Our physical digestive systems were wrestling hard with the enormous meal we had just eaten; our spiritual and emotional digestive systems were wrestling equally hard with the enormity of this rock-templed, mile-deep, ten-mile-wide gash which lay spread out in mist-veiled serenity before and below us.
In late afternoon we entered the Hopi House, to see the fine Indian dances, then studied and took notes on exhibits about the Canyon’s history and geology. We walked again along the Rim, giving our emotional digestive systems additional opportunity to work on the great abyss below, which was now turning purple and gold, with its mighty cathedrals and temples slowly being swallowed in shadows.
Back at our home in the woods, we cooked and ate a hearty supper, carefully concealed our belongings in the upper branches of a juniper tree, then headed toward El Tovar Hotel for an evening lecture. During supper, a light rain had started and as we walked through the woods it turned to powdery snow. By the time we entered El Tovar, both of us were covered with downy flakes. In our rough hiking togs, we felt a bit out of place with the handsomely dressed Pullman tourists in the El Tovar music room, but it was our government sponsoring the lecture, so we felt entitled to hear it.
The lecture and the slides were informative. To us they were thrilling, and we discussed them avidly as we walked, before bedtime, once more along the Rim. Soon, we quit talking. The rain and the snow had ceased. Easter Sunday always follows immediately after a full moon. From a bank of clouds, the Easter moon pushed its way into the dark sky and over the Canyon. Some powdered white snowdust was on some of the cliffs and cathedrals — turned by moonlight into white altar cloths spread over sacred altars. Our minds tried to grasp something that the ranger had said. The two thousand years since the birth of Christ, he had told us, could scarcely be counted as even one second in time, compared with the ages of those two billion-year-old rocks at the bottom of the Canyon. That first Easter, two thousand years gone, was only a second away, marked on the Grand Canyon clock.
The shafts of moonlight, clutched away then released by the moving clouds, touched first one temple then another, as though a ghostly spotlight were swinging the visible length of the awful gash below us. Once the whole Canyon was filled with blue light, but a minute later all was black.
The Canyon was filled with something else; there below was mile on mile, age on age, millennium on millennium, of far-stretching, unending mystery.
The mystery is there during daylight hours, but you don’t realize it, and try to grasp and explain the phenomenon intellectually. Grand Canyon can never be an entirely intellectual experience. Nighttime diffused the geology and botany and paleontology down below. Paleolithic epochs blended with Cenozoac, hundred million-year-old layers merged with billionyear-old ones, and the dimly seen temples and cathedrals floated softly on a blanket of eternal time. The entire blanket was quilted with mystery.
We went to bed in another snowstorm. I could not sleep —not because of the snow, but because of what I’d seen and experienced on the Rim by moonlight.
I had begun — just begun, perhaps — to feel and discover the secret of the Canyon’s greatness.