Cape Royal

To call this grand is to diminish it. It is beyond grand.

In fairness, few words could adequately capture this scene, this canyon, this sunset. The only term that approaches the truth is a word that always comes to mind in times like this: wonder.

There is the wonder of the landscape, this massive gash in the Colorado Plateau. It is an inverted mountain range, concave rather than convex, the gaping maw of the desert. Its deepest trenches are invisible from its highest rims, its entirety impossible to perceive with feet planted on the ground. It is a canyon made of canyons. Here on the North Rim, where more precipitation falls on the higher, cooler Kaibab Plateau, the draining waters have gouged paths down to the Colorado River, deep within the main canyon. Some are perennially wet, others mostly dry, but all carry the runoff of the monsoons to the great stream below. These fingers only reach north, though. The South Rim is different, a terraced wall of rock dropping from the desert towards Earth's heart. Though the rims are uniquely cut, they are made of the same material, the same layers of red, gray, orange, and white that methodically mark the progress of deposition and erosion and, thus, time. The scale of the scene is difficult to comprehend. It is fitting that many of the place names here are religious in theme. The land inspires divine thought. Wotans Throne, Solomon Temple, Freya Castle, Vishnu Temple: they are features worthy of such high names. How many of these island summits have been surmounted? Are these places that humans have visited, or are they the realms of spiritual beings, attended to by birds and hardy plants?


There is the wonder of the sunset. The light of heaven has pierced the clouds and now paints the world in glory with light and shadow. The faded haze of midday is gone, supplanted by vibrant reds, dusky purples, and blazing yellows as the day comes to its grand close. These are the colors of dreams, the golden hour hues, the romantic palette of Moran and Bierstadt. If I were told to imagine the ideal sunset, my mind would conjure an image that would approach this and fall short. Muir said "It is always sunrise somewhere," so it follows that it is also always sunset somewhere. This is always happening somewhere on this planet, every moment of every day. Earth spins on its tilted axis while sunlight washes in and out like the tide, and there is forever a line where day is giving way to night. At this moment, that line is moving across Arizona, as well as points north and south. I cannot speak to scenes on display at those other latitudes. I can only attest to the glory before me, where the sunlight is fading from the valley below this vista and layered silhouettes to the west mark the distance from here to the horizon. 

Wonder consumes me. I am trying to capture this wonder with a camera, but the images can't hope to live up to this reality. I lower the lens. The sunset is best viewed through eyes alone. I wonder how many times this view has played out, how many times this rapturous light has swept over the Grand Canyon. Beautiful as tonight may be, it is not the culmination of anything other than today. This isn't the grand finale of this place, a spectacle to mark the completion of some great work. This has happened before, millions of times over. It will happen again, and again, and again. No one needs to be here for this to occur. Our presence has not prompted this. It is the product of processes that began ages ago, well before anyone thought of setting this aside as a national park. The forces that gave rise to the river, that formed the rocks, that spun the planet, and that fired the star which lights them all have been at work for a very long time. You can view them as spiritual, religious, scientific, natural, or perhaps all the above. Each of these lenses provides the same dazzling view of this canyon, this sunset, this wonder beyond grand.



Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer