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Canyon Country

Ryan Cannell expected nothing more than a big hole in the ground when he visited the Grand Canyon. He was wrong.

When I hit the road with a couple of friends on a pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon, it was really just a case of wanting to tick it off my list. I expected a hole in the ground, and I’d already been to a gat in Kimberley, so I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t.

First things first: Renting cars in the US is quite easy, and reasonably cheap if you’re looking out for a deal. Along the way you can stop in any of a multitude of seedy motels that don’t cost much, but I assume you’ve seen them in movies (yes, they can be that dirty).

Finally, make sure you know the laws of the State you’re in – as you drive over state lines, the laws change. In California if you’re pulled over, don’t get out of the car, you might be shot. In Utah you don’t want to get caught driving over 120 mp/h – you go straight to jail (unless you’re all foreigners and pretend you can only speak Italian, in which case the cop might take pity on you and let you off with a warning).

We stopped in a place called Arches National Park, where mountains (actually large rocks) had eroded from the middle out, creating massive (you-guessed-it) arches, or perhaps it’s better to think of them as circles – like some all-powerful receptionist took their all-powerful punch, and punched holes right into the rock.

As we drove, we noticed that the ground parallel to the road began to split apart, like torn pants. We followed the growing separation until it veered off into the distance, but shortly after, we saw signs announcing our arrival at the Grand Canyon. To get there we drove through a small town (where we picked up a guide to the canyon), and then through a forest. The ground was again covered in snow, but wildlife thrived. Often we had to stop and let small deer trot across our path. There are a number of lookout points for the Grand Canyon, and we parked at the first one we could (according to our map), and walked up to take a look.

Editorial

Walking up to the lookout point, nothing seemed particularly special, but coming over a slight rise our collective breath. The world disappeared – a gash in the fabric of reality – we could feel the vastness. The earth had been ripped apart and edges smoothed into a perfect painting. The Canyon was formed by a combination of tectonic uplift and millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River. It is 446km long, and 1.83km deep. The reason it’s such an exceptional view is that, because of the erosion, many layers of the earth have been exposed, each one contributing a slightly varied shade to the landscape, resulting in a beautiful wash of colour.

After visiting all the lookout points, taking a few thousand photos, precariously dangling our feet over sheer cliff faces, and group-screaming into the canyon whenever we could, we left feeling quite pleasantly light. With one of the seven natural wonders happily ticked off, we headed back to California. It was a beautiful and peaceful drive through the Mojave desert. It also took us straight through Las Vegas, where we stopped to partake in the Hedonism (but that’s another story).

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