This thing sneaks up on you. Even though it's a massive hole in the ground--I mean, really, really massive--you don't see it until you're almost right there. At least that was my experience on the South Rim, upon entering Grand Canyon National Park. The surrounding terrain is a relatively flat pine forest. It's so thick in places, you can't see but a few feet in front of you. Upon entering the parking area, the canyon suddenly comes into view and then - speechless. Except, of course, for the understandable, "Oh my God!" "Holy crap!" or "Awesome!" I can't remember what I said, but it was likely one of those.
Now, take heed, careless hikers. The drop to the bottom is about one mile. If the number one doesn't phase you, that's 5,280 feet. Try falling that far without a few scrapes. It's not straight down either. You're likely to bounce off a few cliffs and ledges along the way. And, for the most part, there's no railing to keep you from going over, but you will find plenty of tourists doing dumb things like perching on the edge for pictures, or climbing onto impossible rock formations they have no business climbing on. This visit enhanced my fear of heights, but the sheer awe of the place held my interest. Still, I had every confidence I'd see someone plummet to their death. Alas, I did not.
A few interesting facts:
- In addition to the one mile depth, the Grand Canyon averages 10 miles wide and is 18 miles at its widest.
- The South Rim is 7000 feet above sea level, while the North Rim is 8000 feet above sea level.
- Cut by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long.
- While 2 billion years of geologic history are exposed in the rocks, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago, however...
- The base level and course of the Colorado River (or its ancestral equivalent) changed 5.3 million years ago when the Gulf of California opened and lowered the river's base level (its lowest point). This increased the rate of erosion and cut nearly all of the Grand Canyon's current depth by 1.2 million years ago. That ain't very old, folks.
Now, the awe factor had me from the first moment I saw it. And as I traversed the rim, I couldn't help noticing just how thick the trees were very close to the edge. It got me thinking about the first person to come across this place, tens of thousands of years ago...
There he was, making good time, on his way to meet up with some buddies to the north for a weekend of fishing, drinking and story swapping. All of the sudden, he breaks through the trees and is hit by this most incredible of earthly sights. Certainly he was just as awed, if not more. For no one had told him it was there. It was, at that time, his discovery and his alone. He sat there, I'm sure, taken in by the grandness, the majesty, the perfection of nature's toil. How long did he contemplate? Minutes? Hours? Perhaps days? We may never know, but one thing is certain:
In the end, realization surely must have dawned on him, and in whatever language he spoke, he would have muttered, "Frak! I have to get across that thing."