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Ah ha.

A couple months ago, the woman corralling my hair into shape filled me in on her vacation excursions. She had been to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee several times because her husband wanted to go there. They were going again this year, and she asked me if I had been there. I replied that I had not, and she asked me where I wanted to go. I replied that I wanted to go to the desert. Once again, I demonstrated my uncanny ability to crush a conversation. The desert was definitely a foreign concept to the hairdresser and why anyone would want to go to one clearly perplexed her. I saw her mentally discard my reply and retreat to the safety of Dolly Parton’s virtual arms. To keep her from going all Edward Scissorhands on me, I willed the creases from my forehead, stationed my eyebrows at listening level, and switched on the “how interesting” light in my eyes as she fleshed out the ins, outs, ups and arounds of Dollywood.

The thought of going to the desert wouldn’t leave me. I dreamt of it. I could imagine its heat and dryness and unfettered, unending openness; I could envision the long blueness of its sky. I wanted to immerse myself in the independence of the place. I had to get there, to the West. Soon.

When I suggested to Mike that we take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend for travel, he was enthusiastic and suggested a trip to Old Town Salem, North Carolina, a couple hundred miles down the road. Not missing a beat and without adding modifiers, qualifiers, or softening language, and being absolutely, completely, and desperately selfish, I said I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, at the other side of the country. There was no hairdresser-esque reaction, but I’m reasonably sure Mike wasn’t expecting that reply. And bless him, he agreed without question, and without reservation. With one sentence, I was on my way to somewhere I viscerally needed to be.

The Grand Canyon’s written guide asks how the visitor feels on first arriving at the rim — awed, overwhelmed, excited? My boss told me, more than once, to remember how I felt at first view. It seemed there might be a quiz on my return to the office.

Standing beside the Canyon, I felt almost nothing.

I wanted very much for that intense need I harbored for freedom, lightness, and no boundaries to be instantly gratified, to feel the shedding of a heavy weight at seeing the endless view before me, to spread my arms and utter a big “thank you!” of release. Instead, I felt guilty and frightened that I didn’t “get it,” and wondered if I just didn’t understand something, more about myself than the Canyon. So, I said wow, and maybe a couple other appropriate comments, and we began walking along the rim trail.

The rim trail is paved and offers view after view accessible to everyone. That is an excellent thing, that persons of all abilities can be this close to the edge of the Canyon, a chasm to which there is no lead in. One second there is ground, the next there is air. There’s no gradual descent, just an abrupt drop off. Most of the edge is quite readily available for anyone to teeter near, and that’s an excellent thing also. There are few forbidding handrails to restrain eager visitors nor signs at every turn yelping “DANGER!” There is an ostensible sense of personal responsibility to be assumed to avoid meeting a dramatic demise over the unforgiving cliff edge. We walked much of the paved trail section, admiring the canyon’s various features, with me awaiting the de rigueur “ah ha!” moment. Had we come so far for what I sought to not be there?

After a couple of miles of pleasant and uneventful walking beside this enormous ditch, we came to Bright Angel trail that leads into the Canyon. Early afternoon had arrived and I was hesitant to walk too far into the Canyon since we were not fully prepared for its difficulties at that time of day. I had also said that this trip was as much about seeing as it was about hiking; I wanted more to see the phenomenon that was the fabled Grand Canyon rather than engage in a grueling trek to its floor and back up. I have been a desk jockey of many years duration and I saw seasoned hikers coming off the trail panting and red-faced. I seriously doubted my hiking ability at this demanding location. But I could also see that Mike and I needed to be hiking in the Canyon, not strolling its rim as if it were a formal garden to be observed from the edge.

We returned the following day, prepared to hike the South Kaibab trail. This trail appeared steeper than Bright Angel and I approached it cautiously, wondering if I would be able to get myself back up after the descent. But as we walked along, down and down, in perfect weather in the passing company of hikers from around the world, only then did I receive the lessons of the Canyon; only then did the magnitude and eternity and spirituality of the place work its magic on my psyche. Walking the rim trail was like listening to a song played on the radio, while hiking into the Canyon itself was akin to being part of the crowd at an outdoor music festival singing along with a thousand new friends. And for once, I held myself in that moment, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow, not rushing to the next turn in the trail, instead pausing to absorb every view for which I couldn’t seem to open my eyes wide enough to take in all the nuances, laying my hand flat against the vertical rock walls to feel the shock of their uncompromising strength and eternity and indifference to so short-lived a being as me. This place had been here long, long before me and would be there long after I’m not even a memory. There was a strange, inexplicable comfort in that realization.

The Grand Canyon, an ancient and living thing unto itself, cared nothing for or about me, and forced me to surrender control and abide by its rules before it would allow me to have what I needed.  This was no soft and tender healing — this was alpha and omega and in-your-face uncompromising knowledge and acceptance that I was just one of many who have been and will be forgotten by this vast and marvelously beautiful gash in the earth. This was my “ah ha” moment, and much, much more.

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103 responses to “Ah ha.

  1. It has been said, rightfully I think, that the Grand Canyon is one of the few places on Earth that fully lives up to (and exceeds) its hype.

  2. I was there this pass weekend and I am still recovering from it’s affect. My time there was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Thanks for sharing your photos.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  3. Oh, Linda. Wow. When Jim told me you’d sent a message that you and MIke were getting on a plane to Arizona, I NEVER thought about you going to the Grand Canyon. It IS such a mighty and powerful sight, and can truly move one to deep, new, and somehow inexplicable feelings. Yet you have articulated so well your initial anticipation, seeming disappointment, and then your “aha” moment – and brought to all who read it that sense of awe and raw emotion. Thank you for your strength, your powerful observations, your spirit-filled feelings, and most of all for sharing those in such a perfectly beautiful and selfless way. A truly rich read on this rainy day.

  4. Gorgeous. I doubt I’ll ever do anything other than fly over it so this was a treat. Thanks.

  5. It is probably the most beautiful (what a lame word) place I’ve ever seen. I haven’t flown over it but would really like to.

  6. How PERFECT that this post was Freshly Pressed, Linda! (Did you know that?! I think it might have just gone up?! WOOOOOOOT!!!!!!) SO well deserved; the pictures (and prose!) are just beautiful. I hope I can visit one day, too!

  7. Wow. I relate to your feeling of “Am I missing something?” when at first you didn’t have the expected a-ha moment. I feel like this is such a good analogy for so many things in life- to really feel the bigness and amazingness of them, you have to climb in with everything you’ve got and fully experience them, wondering if you’ll be able to make it out. Otherwise, all you’re doing is looking at them from afar, which rarely ever gave anyone an a-ha moment. So cool!

    • How right you are. No standing on the sidelines. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Second that!

        I had a very similar experience when I visited Machu Picchu a few years back. Looking at the scenery from afar I couldn’t really understand what the hype was all about. But once I started walking around the historical place, touching and feeling those unique stones and receiving the amazing energy of the place my thoughts of the place had completely changed!

        • The need does become tactile. I want to be respectful of these places and not contribute to wearing down edges or leaving my DNA on a rock, but I simply had to touch, as well as smell. On my last view of the Canyon before leaving, I stood barefoot on a rock and did a little twisty move to try to remember through my soles how the place felt. Thanks for reading.

  8. I’m glad you finally had your magic moment. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, and never thought of it as a high priority on my “to do” list, but now I would definitely like to go explore it. Congratulations on the FP.

  9. The Grand Canyon would be wonderful to see! Glad you were able to let go of your expectations and enjoy being there. 🙂

  10. I love your analogy of music. When I was last there, I made a less creative comparison to art. Standing on the rim is like looking at a oil painting. Being deep in the canyon is like climbing a sculpture.
    Thanks for the memories and congrats on being FP!

  11. I definetly enjoyed your post. Grand Canyon is an incredible place but one you have to engage..actually enter into in order to receive its full effect. I haven’t met anyone so far who hasn’t had the same initial reaction to the Grand Canyon as well as the catharsis after taking to the trail. Very cool blog and post. You are a very good writer. And beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!

  12. All through the post, I kept waiting for you to say “but then it became more interesting”. Nice read 🙂

    • And so it did! Especially when I walked around a bend and there was a man hiking in black underwear! I haven’t quite figured out how to relay that whole story yet. Thanks for stopping in.

  13. I grew up and still live in a small, rural farming community here in the midwest. I love the desert. I could live there. When I tell people that, they wrinkle their noses at me like I just said I love dirty socks and underwear. I’ve never understood that reaction. Your pictures are amazing!

  14. like the narrative and pics

  15. Great description of your moment. From the rim the canyon is two dimensional. It is so huge that you get the same effect from looking at a picture of it. I’ve tried walking down the trail a couple of times. Each time it was in December, and the path was iced over from foot traffic compressing the snow. That was not a happy trek. I lasted about a tenth of a mile and decided this was a summer activity. I had visions of me slipping, falling and tumbling over the edge into the abyss. Instead, I have visited the canyon at various times of the day and seasons to experience the wonder of it. Snow-time is absolutely stunning, evening shadows are super, and thunder-lightening storms times are magnificent. One time I was there with the National Bike Rally. We rode our bikes from the canyon to Flagstaff. That is a super way to experience the desert. Thanks for awakening memories of days long gone.

  16. It’s an amazing place. I hiked the canyon down to the creek in June 1994, beginning at 8:00 a.m., arriving at the creek at noon. Then it was 8 hrs back up. It is a life-changing experience to be inside a place that is so ancient and so incredibly beautiful. Timeless. I totally get why this felt like an absolute must-do. It is!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • I certainly didn’t expect a Fresh Press for this; thanks! It is life changing, isn’t it? We didn’t go all the way to the bottom, and I had a difficult time turning around. I wanted to keep going and going.

  17. Love your story, Mad Queen 😉
    I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting the Grand Canyon, but I’ve seen amazing pics (like yours) and know they probably don’t even do justice to how wonderous it must be!

  18. Overwhelmed By Joy

    I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time this summer. My 82-yr old mother joined us for her virgin trip as well. The mental images are sewn tightly together for a secure memory that will surely last for years to come. That first view is indeed unforgettable!

  19. goodest of photos, sob.. , like this

  20. it had not been on list to visit, but maybe I need to it might be similar to my experience at Machu picci since i had been to lots of ruins before, but machu picci is different and amazing. i am glad Uncle Mike was so agreeable to your wish 🙂

  21. Sometimes nature can seem so vast and enduring we can forget how much we can impact it ourselves — often in a negative way. It’s been encouraging to witness how Japan has recovered from and responded to the dangers of radiation, but it still seems that people are thinking ‘not here’ when, imo, the danger still exists — and may be even more important to acknowledge than before.

  22. 5 stars! Can’t wait until its my turn to go. Congrats on the FP!

  23. Such a passionate blog.

  24. Congratulations on FP. You’re going to have a wild day.

  25. I would love to go to the Grand Canyon again. First time the canyon wasn’t there — well it probably was but no one could see it. The Ranger’s said it was the worst fog they’d had in years.

    • I was a bit concerned about not being able to see or participate in it. The area was having a great deal of rain, which was also something I was fleeing. But the sun, blue moon, and stars aligned and our time there was perfect. Thanks for visiting the Bus Stop.

  26. I love the Grand Canyon, it’s always something new and I live in AZ. You could spend years exploring it.

  27. When I was 18 and in college, I was having a conversation with an ‘older’ man of 24, who was a world traveler, and suave and debonair to boot. He asked me my favorite place in the world and without hesitation I said “the Grand Canyon”. He dismissed my comment like I was the world’s biggest idiot. In that moment so long ago I failed to impress the man, but still stand by my choice today at the age of 64. When I was 18 I had just seen the canyon for the first time, and only from the rim. But I’ll never forget the impression it made on me. I had no idea that one day I would actually be living in Arizona and a mere 100 miles away from the South Rim. I never get tired of seeing the Canyon; it is always a thrill. I have flown over it dozens of time as well, and it always feels like home. In my mind it is simply the record of all time; the oldest rocks on the planet. There is something ‘grand’ about that alone. I have floated the Colorado River running through it, and hiked up its sides. My favorite place of all is the North Rim, because it lacks the volume of visitors that plague the South Rim. I like having the canyon to myself, as with all nature. You made a wise choice wanting to visit, and I’m glad your visit made an impression on you. It may not rank as your favorite place of all time, but you had your aha moment with the ‘vast and marvelously beautiful gash in the earth’.

    • Aargh! I admit it! It IS my favorite place! Now I’ll probably be struck by lightning for placing it ahead of Big Bend in Texas. Your story would make a good blog post. Thanks for reading mine.

  28. Grand Canyon is unbelievable–especially the less visited north rim! Fortunately, I have been there several times in my earlier days when knees didn’t ache and my back didn’t creak. Getting down in it is when the awe hits your heart and soul, and wonderment of how small we all really are is evident. I tend to be drawn to canyons- aged over time by wind and water exposing the innards of the hard rock. Have you read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey? I read it a hundred years ago when I was young, nubile, and not yet jaded by life. Abbey- a hard core environmentalist exposed me to Canyonlands and Arches where I spent many days hiking and camping and getting dysentery from mosquito larve ridden water and sleeping on the sandstone rocks without a tent gazing at the copious amount of stars shooting across the sky. A youth well spent. Have you been to Zion? It is more a “looking up” kind of experience but beautiful nontheless. And I highly recommend another hardly known canyon in Utah with an unfortunate name–Dead Horse Point. It is the Grand Canyon without people. Dead Horse Point is also carved by the Colorado River. If you go to Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point is a spit away but not nearly as peopled. And Moab Utah has a great brewery to quench your thirst after a long day of hiking.

    • I’ve wanted to see Zion and Arches and after the Canyon sojourn I know I must see them. Seeing the sky was almost as vital to me as seeing the Canyon. Several years back my husband and I camped in Big Bend without a tent, and I woke to see more stars above than I imagined existed. Thanks for you story and recommendations (I love beer!).

  29. Thanks for the photos! I have to get there someday….

  30. Ist interesting post and beautyfull photos. Nice thanks 🙂

  31. Reblogged this on Makais Blog and commented:
    thanks for sharing those pics

  32. You certainly hit a nerve on this one, Queen Linda. Congrats on the lovely response here on the blog. Even more congrats on having the wisdom and follow through to get what you needed in the vastness of the experience!

    • Thanks for stopping in, Shelly. It has been very interesting to read all the comments. I wish I could get all the commenters together at the Canyon at the same time.

      • What a great conclave that would be! Maybe you can become an Awe tour organizer – screen for people who feel the strongest draw to a particular destination, then get them all there at the same time. High difficulty factor, but high amplification of communal appreciation…ideally after everyone’s soaked up nature on their own and is back sitting around at the campfire.

  33. Great writing and pictures. Definitely an “ah ha” piece of writing.

    And congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  34. Great post! I’m fortunate enough to have been to the Grand Canyon twice and there’s no being casual about it. Like you, I really would like to spend more time IN it next time. And there WILL be a next time! Oh yes! :0)

  35. Have never seen the Grand Canyon, thanks for the post.
    http://awesomerockreviews.wordpress.com

  36. The Grand Canyon is spectacular but, whenever I am there, I always feel like I am not part of the canyon and it’s always that space ‘over there’. I feel that I am a spectator and never quite ‘in’ the canyon. I had this feeling despite spending a night camping at the bottom at phantom ranch and again when I took my young children to the half way point on the Bright Angel.

    In contrast, hiking through the Canyonlands in South Eastern Utah, I’ve always felt part of the landscape, part of the desert. I was ‘in’ the Canyonlands and, consequently, the Canyonlands were in me.

  37. Great post. The Grand Canyon is such an amazing site. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Nature does that to ya. Loved your post.

  39. Oh! Grand Canyon. One of the many awesome places I dread to see. Thanks for this. 🙂

  40. Beautiful account of your travel… And the realization..ahhh!!…i think we all have that at some point… these grand places make u feel that way…but then the everyday life and the world that we are in, they all have come and went, and we r just a small speck in this system at this time…and won’t even be remembered soon after we r gone, but here we are feeling like the heroes of the world all the time :p
    http://mirrormon.wordpress.com

  41. Beautiful pastels

  42. Back in the Spring I ran the Grand Canyon from the north rim to the south rim. It was a great experience! I plan on doing it again in October.

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  44. Great photos. I’m glad you found your desert, and your moment. Sounds like a truly magical place.
    Cheers,
    iRuniBreathe

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  47. Great pictures! I’d love to visit the Grand Canyon some day. I have done desert hiking in the Wadis and mountains of Oman. Check out these pics…http://delanasworld.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/after-christmas-hike/

  48. Loved this. My late husband was a native Arizonan, and we loved the Grand Canyon. I had that ah-ha moment the very first time I went. I felt like I needed to crawl to the edge instead of walk. It overwhelmed me and awed me at the immensity of God’s great creation!! Wish I’d seen this when it was first posted!

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