Total Miles: 67.2
There are—apparently—two constants to the soundtrack of hiking atop the Kaibab Plateau in autumn: the telltale crunch of small, angular stones beneath each step; and the trembling of aspen leaves in even the slightest breeze, a sound that could easily be mistaken for gentle raindrops.
Not ten creaky steps down the trail this morning, we’d already been greeted by both as we entered a meadow ringed by a patchwork of green and gold—ponderosa pine and white fir mixed with yet more aspens dressed in their dazzling yellow. Collecting the cold of a cloudless starry night—as a meadow is want to do—the straw-colored tufts of grass were tipped with a silvery veneer of frost, which ensured our down jackets would stay on just a little longer.
In a succession that—blissfully—seemed not to end, the trail would traverse one meadow and briefly re-enter the forest only to emerge yet again into another meadow ringed by color as though each was its own room within a museum. Passing from one to the next, you’d have no reason to imagine what we were rapidly careening towards.
Within steps of crossing a forest road, the giant ponderosa pines parted to reveal what the trail had been keeping secret. The earth fell out immediately before us and swept down to a massive flat expanse where the green of the forest could advance no further. Beyond, a giant gash as if the earth itself had been rend in two stretched from our left to right, a sight that primitive man might have reasonably surmised was the gate to hell.
The prestige, the great reveal of the mystery that the Kaibab Plateau had been guarding just out of view, had come and gone whetting our appetite for the days ahead. That brief glimpse of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River hidden deep beneath its walls was a reminder that this plateau we’d been pleasantly strolling through had an end, and that end was coming soon.
The canyon disappeared from our view not long after, but returning to a forest that once again betrayed no clues that such a massive chasm was hiding just out of view was almost unsettling. How could something that massive possibly ever be hidden, and while so close no less?
Another few miles down the trail found us entering Grand Canyon National Park officially, although with minimal fanfare considering the state of the fence and sign that marked its boundary. Not a mile further, we arrived at the foot of the North Rim lookout tower where Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire, had once been stationed. Soaring skyward against a backdrop of puffy cumulus clouds and a sapphire sky it threatened to pierce, it was as if it too was straining for a glimpse at the wonder of the world that was just out of view.