Grand Canyon – amazing, sublime and lonely

While the beneficial effects of physical exercise at the gym are obvious, repeated prostrations at mosques are yet to show results, if the moral standards and civic behaviour in Muslim countries are any guide.

On the way to Grand Canyon we stopped in the small “transit” town of Flagstaff, chock-a-block with hotels, motels and restaurants.  I noted the following food outlets on a short stretch of  the main road:  Jack in the Box, Hinday’s Grill, Thai Kitchen, Tacos, China Garden, Starbucks, Choba Hut (toasted subs), MacDonalds, Strombolis (Italian), Dominoes, Subway, Pizza Bonita (Mexican), Wendys, Burger King, Mandarin Super Buffet, Baskin Robbins, Picazza’s Pizza, Luppa Cafe, August Moon (Chinese), Carl’s Junior, Oscars, Burritos, Peter Piper Pizza, Chillis, Busters, KFC, Arbys, and Pizza Hut. 

Their sheer number is a testament not only to the number of people who pass through Flagstaff, but also to the ever-expanding appetite of Americans. When people become affluent, food flows thick and fast, and obesity follows.  Visitors to the US do not fail to note that, compared to any other Western country, food prices there are lower and the servings bigger. So big, in fact, that neither my wife nor I could hardly ever consume all we were served at restaurants.

No wonder the United States is also the obesity superpower of the world.  American obesity has a dimension all its own, as queues had in the Soviet Union.  During my first visit to the US in 1983, I saw more grossly overweight people in my first 24 hours than I had in the previous 24 years. 

However, a veritable gym-mania is now sweeping the West.  People now go to the gym with the same regularity and devotion with which Muslims visit the mosque.  But, while the beneficial effects of physical exercise at the gym are obvious, repeated prostrations at mosques are yet to show results, if the moral standards and civic behaviour in Muslim countries are any guide.

The road from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon goes over flat territory but gradually climbs to nearly two thousand metres, the elevation being recorded on roadside markers at every thousand feet of ascent.  At its highest point, the south rim of the canyon is at nearly 2,500 meters, giving it a cool temperature and the feel of a hill station.

The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon, 446 km long, up to 29 km wide, and attains a depth of over a mile or 1,800 metres.  Here, nearly two billion years of the earth’s geological history has been exposed as the Colorado River, which appears like a silver ribbon from the rims, cuts through, exposing layer after layer of rock.

Our day on the South Rim began bright and clear, but early afternoon saw a sudden, severe thunderstorm and pouring rain.  This led to the closing down of all viewing points as a safety measure to prevent accidents and injuries.  Though this deprived us of some viewing time, it gave us the opportunity to see the canyon in its full splendour.  First it was lighted up by thunderbolts, with ear-splitting thunder echoing from the depths of the canyon. Then, the thunderstorm over, the area was enveloped in mist and cloud.

Before European immigration, this region was inhabited by Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon a holy site worth of pilgrimage. The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was Garcia Lopez de Cardenas of Spain, who arrived in 1540.

On a previous trip, I had been to Bryce Canyon, about two hundred kilometres to the north, in southwestern Utah.  Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon but a giant natural amphitheatre created by erosion, its rim rising from 2,400 to 2,700 metres.  The red, orange, and white colours of the rocks provide spectacular views.

It is a very colourful sight, Bryce Canyon, but Grand Canyon is huge and spectacular, fully deserving of its appellation.  Citing the “wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon”, President Theodore Roosevelt appealed to his countrymen: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”  “Teddy” Roosevelt is known as the “conservation president’’ because of his devotion to national parks, five of which owe their creation to him.

From Flagstaff to Albuquerque in New Mexico, Interstate-40 follows the same route as the historic Highway 66, sometimes lovingly called the Main Street of America or the Mother Road.  The original road, started in 1926, ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, covering nearly four thousand kilometres.

The capital of the state of New Mexico, Santa Fe is an adorable Western town with a Middle Eastern hue and a visible native Indian population.  At an elevation of 2,134 metres, it has the distinction of being the highest state capital as well as the oldest capital city in the US, having served as capital under three administrations, Spanish, Mexican and American.

At the heart of the city is the historic central Plaza, which is dominated by the adobe structure known as the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States, built in 1610 as Spain’s seat of government. In 1909, the building was converted into the Museum of New Mexico and is now the principal of Santa Fe’s four museums. It preserves 400 years of the state’s history from the 16th century Spanish exploration to modern times.

Just over a hundred kilometres north of Santa Fe, the laid-back hill town of Taos is nestled between the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the deep Rio Grande Gorge. Situated in the centre of New Mexico’s most sparsely populated region, it is a popular ski resort and an artist’s colony.

The main attraction at Taos is Taos Pueblo, the largest of northern New Mexico’s Indian settlements, where life continues as in times past. Unfortunately, on the day we arrived there, it was closed for some festivity.  A very rude gate keeper waved us off, not even allowing us to take a picture from the outside.

On the road again, we headed north and northeast towards Denver in Colorado. We passed through quaint little towns and some awesome scenery, flat terrain with mountains in the distance on either side.  One of these towns, San Luis, was advertised as the oldest town in all Colorado.

By Razi Azmi

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3 Responses to Grand Canyon – amazing, sublime and lonely

  1. Pradeep Kalra says:

    A very enjoyable and educative reading.Travel is Education and the readers will surely learn a thing or two.

  2. Javed Agha says:

    Interesting. I wish you had added some pictures.

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