Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 8 - Flagstaff, AZ to Cedar City, UT

Don't Look Down

I've mentioned before my fear of heights -- just the other day as a matter of fact! -- but today's post requires that I belabor this just a bit more.

People who aren't afraid of heights can't fathom the fears of those who are. Just as someone who thinks shrimp are delicious in every form would never believe that the little creatures are really just the cockroaches of the sea. This difference keeps the world interesting, and without it -- if everyone shared the same fears -- the world would be a whole lot less scary for everyone.

So it was with great surprise that I discovered the Grand Canyon is no place for someone with a fear of heights.

I've seen photographs of and television shows about the Grand Canyon for as long as I've been alive; even more so as I've been preparing for this trip over the last couple years. I was always struck by its grandeur and majesty and sheer geological beauty. But for some reason, those photos taken from one of the rims, depicting the canyon's vast depth and length and breadth, never caused my breath to catch in my throat or my bowels to feel loose.

Which is exactly what happened 60 seconds after arriving at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Those photos and television shows don't do it justice. To stand in front of the canyon is to witness a tiny, infinitesimal part of the universe's enormity opening up before you, and to feel your true insignificance in response to it.

For some of us, that can be truly horrifying.

For others, not so much.

Whereas I had to turn away, my traveling companion, Jonathan, seemed to be drawn toward the canyon. He was happy to jump up on the low stone retaining walls that stood between us and oblivion as though teetering on the brink of nothingness was the most natural and comfortable thing in the world.

(Jonathan has sometimes commented, in response to my tendency to feel blue, on how comfortable I am "staring into the abyss." Funny that when confronted with the real thing I find myself unable to face it.)

Worse were the other people, those who would hike a trail down to a rock ledge and perch on it. Do you see them out there, perched on the edge of nothingness? Or the people who were blithely allowing their children to scamper and crawl on and over every fence and barrier. It's like the Grand Canyon was one of those inflated bouncing tents you see at kids' birthday parties, with a cushy pillow lining at the bottom.

In the great canyon's defense, I have to say that it is magnificent, awe-inspiring, breath-taking and stunning. I would love to see it from the floor, though I surely couldn't get down there by foot or on the back of a burro. Nothing short of being delivered to the canyon floor in the safety of a Life-Flite helicopter would do.

We spent a couple hours at the canyon, peering out of it from various viewpoints, and if that had been the end of my experience with heights that day I would have been happy. But as the saying goes, we had miles to go before we slept, so we took off across Arizona and on to Utah.

Incredible landscape along the way. Northern Arizona and southern Utah have incredible rock formations, hills and mountains and valleys and canyons. There's something amazing around every bend in the road. It's also very sparsely populated, and the few little towns that there are along the way are strange-looking affairs: a random scattering of little houses with almost no organization, as though someone just threw down a dozen or so houses in the middle of the land.

Our stopping point for the day was Cedar City, Utah, and to get there we had to take a twisting mountain pass that -- you guessed it -- freaked me out. This photo doesn't do the landscape justice either. Even the most casual reader of this blog should know by now how that made me feel. But we made it. And I've never been so happy to be inside the room of a Motel 6 in my life.

Or to drink a glass or two of Wild Turkey.

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