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The Grand Canyon

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), explorer, soldier, hunter-turned-conservationist and 26th President of the United States of America, went to see the Grand Canyon. This is what he had to say:

“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison – beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it is now. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity or loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Kept it has been, and 110 years later many of the United States, from Illinois to New Jersey to New Mexico to Oregon to Alabama, were represented by the car registration-plates Allison and I spotted in car park number three at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

From there, we and a rather large cross-section of modern-day America (there are five million annual visitors) wandered out to Mather Point to behold one of the true wonders of the natural world, a place that at first sight is too mind-boggling, too vast, too damned big to sum up in mere words.

Now, ‘awesome’ is a word I seldom use as I feel it is a rather cheapened word, but on first sight of the Grand Canyon I, like the late former President Roosevelt, was filled with awe. And I was not the only person standing, jaw agape, at the immense sight before my eyes.

For a minute or two, it seemed so unreal, as if the opposite plateau was so far away as to be other worldly; after I blinked a couple of times, it looked so close I could almost touch it. The Grand Canyon is a place that, by its very size, can play tricks on your sense of perspective.

Or, as someone within earshot of me said: “Oh my God, holy crap”. It is impressive to the point of being beyond description.

I have seen some amazing natural wonders of this planet in my 34 years – the view from the top of Snowdon on a clear day, the sweeping vista of the Maasai Mara, the Canadian Shield along the north shore of Lake Superior, the sunset over Santorini, the waterfalls that go by the names of Blue Nile, Victoria and Niagara. The Grand Canyon is up there with the best of them.

Down on one of the ridges that sank into the bowels of the canyon (where, at some point mostly unseen from our eyrie, the Colorado River winds its course), I saw what looked like a group of people following one of the Canyon’s many trails. But I couldn’t be completely sure that this was a party of hikers, as they were so dwarfed by the surrounding scenery as to be almost imperceptible.

At a closer angle, I got a touch of vertigo just by looking down from the safety of being behind a barrier.

To get away from the numbers, Allison and I drove out along the Desert View Drive, parked the rental car and walked the mile-long trail to Shoshone Point. Walking this, we got out of breath just by talking and could not work out why until we realised that we were at an altitude of just over 7,000 feet.

Shoshone Point has picnic tables but no barriers. Bereft of its onlookers, the Canyon still seemed unreal.

We got chatting to a passing warden who told us that the North Rim was a mere 15 miles away but could only be reached by a 200-mile drive. He also said that photography was futile; “No photograph can do this place justice. You can take a thousand photographs and it just won’t be as good as being here.”

Looking at photos I took, I can tell you that he’s right. So not only am I unable to adequately describe the Grand Canyon, but the pictures I provide cannot convey the sheer magnitude and impressiveness – oh, to hell with it, the awesomeness – of it.

Truly, the only way to appreciate the marvel of nature that is the Grand Canyon is to go and see it for yourself.

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