May 25, 2008

Nominative Determinism

Tuesday I took a slowish start, stocking up on food and CDs in Page (where I'd spend the previous night), and then making the two-hour drive southwest to the Grand Canyon.

I had always had this image in my head of the Grand Canyon as this big hole in the middle of the desert. And, to be sure, it is a big freaking hole. It is hole-drenched. Words cannot sufficiently describe what an enormous, gargantuan hole the Grand Canyon is.

However, it is conspicuously not in the middle of the desert. In fact, most of its southern rim is pretty heavily forested, and if you drive even forty-five minutes south you find yourself in an alpine landscape called "the Snowbowl", complete with white-capped mountains and swarms of pine trees. Who knew?

The canyon itself is its own micro-economy. I entered the park from its eastern entrance on state route 64 (for the princely sum of $25 — no nosebleed with which to haggle, this time), and was immediately presented with an enormous welcome complex. There were restrooms, two snack bars, a gift shop, and enough parking to accommodate the crowd for an entire Montreal Alouettes season. Only another hour or so down the road you reach Grand Canyon, Arizona, a village set inside the national park boundaries. It has a restaurant, hotel, bank, post office, supermarket, public transport system, railroad station, and about 1,500 permanent residents as of the 2000 census. It also has a big freaking hole in the ground, which I think I may have already mentioned.

I spent the afternoon strolling around the woods around the village, and then, once the heat had let up a little, I hiked about two miles into the canyon itself. It's like being in a Jules Verne novel. The atmosphere instantly begins to get darker, damper, and hotter, as soon as you start to drop. I only got about a thousand feet down (out of six thousand or so), but that was enough to be thoroughly wowed.

At the end of day, I took a motel room in Flagstaff, which is a delightful little town just off the old US Route 66. A lot of it is motel sprawl to accommodate canyonistas like me, but it also houses Northern Arizona University and a historic downtown district full of bars and sushi (a lot of fresh fish in the middle of Arizona, evidently). I bought myself a burger and fell peacefully asleep.

Next: The rundown!

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