Seeing the Grand Canyon was one of the primary reasons that I wanted to visit America. This would most likely prove to be the high-water mark of the trip. Prior to leaving Guernsey, whenever I was asked what was I looking forward to, my answer always included the Grand Canyon. Everyone that has actually seen it for themselves would tell me how excellent it was and that I would not be disappointed by it.
The day began with a short ride to Williams. Here I knew that from there we would catch a train to the canyon itself, run by the Grand Canyon Railway. I wasn’t expecting the train journey itself to be quite so long, or quite so entertaining.
After were ushered to the end of the tracks where a small amphitheater had been erected we were treated to a short ‘Wild West’ show. A few cowboys with a good line of patter. Quite literally in fact as those unfortunates that identified themselves as celebrating birthdays or anniversaries were presented with a dollop of horse droppings each. I don’t know if anyone kept theirs, but it is hard to imagine that particular piece of memorabilia occupying a celebrated position of the mantle. I really enjoyed the show, much more then I would have expected to. I guess that they managed to tap into that little part that still exists in every man that would still prefer to be running around playing cowboys then getting on with the more expected seriousness of being a ‘grown up’.
The entertainment continued aboard the train. The cars were restored 60’s passenger cars, clean, comfortable, and chilled. Our car was looked after by Robert, one of the most excitedly energetic people I have yet to meet. Given that we are in America and people like Robert’s livelihood are dependent upon tips, I cannot be 100% sure if we were seeing his true persona, or is public persona. Lets just say that he’s either very good at his job, or this was a man that has found his calling. He bounded around the car filling water bottles, taking group photos and posing for photos himself. He then proceeded to stop and chat to each person. Sitting with them a short while to find out what they person wanted from their trip and making suggestions on how they could achieve that. I was sat right at the back of the carriage and by the time he reached me, he was still just as enthusiastic as our first step aboard.
Our car was then entertained by a wondering cowboy troubadour, whose name I unfortunately missed. He serenaded us with a couple of cowboy tunes and then after discovering Scottish people aboard with a rather more risque Scots ditty about what is worn under the kilt that made be glad I didn’t have kids with me that would ask for the joke to be explained to them.
My first glimpse of the Grand Canyon was not quite as awe inspiring as I had hoped. The train deposited its passengers at the small station, and the crown proceeded to walk up the nearby steps taking of to the South Rim village. At the top were throngs of people milling around and doing exactly the same as I was – trying to walk towards the rim and get that view of the canyon. My own first sighting lasted about a second, a glimpse snatched between a slight parting of the waves. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Surely there should have been thunder and fireworks, or at least my own orchestra to strike a chord. But it wasn’t to be.
My plan, one enthusiastically (as ever) backed by Robert, was to walk the Blue Trail. An easy 3 mile walk along the rim to an observation centre. This would normally take around 45 minutes, but I was planning on stopping for loads of photos and taking a fair bit longer. The crowd, deprived of coffee, nicotine and food for a whole two hours headed off to the cafes and restaurants leaving the trail relatively quiet and so I headed off.
Once out of the village, the view truly did open up and although there were no fireworks I began to sense just how extraordinary the canyon is. My entire field of vision was taken up by the huge expanse. It was impossible to see anywhere near the bottom and the only real sense of height was generated by looking at the edge of the curves on the same rim as I was standing and seeing them drop away. The trail itself was a nice walk. Easier then a lot of the cliff walks in Guernsey – mainly because there is a paved path following the edge of the rim, and benches every few hundred meters. Of course you could leave the patch and venture closer to the edge, but not too close of course. This I did frequently, and this provided the best views.
What is hard to imagine is the scale of the canyon. I sat at one point and realised that Guernsey could fit neatly into one of the curves and not even be close to touching the sides. Even walking along the rim for three miles did not change the viewpoint dramatically do to the extreme range between the bends. It was a staggering realisation that just a few days before I was in the Rockies having one of the very early stages of the Colorado River pointed out – at that point just a small stream. Then seeing something this huge and magnificent, but only a fraction of the whole, and knowing that it was carved by that same river that that stream was a part of hundreds of miles away.
My overwhelming feeling from the canyon was one of insignificance. We are here and gone in the blink of an eye, and yet the effect we are having on this world has the potential to far outlast the memories we will leave for others.