Letter from Utah: Part 5 of 12Posted: March 3, 2008
>This post is part 5 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.
My boots vanish, left in the parking lot in Moab, or somewhere, forgotten in Mt. Carmel Junction, found by hotel housekeeping who auctions them on eBay—who knows? Kip calls around, asking if anyone has found them, like they are old dogs who wandered away from home. I hike the rest of the trip in my sneakers.
Bryce Canyon hides behind a thick line of trees until you walk to the edge of it. Then it falls away, crumbling into endless hues of orange, ochre, ivory—you will not know names for all the colors. The sky spreads out from the lip of the canyon, opening and widening, bathing the spires and fins and towers in a glorious clean light. Though you will see hikers below, some near, some far off, with packs and walking sticks and sunglasses, the only sound is of your breathing, and the wind.
Bryce is somewhat baffling; you can never quite take it in. It is not nearly as large as Arches National Park, or as Zion, but it has the advantage of concentration, being perhaps the most striking place in the known universe (known to us, that is) to see hoodoos, the tall, eroded formations that make up Bryce’s grand amphitheater. The trails here are beaten white pathways that snake through the hoodoos, doubling back on themselves, disappearing through archways and around corners, wandering as if drawn by Dr. Suess. They hide inside curves, and float precariously on the highest edge of the cliffs.
We take the Navajo Loop trail down into the canyon with a dozen other hikers, voices carrying up through the gaps, and everywhere you look people are smiling. Eventually, maybe a half hour later, we’ve separated ourselves from the crowd, and the trail begins to flatten out. The sun is hot, purposeful, and we shed layers, cramming things into our backpack and slugging water from the bottle. We stop to eat, fitting ourselves into the concave ruts of a fallen tree. Immediately a bird lands nearby, hops directly up onto a close branch and begs for something to eat—inches away. Every sign in the park says “Do Not Feed the Animals.” How can I resist? I feed him—I think it was a him—a tiny piece of our granola bar, and he gobbles it happily. In my memory of this moment, he chirps at us and flits away, but I’m sure that time has eroded that as well. All I can say surely is that we consulted the map, hiked on, and eventually made our way up and out of the canyon, back onto the rim and to our car.
Do you see how Bryce is baffling, how you are constantly pulled between regarding this majestic picture as a whole, and the bird that is no bigger than your palm? Perspective shifts too quickly, the small becomes the large, and you are astonished by the insane notion that all of this is…random? Nature is like this wherever you go—inexplicable, mysterious, impenetrable—be it Bryce Canyon or your backyard, but we forget this, and it feels good to be reminded.
At Rainbow Point, the highest lookout in the park at roughly 9000 feet, we eat apples we’ve carried in our backpack. Standing there, staring off into the distance, I think of again water. How it creates, and takes away. How it falls from the sky in infinite variation, freezes, expands, pushes itself into the visible—and invisible—cracks of the stone it then dissolves. How it draws itself slowly, snaking through creeks, which lead to streams, which meet to form rivers. The rivers then guide it back to the sea. How, like the sky, it is indifferent.
I think of all the years, the millions of years that this canyon stood here with no one to gaze at it. Someday it will be that way again. I can get a bit morbid, flashing forward to the day when human beings cease to exist, having starved or bombed or infected each other into extinction. But the canyon will remain. The sunrise—some kind of sunrise—will still light those formations. The owls at night, if there are still owls, will nest in its trees just the same.