It’s smaller than I thought.
And anyway, it’s just a hole – who’d want to go and see something that’s not even there?
I’m lying, obviously. It’s HUGE. Indescribably huge. Incomprehensibly huge. The only part of my brain that comprehends it at all is my amygdala, which sends shock waves pulsing through me whenever I get within ten feet of the edge. It’s like a magnet – the closer I get, the harder it tries to push me away. When I sat on the edge to write some of this post, my laptop felt like it was about to leap off my knee and hurl itself into oblivion. I’ve never gripped anything so tightly. (I know someone who gets this feeling a lot, and now I have a better understanding of it, albeit too late.)
I started out with a walk along the rim, which was pretty amazing (see? It’s indescribable. I lack suitable adjectives and metaphors). The crowds got thinner (in every respect) the further I got from Mather Point. Only the very busiest parts have handrails, so most of the time you really have to watch your footing. I’d always assumed that the ground would get steadily more canyon-like the nearer you got to the canyon proper, but actually it’s a perfectly flat plain and then, whoa!!!
After strolling for a couple of miles along the rim I drove to a trail and hiked a little way down into the canyon. I stomped briskly down for about 45 minutes (and breathlessly back up again for 90) and that hardly even made a dent in it. But the views were vertiginous and stunning. Try as I might I couldn’t take it in, though. I kept telling myself that the fine green stippling that looked like spray paint was really trees, but nothing could give me a sense of scale. It was like looking at a huge painting, because there was no parallax – nothing changed its relative position as you moved.
Eventually, as one viewpoint gives way to another, you start to become used to it. It gains a familiarity and you become braver at stepping out onto jutting slabs of rock, a mile above the river and 600 feet above the first thing you would hit. The canyon starts to feel like a living thing, when really it’s the absence of a thing. Very odd. The human brain just isn’t designed to handle things this big. But it does help remind me that I’m just one puny little animal, sitting on a tiny planet, floating round a mediocre star, which sits in an inconspicuous part of the spiral arm of an utterly irrelevant galaxy, which in turn is just one of a hundred billion galaxies in the known universe. If that doesn’t give me a sense of proportion nothing will.
So that’s another wonder of the world ticked off. (And at least I know I’m not suicidal)
My headache started to subside this morning (yesterday now – I couldn’t get an internet connection last night) and I managed to book a room in a crummy motel, so I decided to press on from Flagstaff after all. I needed to take my mind off things and it’s best to keep moving. So now The Canyon is behind me and I’m located in a place called Page, Arizona, just below the border with Utah. From what I can see so far, it’s a bit like living in a salmon mousse. I don’t think I like the town much – the locals have been trampled on by so many tourists (some of them English – they’re the worst) that they don’t care any more. It reminds me of Calcutta, somehow. There can’t be many options for people out here. I overheard a conversation between youths this evening: one of them clearly had big aspirations, and insisted he wasn’t going to be a washer-up like the others; he wanted to be a waiter.
This is almost as far west as I’ll go. Lake Powell (which Stephen Fry adored) is just down the street and Antelope Canyon not far away. Getting rooms over the weekend is tricky, so I hope to camp. You can camp on the beach at Lake Powell, but I think you need a boat to do that and I forgot to pack one, so I’ll have to see what happens.
Today’s sensations: Vertigo. The awful sadness of happy memories. Sunburn, because I forgot that clouds make little difference at 7,000 feet.