Monday, June 13, 2011

A hole in the world

By George, I was not expecting a bunch of hippies to bombard my room at 1AM, but that's something you have to anticipate in hostels. After breaking in, a bandana wearing hippie complete with Native American jewelery announced to the room in a fake English accent that our European friend was extraordinarily drunk and needed help getting into the room. George, who I met in Austin popped up in the Flagstaff hostel, but had gone out into town and had a bit too much fun. When I told the hippie to stop speaking to me like a twat, I went outside, assisted more hippies in grabbing George and propped him up next to the sink before he slouched his way to the floor and vomited blood all over it. The hippies left, told me I had great karma and for the next few hours I slept with the light on to the sounds of George spewing and spitting all over the floorboards.

I managed a few hours kip, but was up at the ungodly hour of 7AM ahead of a trip to the Grand Canyon. Yesterday had left me well and truly taken by the Southwest, and the grand canyon has its own allure that has played on my attention since I arrived in America. I've loved seeing a lot of the amazing cities of the country, but there's no hiding the fact that nature has contributed to greatness of this place.

When 8AM ticked over, I waited outside for my bus to escort me through northern Arizona. A man stood outside the hostel in a Charlie Sheen t-shirt and warned me not to tread on the little people that were all over the drive-way. He later revealed that he was on a 10 hour mescaline bender, but I appreciated his advice regardless of his state of mind.

Flagstaff lies next to the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in Arizona. The bus took us around them, where we saw both sides of the peaks, with the area hidden from the city still covered with snow despite summer in the desert. It's almost as if mother nature was going through a surrealist period when she was painting this part of the world.
first glimpse

After an hour or so we made it up to the Grand Canyon airport, where the two richest people on the bus got off for a helicopter tour. The rest of us plebs had to settle for a gratis IMAX film about the Grand Canyon. It wasn't the experience I had signed up for, as I was hoping to get my Nikes a little bit dirty, but this is what happens when you don't do enough research. At the closing of the credits we picked up the helicopter people and headed to the Grand Canyon Village.

Elk were cruising around the area, unfazed by any automobile traffic or camera snap that followed them. The village looks like it is from 1890, with log cabins and stone buildings being the human impact on the area. Once I got past all the visitor centres, cliff-side restaurants and bum bag wearers I found myself on the edge of the canyon. You can't really see it from the village, but within a few steps you're right there, and it immediately takes the breath from your lungs - and you can't blame that on the altitude.

The first thing that struck me about the canyon is the vastness. The view seems to go on forever, but I knew I was only standing at one tiny part of it. Peaks and valleys are formed with a randomness, and it's reassuring to know that their remoteness means man probably hasn't ever set foot in those parts. It's hard to tell what's more impressive, the beauty of the scenery, or the knowledge that this is one example where nature will always triumph over humans.

I walked around the rim and put my toes over the edge at certain points to feel an insignificance like the little people the mescaline guy had mentioned earlier. It's certainly one way to gain a semblance of perspective, even if a gust of win could easily blow you off the edge and ruin your afternoon plans.

Originally, I had hoped to camp around the Grand Canyon and spend the days being an outdoorsy hiking type - I just ran out of time and money in Texas. I could see the hiking tracks that lead into the canyon, and it would have been great to go in there but I think my sense of scale was a little off. It takes weeks to explore this place, and for now, an afternoon around the rim would have to suffice.

The bus took us to different vantages all over the south side, all offering varying perspectives of the region. Again, the more I saw the more I realised how much is actually out there. We covered a lot of ground, but it's nothing to the overall scale. The word grand is a superlative that does not do it justice.

Rapid Vienna

I climbed the watchtower that had been converted to a tourist store, and looked out to the area that could yet join the Grand Canyon - so far only the Colorado River has carved its way through. Even with the obnoxious tourist shops and Native American wares, the area around the watchtower proved amazing. You can walk to the edge of the canyon and stare out at the rapids in the distance while condors fly around above you. It's a thrill a rollercoaster would struggle to match.

the almost canyon

Colorado River

Seeing the Grand Canyon is something I'm extremely proud to say I've done. It's easily one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and that was without even getting close. To some people seeing it is like ticking a box in a list of life's achievements, but all it did was whet my appetite to see more. That's what real beauty does, it sucks you in and makes you want to look at it for as long as you can. I didn't mind that I got sunburnt, or that I couldn't see as much as I would have liked, instead I became deeply enamored by the place. My time here is running short, but I just found another major reason to return.

Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland
I know there was a Bruce Springsteen connection on yesterday's song, but The Boss' saxophonist Clarence Clemons suffered a stroke today. He's pretty much the coolest guy in the E Street band and one of the biggest people in the world. When I first started listening to Springsteen it was the 10 minute epic 'Jungleland' that really convinced me of his genius. Sure it's poetic, and an excellent example of songwriting and musicianship, but it's the saxophone in it that really dominates. It's also one of the greatest album closing tracks of all time. Enjoy.

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