The story of the Grand Canyon is largely about nature's mysterious ways. But the experience also includes the marvels of human engineering and conservation
Awesome is, probably, the right word to describe this natural marvel on earth. A totally humbling experience, the infinite hues of the Grand Canyon are similar to the ever-changing multifarious colours of life, the good and the ugly complimenting each other. As one traverses the vast desert landscape of Arizona, with a distant cluster of snow-peaked mountains, the scenes from those Western cowboy movies suddenly come alive, generating goose pimples at the prospect of being intercepted.
We arrive at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon at two degrees after a three-hour-long comfortable bus ride (return nine to 10 hours with stopovers, with hotel pickup and drop) from Las Vegas, with passengers representing nearly a quarter of the globe. The spectacular sight of millions of years of movement of sea and mountains frozen in time casts a spell, no words adequate to describe the awe-inspiring depths through which flows the famous Colorado river, though it was running dry with winter knocking at the door. Looking at the rocks in complete silence, one mentally draws parallels to a larger-than-life amphitheatre or grand palace, or even an unending staircase.
The ride passes through the spectacular engineering marvel, the Hoover Dam (originally built in 1935 as the world's largest “electricity-producing facility”) presently being expanded through a massive tunnel in the rocky mountains. There are two ways of reaching the sight, by road and air. The aerial route is obviously shorter, more expensive and less adventurous (approximately $400 per person) compared to the bus journey (approximately $175 per person for the southern rim and $200 for the western rim, inclusive of buffet lunch – it caters to Indian taste buds as well).
And as is typical of the West, the well-preserved small taverns, inns and cottages for overnight stays (to watch the sunrise and sunsets) and honeymoon packages.
The buses stop near a tavern with a chain of eateries and souvenir shops at the mouth of the southern rim to allow a 2.5-mile walk down a paved trail to Mather Point, from where one looks across and down thousands of feet (with frosty winds biting at the ears) at the breathtakingly spectacular rocky landscape, which resulted from a collision and drifting apart of mountain formations and rise and fall of sea levels some two billion years ago, and now stand incised into an elevated plateau.
The rock formations, from angles looking like stairways, are known by different names, including one called Vishnu Basement that supposedly resulted from the movement of “a plate carrying island arcs and the plate that became North America. The heat and pressure from this process changed those existing rock layers into dark metamorphic rock, the basement of the canyon. Molten rock then squeezed into cracks and hardened as light bands of granite.” So says a tour booklet.
Other spectacular formations, beginning with Kaibab, include Toroweap, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Templd Butte, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale, Tapeats Sandstone, the Grand Canyon supergroup.
The colour variations, telling their own saga and history, will amaze both artists and architects. Many may even have been inspired to emulate them. This, coupled with topography and a forest range, is also a natural home for rare species of animals and birds like the humpback chub, beaver, rattlesnake, bighorn sheep, pinyon jay, mountain lion, Abert and Kaibab squirrel, turkey and mule deer.
One can run into them jaywalking through the forest alongside the National Park, a tribute to the American spirit for the preservation of nature, separated by smooth carpeted roads. Natural magic and human ingenuity truly make Grand Canyon one of the Seven Wonders of the World.