The silver Mustang arrowed its way across the flat desert scrubland. All around was a blinding brightness as the rays of the afternoon sun beat mercilessly down. The way ahead gave no indication of what lay just over the horizon. The giant chasm of the Grand Canyon carved out by a single river, the Colorado, fully 277 miles in length and 10 miles across, on average. Had we kept on going, we would have ended up like the doomed duo, Thelma and Louise, in the final climactic scene of the movie.
Tarini and I are the more outwardly bound in our small family of four, and so we settled on the South Kaibab trail for our adventure the next morning. It has the reputation of being one of the most challenging trails descending into the Canyon, but also with some stunning views since it follows open ridgelines. Compared to the trails we were used to in the Himalayas, this was a cakewalk with a broad well-defined path, and we quickly reached the unimaginatively named Ooh-Aah Point about 600 feet below the canyon rim. On seeing the crowds of day-trippers, we decided to press on, and soon reached the next staging post of Cedar Ridge, a further 500 feet down. From here the views of the fantastically carved buttes and mesas were quite stunning. Just below us rose the great funnel of O’Neill Butte, and in the distance to the east we could see the conical spire of the Vishnu Temple.
The day was hot and so we munched on our apples sitting on a twisted cedar log and made the decision to turn around, much to the unspoken relief of the friendly Park Ranger who had greeted us. Over 800 people have died in the Grand Canyon since the mid-1800s, mainly due to being overzealous and not careful enough, and we were not keen to add to that number. The sun was now out in full strength and I struggled my way back to the rim while Tarini scrambled easily ahead. A passing of the baton from the old to the young, and I was reminded of the book I was reading, Two for the Summit, Geoffrey Norman’s account of his adventures in the mountains climbing with his daughter Brooke.
One of the must-dos of any trip to the Grand Canyon is to watch the sunset or sunrise. Since neither of us was a morning person, the answer was obvious. So that evening found us being driven to Hopi Point on the Hermits Rest route in a comfortable LNG-powered bus along with dozens of other tourists. Alighting at Hopi, the sun was still high in the sky and the area seemed too crowded. So we walked the additional mile to Mohave Point which gave us a view of the Colorado, a thin sliver of silver in the canyon far below. I just could not get my mind around the fact that this lone river had carved out this giant chasm over the period of 6 million years. As the sun began to sink into the western horizon, the prehistoric limestone cliffs were painted in unreal colours of ochre and gold. We jostled for space to take the obligatory photo. Darkness settled into the canyon and our bus carried us back to the village, a bright bubble of colour racing through an ancient land.
Dedicated to the memory of my friend Rajiv Sinha