Grand Canyon – From Dawn To Dusk

DAYS and weeks can be given to Desert View without exhausting the scene or the interest. You are away from the hotel and the crowd, and can see things like a lone eagle from your point of rock. Both the rock and the eagle are here (an eagle usually has a nest every summer not five hundred yards to the east of Desert View), so the allusion is not forced. If you watch the eagle you will see that she does her coming and going early in the morning and late in the evening, and, if you follow her example, you, too, will go out to your point of rock at dawn and at sunset.

Perhaps you will have noticed, as at Lincoln Point, that the Canyon here is happily disposed for morning and evening . effects because it runs practically east and west, and the light strikes not so much across it as along its length. The sun comes up over the Painted Desert and drives its golden shafts down the Canyon for sixty miles or more; at evening the reddened beams drive back through the Canyon upon the mesas and ridges of this same Painted Desert. If there is anything unusual, any special spread of splendor coming from that

“Nebulous star we call the sun,”

you are sure to see it here.

The first gray half-light of the dawn has no effect on the Canyon. It is only when it turns pale yellow and begins to creep around the horizon that faint reflections appear upon the eastern faces of the Kaibab and Coconino. Often the light from be-low the verge at first strikes high up on the zenith, making a white spot on the blue that in turn illumines the depth; and, often again, feathery cirrus clouds up there will catch the light and begin to redden, casting down pale pinks upon the walls below. As the light increases in the east the color brightens from silver and rose to pink and perhaps carmine. The face-walls make answer in grays, then silvers, then saffrons creeping into orange, followed by roses and heliotropes. They are wonderfully delicate colors.

One by one the tops of the buttes and points and promontories take up and carry on the light far down the Canyon. First one glows and shifts into a bright garb, and then another farther on repeats the litany of color. As the light increases, the color spreads down the walls from the high points. The local hue of the strata begins to come out, the purples of the depth awaken, the shadows turn ultra-marine, the air becomes gray-blue, or sometimes pink over purple.

The reflected lights from sky and cloud arouse the Canyon to its inner depths. There is a shaking off of the night gloom, and if the sky in the east is a broad band of orange or fiery with red clouds, the reflecting walls will show very lively hues. When the sun itself comes over the horizon there is instant focussing of high lights on the rocky points and the forming of blue shadows behind every interposing tree, ridge, butte, and promontory. The change is swift and positive.

With the coming of the sun you can almost make yourself believe there is a faint music of the elements, or at least a trailing of wings. But no.

“Not with the roll of thunder drums, But softly, soundless, as beseems The alchemist of color dreams, The Sun God comes.”

The light falls on the Kaibab faces and changes them to light gold or warm orange, Wotan’s Throne reddens, the tips of the buttes turn pink; but there is no sound to warn you of the change. Nor is there any permanence in the change. The colors shift and go, and as the sun lifts higher in the sky you notice that, while the local color is more pronounced, the reflected colors from the sky and cloud seem to grow fainter and duller. The splendor of the dawn soon goes out before the more commonplace color of the morning.

For as the sun continues to rise, the Canyon begins to lose not only in hue but in definiteness. This has already been alluded to in connection with the abnormal appearance of the buttes at noonday. The sun high in the heavens plays havoc with lines and surfaces. Planes begin to shut up bellows-like and perspective collapses. Drawing, too, fails. Objects do not project or recede, or give a sense of bulk or weight, but seem continuous or superimposed, one upon another. The long promontories running out from the Rim not only lose their thickness and resemble stage screens, but they lose their relative position. After nine o’clock in the morning even the isolated buttes do not seem isolated. The overhead light reflects rather than illumines, distorts the normal appearance, and makes every-thing uncertain, illusory, indefinite. A haze envelops the Canyon and a beautiful blur is upon it; but the effect is disappointing to those who would see the reality. You must turn to other things until the depth comes back to itself in the Iate afternoon.

The midday period is occasionally varied by flying cloud-shadows that chase each other across the platforms, or by sunbursts that fling down their search-lights into the Canyon, revealing hidden depths and dormant colors. Rain, of course, veils everything. Even the thunder-storms that let down trailing fringes of rain—let them down ten thousand feet—shut out the view temporarily. But they also often bring out the profiles of the buttes in relief and reveal their fine lines with great effect. In fact, one does not know what forceful contours these buttes and promontories possess until he sees them with a rain-veil behind them. They then begin to resemble sierra ridges in their outline drawing.

Often, again, after the rain has passed, the hot rocks will steam and the sunlight will flash on wet pinnacles with a glittering effect which, shown in relief against deep-blue shadows, and in connection perhaps with a rainbow and dark passing clouds, is very picturesque. The rainbow at the Canyon happens quite easily, and sometimes apparently without rain. I have already mentioned the appearance at noontime of the spectrum colors, waving like a flag, in the cirrus directly overhead. And with no other clouds in sight. It is a very strange phenomenon.

During the long summer afternoon the Canyon seems to doze in the sunlight. It has a blue-gray color without accent, tone, or quality. The tourist may think it wonderful but the artist knows its monotony. At five o’clock, however, a change be-gins to take place. The Canyon colors begin to revive faintly, the blue shadows draw a little behind buttes and promontories, the ledges and platforms and pinnacles begin to lengthen and lift, the walls become enormous in bulk and sharpen in contour. Gradually perspective and planes come back. As the sun slips down the western sky the whole Can-yon continues to grow more intense in light and shadow, more acute in line and color. It is the dramatic hour.

The spectacle of a Canyon sunset is usually one of intense light and warmth, and the sky absorbs attention to the exclusion of everything else. Perhaps it should not. One may not wholly agree with Whistler in his jibe at those who admire “a, foolish sunset,” and yet still consider that the effect here, on Canyon and Painted Desert, is perhaps more beautiful than the cause itself. The effect is more subdued, more subtle in its mingling of local hues with the colors flashed by the sun. It is color filtered, strained, refined, and for that reason perhaps more acceptable as more purely sensuous.

The various hues that appear on the Canyon walls at sunset are akin to the evening glows of snow mountains. The very brilliant reflections are not usually from the sun itself, but from the sky or clouds that are set glowing with color by its light. The molten golds, searlets, and carmines that surround the sun, or are above it, are the torches that fire the buttes with flame and turn the pinnacles into towers of golden light. Often they “glow like plated Mars,” and occasionally the illusion of molten metal appears in pinnacles, resembling the red of hot iron that finally dies out in a beautiful ash gray.

From Desert View at sunset, tints and tones in-numerable are seen, not only on Canyon walls, but on the mesas of the Painted Desert. The barrage of light seems to lift and lift, striking farther away as the sun sinks in the west. You can see it move along the ridges, spreading from cliff to cliff, and tingeing all the faces a bright vermilion. Far to the east it flies, growing fainter and fainter on butte and ridge, until it is lost in the thick violet air of distance. Navaho Mountain is too far away to respond in anything more pronounced than a rosy tone. It is the last echo.

These sun-shafts and rock reflections on the Desert are just as remarkable as those in the Can-yon. The background of the Desert, with its thick, dust-laden air, makes possible a perfect blend. At sundown the general tone of the whole flat basin is golden with a rose tinge in it, and through this envelope you see the red of the Echo Cliffs glowing like the fire of a bright. opal. The jewel quality of desert light and color are never so apparent as just then and there.

Occasionally at sunset a wind will pass over the Desert’s face, raising great clouds of dust that reach up almost to the zenith. This dust-veil is, generally speaking, rosy red, but like the dawn and the sunset sky, it also shows faintly the colors of the spectrum arranged in order. It is a rather thick veiling, and the barrage of sun-fire meets opposition. The cliffs through it show lurid, the buttes smoulder, the mesas are ashes of roses. It is a red-and-purple mystery.

If you look now quickly to the west you will find that the Canyon, too, in some sympathy with the dust-cloud, will also show strange hues. The air down in the gorge is thick with purples, but above this a violet atmosphere lies under the Rim and around the buttes and points. The projecting promontories that, seen far down the Canyon, seem to overlap one another, now appear once more like the wings of a stage-setting illumined by dull Bengal fire. Blues and mauves and heliotropes are every-where. It is a violet fantasy in sky and Rim and Canyon, as unreal as any vision out of the Arabian Nights. And it becomes still more fantastic, as well as exquisite, if you will lie down on your point of rock and look at it sideways, with your head on the rock. The position seems to bring into play some unusual or unfatigued portion of the retina, for the colors appear greatly enhanced and beautified. All the world now seems swimming in lilac and violet.

Turn again to the Painted Desert and you will find that the maze and mystery of it have deepened while you were looking at the Canyon. St. John at Patmos can have seen nothing more supernaturally glowing. And note that the glow is not merely in the sky but all around you. You are within it. The purple air envelops everything, and the ridges and cliffs faintly seen through it finally go out in rose colors as Point Sublime to the west disappears in gun-metal blues. The whole world now seems like some dark opal, with dull fire-spots on its surface.

Once more, from your recumbent position on the rock, look around in the growing dusk at the vast circle of the horizon. It is complete save for the small segment of forest behind you. Turn over on your back and look straight up at the sky

“Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.”

The red moon is coming up over the pines back of you, but as yet makes little impression on either the sky or the Canyon. The dusk enfolds you. By midnight the air will clear, the moon will whiten, the sky will deepen, the stars will glisten. Before dawn the morning star will look so large that, like the Arabian sun, you can fancy seventy thousand angels necessary to start it each morning on its way. But now there is nothing but a dusky world swinging in blue space and carrying with it an envelope of colored air.

How intensely impressive this purple veil of night ! The Canyon is even more wonderful in color and a atmosphere than in rock strata and countersunk River. It is not the eighth wonder of the world but the first.