Grand Canyon

Jadąc wzdłuż Path Entrance Route, niecierpliwie zerkasz przez okno samochodu, by wreszcie dostrzec choć kawałek tajemniczego Wielkiego Kanionu. Wiadomość, że kryje się on za drzewami nie wystarcza…

Like a small child, impatient to get a present, you are trying to see through the thick growth of trees to catch the first glimpse of a scenic surprise. For a split second you can see a part of the Canyon’s rocky sides only to have it covered again. All around nature is playing cat and mouse with you until it stops the torture at Mother Point. Finally you get your prize. The astonishing view stretching down from your feet makes you turn from a greedy child into a humble creature overpowered by the purple abysses and dark contours of the cliffs. Standing like this on the Grand Canyon’s rim, a bit dizzy, you feel an overwhelming urge to descend and traverse its mysterious crannies on your own.

Many a tourist feels this temptation as they pass this place, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon, along with its unforgettable images of ravines and precipices, is hidden behind the stories of its geological past, varieties of life forms, and the work of its creator, the capricious Colorado River. To unveil all these mysteries let yourself be taken for a while to this awesome part of Arizona.

When you stand on the Grand Canyon’s rim it is impossible to realise its real dimension. It turns out though that these seemingly immeasurable regions of rocky land are charted and numbered. The Grand Canyon lies in the heart of the West of the U.S., in Arizona, on the northern high plateaux of Kaibab and Coconino and its peaks and gorges stretch from the mouth of the Paria River in the north of the state to the Grand Wash Cliffs near the border with Nevada. Along this way the Colorado River carves the rocks, covering a distance of about 277 miles. Its huge valley between the south and north rims may vary from half-a-mile to as much as 18 miles in width depending on the place you stand. However, the most attractive and impressive section lies in the 56-mile long Grand Canyon National Park.

One of the secrets to unravel on your trip down the Grand Canyon goes far beyond what you can see with the naked eye. Enchanted by the combination of pastel hues on the different rock strata, you may wonder what forces have sculpted the cliffs and formed them in their rock layers. To find this out you have to go back about 10 million years. For that length of time the Colorado River has been cutting its path through the Kaibab and Coconino plateaux, the ones formed during the Precambrian uplifting. The Colorado is the main excavating tool but not the only architect of the Canyon, for volcanic eruptions, melting glaciers, and rock movements have also influenced the rock strata. The river uncovers the oldest part of the Canyon, the Vishnu Schist, a dark, granite rock, one of the most ancient ones in the earth’s crust ever exposed. Above it, the rock strata consist of shale, limestone and sandstone in which the fossils of fish, amphibians, and reptiles can be found. All of these rock and ancient life formations are now visible because of the river’s rapid current and all the sculpting tools it carries with it: mud, sand, and eroded soil which give the water its brickred-like colour. From this comes the name of the river, Rio Colorado, which in Spanish means ‚red-coloured’. From the rim the river seems to be a creek-like narrow stream and it is difficult to believe that the erosion and excavation process continues. In fact as you watch the Canyon is growing. You are a witness to an never ending geological process, a significant event in Earth’s history

Looking down from the Grand Canyon’s rim you may either want to traverse the Canyon or, then a bit scared by the scale and drop to the Canyon floor, you prefer to step back. In fact, there is a lot to offer for all the visitors to the Canyon. Extreme experiences, different physical exploits, you can have them. The sturdiest hikers as well as less experienced visitors can choose from a number of attractions: backpack hikes, mule back trips, descent of the rapids, or even camping at the very bottom of the Canyon. When choosing the best option for you you should take into account your health, experience, weather, and, of course, the time you have to spare. If you want to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon there are two trails to descend from the South Rim; the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail. Both of them twist down to the Inner Canyon, but only the second one goes up to the North Rim, a more challenging section. For some it may be too difficult and tiring to cover the distance of about 20 miles from rim to rim in one day, unless they are like the cross-country runner who reportedly set a record of three hours and 56 minutes! Going all the way down you reach the Inner Canyon, where the Phantom Ranch awaits the tired hikers. This is a cluster of cabins and restaurants, humorously named by their owners ‚ the lowest-down ranch in the world’. If you are not pressed for time you can spend a few days camping at the ranch, with days for short trips, photography, and contemplation. Even at the Canyon’s bottom you can find quieter as well as hair-raising experiences. Tourists may either rest on the Colorado’s calm tributaries or take a guided boat ride through its mighty current. Those who prefer to use a means of transport other than their own feet to reach the bottom can try the mule back trip, an extremely popular attraction requiring one month in advance reservations. Try not to miss the stop at Yaki Point for the sunrise and Hopi Point for the sunset. From these two viewpoints in two days you can witness a spectacular and fantastic play of colour across the skies. These are the mysterious places in the Canyon, try not to miss them when you visit.

In this pristine world, however, there are afew signs of man’s intrusion. If you happen to stand on the South Rim during the peak of summer tourism, for example, you will probably see the Canyon over someone’s shoulder and the question arises whether its ravines and buttes are really unspoiled by human touch. The fact is the Grand Canyon National Park administration controls the detrimental impact of tourism. For example, one of the park laws says, ‚You packed it in, you packed it out’, obliging every visitor to carry on his/her back all the things brought by him/her into the Canyon. Unfortunately rules are not always respected and amongst the wonders of the natural world you may find pieces of tinfoil or cigarettes butts.

Looking for other threats of tourists, however, you do not only need to search for garbage. Much more visible human devices, such as a small bulldozer used to level the campground will take aback many a visitor. Even such trifles as Coca-Cola bottles of water fastened to the mules or disturbing roars of motor riverboats in the Colorado stay in sharp contrast to this originally hermit-like place. Moreover, the consequences of human activity are threatening in even longer terms. The recent construction of the dams (Hoover Dam in 1936 and Glen Canyon Dam in 1963), although indispensable for the irrigation of neighbouring states, cause damage to the ecosystem of the Canyon. Since the dams stop most of the silt, the rapid river current eats away the remaining riverbed and changes the river life. Some of the fish used to warm and muddy waters have already died off and beavers no longer reside in the riverbanks because of the ever changing water levels. In the light of all these menacing factors, it may be worthwhile to quote President Theodore Roosevelt during his visit to the Grand Canyon in 1911: ‚It is beautiful and terrible and unearthly …. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it’. On your visit to the Grand Canyon, you should also try to understand this message which this place tries to convey through all its wonders.

The Grand Canyon, tempting and fortunately not completely harnessed by man is open to anyone who wants to immerse him/herself into the world of sublime views, tranquillity, of nature, and the overpowering river, which for thousands of years has been shaping this awesome wonderland. Once you have been here, you feel the urge to return to these mysterious cliffs and crannies again.

Magdalena Ziółek


scenic malowniczy
humble skromny
abyss otchłań
rim brzeg
to feel dizzy kręcić się w głowie
to descend zejść, zniżyć się
to traverse przemierzać
ravine wąwóz
precipice przepaść
to unveil odsłaniać
charted skatalogowane
plateaux równina
gorge wąwóz
to carve wyrzeźbić
to unravel rozwikłać
uplifting wypiętrzenie
to excavate wykopywać
shale łupek
fossil skamielina
amphibian płaz
creek strumień
sturdy mocny
cross-country przełajowy
cluster zbitka
tributary dopływ
pristine nieskazitelny
intrusion wtargnięcie
detrimental bardzo szkodliwy
hermit pustelnik
silt muł
muddy błotnisty
harnessed wykorzystany