Grand Canyon – Grand And Desert View

MOVING east along the Rim from El Tovar brings one, in half an hour, to Yavapai Point—the other horn of the hotel crescent. It is almost directly opposite the Bright Angel Canyon, and from it one has an excellent view of the great buttes across the River (Plate 12). You can also see down the Grand Canyon to the west as far as Powell Plateau and to the east as far as Comanche Point. It is a fair field for dawn and twilight effects. Yavapai is quite frequently resorted to at evening. The sunsets from there are often magnificent.

From this point two flashes of the River are seen —neither of them extended or inspiring. Pipe Creek is in the lateral canyon at the right, while to the left one sees the Red Wall under the Battleship with its huge amphitheatres. Bright Angel Trail, in its lower reaches, is beneath the toe of Yavapai; but that ephemeral line cut by mule-hoofs should not absorb attention to the neglect of the great lines in these walls and slopes cut by water through the centuries. Nature is always the dominant presence here.

To your right, looking southeast, is Yaki Point, and below it the promontory known as O’NeilI Butte; but you must follow the Rim two hundred yards beyond the sign “Yavapai Point” to gain this view. The trail to Yaki runs by the Rim around from Yavapai. It is a winding way leading through a burned section, and in the summer months is interesting because of the wild flowers growing along it. At the head of the side-canyon between the two points, on the Kaibab taluses, is a small grove of Douglas spruce and white silver fir—several hundred of them standing together under the Rim, their dark greens and pointed tops making a wonderful wild-wood tapestry. How still they stand ! When you begin to lose interest in the wear-down and wear-out of the Canyon, you can come back to this grove under the Rim and feel that all is not destruction, that here Nature is building up rather than dragging down. There is no riverine roar about it. The growth goes on silently and serenely through the years. What a beautiful growth ! You will not find anything more attractive at the Canyon than these still and lonely trees.

Yaki Point (the original name, O’Neill, survives only in the butte that runs off from the point) presents substantially the same vistas up and down the Canyon, the same buttes and promontories across the River, as Yavapai. You are only two miles farther east in an air line. Perhaps you get a closer view of such huge sections as Walhalla Plateau and Wotan’s Throne, or of such vast depressions as the Ottoman Amphitheatre, or see in clearer outlines Comanche Point and the Painted Desert, whither we are tending. Directly across the River is Zoroaster Temple, which should be looked at again for the enormous arenas in its Red Wall and the wash-down of streams around and about it. And notice the Tonto platforms on both sides of the River. How beautifully they run on in great waves and swells ! How supremely true and right in line these sculptured waves of the lower terraces!

If you continue by the Rim to the east you circle the basin between Yaki and Shoshone (Inspiration) Points, and everywhere along the way the view is not only open but grandly beautiful. Even looking into the lateral canyon that lies between the two points shows slopes and platforms that are supremely graceful. Shoshone Point when reached proves to be arrow-headed, sharp-pointed, somewhat precipitous on the sides. The look to the west from there is interrupted by Yaki Point, but the look to the east is open. Shoshone is one of the fine view-points at the Canyon, quite as fine as Grand View, but less accessible. It is about seven miles from El Tovar by a rather poor trail.

Seven or eight miles farther to the east and you arrive at Grand View—the one-time travel-centre at the Canyon, and still one of the best places for sight-seeing. Back from Grand View Point a mile or more there is the remainder of a hotel and some small cab-ins. The place was a lively settlement when copper was king in the Canyon and relays of burros were bringing the metal up to the Rim. But the copper king died early, the trail is now abandoned, and a few cast-off burros, roaming the lower slopes, re-main to bray the tale of failure. Grand View is no longer a copper camp, but it has lost nothing of picturesqueness by the passing of the miner.

The western yellow pines grow everywhere about the old hotel, and their reddish-cinnamon trunks often frame up picturesque views of the Canyon, enhancing it perhaps by limiting its scope. These pines extend out upon Grand View Point, and with them go small groves of pinyons, cedars, oaks, and thickets of cliff-rose. Vegetation seems more abundant here than elsewhere, and, even when you come to the extreme point, there are trees about you. But they do not shut out the view in any way. That view is really stupendous. The altitude is seven thousand five hundred feet, which means that you are on a high point of the Canyon Rim. The Can-yon itself is wide here and the circle of vision correspondingly great. The view is much too comprehensive for the five-minute tourist who gazes while his car hums and his chauffeur smokes a cigarette.

If you look around the horizon you will on more find yourself in the centre of a great stone circle. Only at your back does the fringe of pines break in upon the ring. Across the River from you the buttes pile up enormously. Just over the green-tinged ridge beneath the point is a square butte with two Coconino outcrops upon its summit. In the pseudo-poetic nomenclature of the Canyon maps this is known as Angels Gate. Farther around to the right is the lofty Vishnu capped with a Kaibab fragment which lifts higher than the point upon which you stand. Between the two is Wotan’s Throne, two hundred feet higher than Grand View Point, and growing on its flat top the same pinyons and junipers that flourish along the Rim. It is a huge detachment from the northern plateau still standing intact, and showing all the Canyon strata in regular order. There is no better view of it than from this point.

A little farther to the right, on the North Rim, one can see the apparent end of the high Kaibab Plateau in what is called Cape Final. It is, of course, merely a point on the north wall thrown into sky relief by our position. Under it, but apparently to the right of it, is a lantern-topped butte called Jupiter Temple. Still farther to the right one sees the Palisades, and beyond these the long reach of the Painted Desert. Only a glimpse of it is given here, but that glimpse is suggestive of rose and gold under strong sunlight. It lies beside the Canyon, and in kind is just as marvellous and surprising as any part of the Plateau Country.

Continuing around the horizon to the right you see Comanche Point, on your side of the River; and then Desert View with Lincoln, Zuni, and Moran Points. This brings you back almost to Coronado Butte (formerly Ayer Butte) and Grand View. All these points are merely sharp spurs or projections in the South Rim from which different outlooks are obtainable. Above them, stretching for miles, you can see the reach of the Tusayan Forest, and far to the south are the blue bases and snowy tops of the San Francisco Mountains.

The look to the west from Grand View is less open because Shoshone Point and some high ridges lie in the way. That does not, of course, interfere with the view to the great buttes lying to the right and left of Bright Angel Canyon, nor the far view across the Hindu Amphitheatre to Point Sublime. The full western reach of the Canyon is perhaps best seen from Desert View; but at Grand View there are enough marvels for any one on a summer’s afternoon.

One never ceases to marvel, for instance, over the sweeping jade-green terraces, or the lift and strength of the exposed cliffs. The Rim here is deeply notched by cut-back canyons that show magnificent walls. These latter always impress us with their bulk and we think of their endurance as almost everlasting. Yet the processes of breakdown are here. They are apparent in the mass extending out from the point of Grand View. It was originally part of the point but has collapsed and crumbled to its present condition. The splintered wall a little to the right, where the trail runs down to the River, again testifies to destructive processes that are slowly wrecking the outstanding promontories. Below is Horseshoe Mesa, where the break-down has been more complete. At one time, no doubt, Grand View Point extended out and over this mesa, and the River ran only a few hundred feet below it. The Gorge was then perhaps cut only through the Kaibab sandstone, and the Archaean rocks were five thousand feet below, untouched and undiscovered. But that was ages and ages ago—so many that even geologists can merely guess at them.

Destruction is at the right of Grand View, too. There are firm walls in the little canyon that heads up toward the old hotel, but across this canyon you can see a broken butte or promontory, known as Three Castles, that seems to have collapsed at its toe, sagged down several hundred feet. For all the massive underlying beds there has probably been some break in the strata just here—a break caused by pressure or subsidence. The promontory may have an unusual geological history, though that is not probable. If you were over there and looking this way, toward Grand View, you would see that this point, too, sags down at the end. There is minor faulting, with water-wear, everywhere in this region. And yet there is no lack of stout walls still standing and seemingly defiant of the elements. Look at the cliffs under the east side of Grand View. They are lofty heights with little suggestion of weakness about them.

Eastward, still eastward, and presently we arrive at Lincoln Point, seventeen miles from Grand View. The western view from here is one of great distances that fade out in mists and hazes; but under the haze, near at hand in the Granite Gorge, the River may be seen emerging from behind a long red ridge, then disappearing around a projecting talus, only to reappear in sections farther on. It seems to sink lower in the Gorge as it runs. There is apparently a rush of water here—a rapid downward descent. You feel as though the River were disappearing in underground caverns.

More directly in front of you another phase of the River shows in a winding, lazy S, though when you are down close to it the water is found to be anything but lazy. Sand-bars and green bushes appear by the water’s edge, and coming in from the other side is a dry creek-bed (Unkar Creek) that shows more patches of green and lines of sand. Maroon and raspberry-red slopes of Unkar formation come down to this creek-bed and make a wonderful chorus of color. The notes fairly sing, so resonant are they.

This Unkar Creek with its color-display should be seen at sunset, for the western light turns the hues into things both rare and strange. The maroons and garnet reds are stimulated by the green of the bushes and the gold of the sandy creek-bed. They increase in brightness through complemental affinity. It should be noticed also that the winding line of the creek-bed swings through a little group of terraces and slopes and that it accents and harmonizes the lines of the slopes.

The River can be followed far up to the east, disappearing for a moment behind a high ridge with a crumbling cap of sandstone for its apex, and then reappearing. It is a rather long stretch of water that is visible. To the right of it is Comanche Point, and beyond it the Little Colorado comes in to join the greater stream. Still farther on is the Marble Canyon, the so-called gateway to the Grand Canyon. The eastern wall, in which Comanche is the high point, has already been referred to as the Palisades of the Desert.

Stretching away beyond the Palisades for a hundred miles is the Painted Desert. Standing out from it the cliffs of the Little Colorado show at first, and beyond them appear the Echo Cliffs, the Mormon Ridge, and other heights. These high divides fade away one beyond another until finally lost in the distance. Far to the east, almost blotted out by lilac atmosphere, you can catch the outline of distant mountains. They are a part, no doubt, of the great continental sierra.

For swift change of scene turn a moment and look behind you at the sweep of the forest. If you look up to the west, toward El Tovar, the horizon line will lead you around to the left in a great half-circle and you will get the elevation of the Coconino Plateau. You will notice a large sunken basin in here that, owing doubtless to the dip of the strata, trends down and off toward the southeastern end of the Painted Desert. You look over this sunken basin directly south to see a long platform that evidently was once the normal level of the plateau. Above and beyond it appear the San Francisco Mountains. This is not the view that you came to the Canyon to see, but is it not magnificent ?

Desert View (originally Navaho Point) is two miles from Lincoln Point and contains more multiplicity and variety in unity than any other out-look at the Canyon. The chief view is from the point and extends for many miles in almost every ;direction. The elevation (seven thousand four hundred and fifty feet) is only a little less than Grand View, but the Canyon here is more open. The inner Archaean walls are partly broken down on the south side and the slopes leading up and out are less abrupt. Across the River you will notice that the dip of the strata is from west to east, that the beds seem to be sinking and disappearing under the Palisades. This is, no doubt, responsible for the flatter effect.

The open view is most welcome. And yet the steep descent over precipitous walls does not disappear. There is abundance of cliff under the Palisades, and looking down the Canyon to the west, you see ridge and promontory and butte lift, one above another, in plane after plane of distance. All the great buttes and points cut in or overlap one another. Their height and depth seem stupendous to bewilderment. Perhaps this is enhanced by a striking contrast, for to the west everything seems on end, while to the east every-thing lies down flat. The perpendicular is sharply contrasted with the horizontal.

The horizontal is, of course, the Painted Desert. Looking across it at noontime gives the impression of great flatness, with only a few outstanding buttes or points, but at sunset the heights become glorified, and you are perhaps astonished at the hurdles of ridges rising one beyond another. Lines of arroyos alternate with lines of ridges, and yet the general effect is that of a huge inland basin swinging to the east in flat distances. It always seems sleeping in the sunlight, dreaming, motionless. Re-pose is there, and the feeling of repose is impressed upon you by the flowing horizontal lines. What a contrast to the perpendicular cliffs of the Canyon lying off at right angles to it !

Now it should be noticed that these lines which contrast with and accent each other do not, paradoxically as it may sound, combat each other. They meet and blend even in their contrast. The horizontal lines of the Kaibab and the Coconino in the North Rim seem to run on and into the flat lines of the Desert, and the upright lines of the Canyon walls are repeated in the Echo Cliffs and the Mormon Ridge. Still, it is generally true that the Canyon lines of cliff and butte are perpendicular. They are angle lines and suggest restlessness, action, aspiration. Over against them are set the Desert lines that in their low relief are horizontal and suggest relaxation, quiessence, rest. The contrast and yet the unity in the contrast are very remarkable. I know of no such landscape elsewhere, though one gets a similar effect by the seashore where some bold headland stands with its feet in the sea and presents its steep cliff -wall to the out-stretched ocean.

But we have not wholly comprehended this view by analyzing a web of lines. There is a color-contrast that is perhaps just as remarkable as the apposition of lines. I am not now speaking of color in spots of magenta or sang de boeuf or garnet, but of the total effect. Look down the dark Canyon and get the red, purple, and blue of it, and then turn quickly to the east and note the yellow, gold, and rose of the Desert. What superb color-schemes ! Is there anything disturbing about them? Does the one quarrel with the other ? Are they not in perfect harmony?

Even the atmosphere may be reckoned with as contrast and yet accord. That of the Canyon is gas-blue, or purple, or perhaps violet, whereas that of the desert is rose-blue, golden yellow, or opalescent. I do not now mean the lights or shadows but the air itself—that intangible transparency that we think colorless but which in reality takes color from every sun-shaft striking its dust-laden particles. The hotter and dryer the weather the more pronounced in color the atmosphere. When there is a sand-storm on the Painted Desert the rose and violet of the atmosphere change to a reddish purple. It is apparent to the dullest eye. But there is always more or less of invisible dust in these dry regions and there is always more or less of colored air.

To this panorama of line, color, and atmosphere you must now add the most abiding beauty of all. Look up at the great dome of the sky—the blue vault with its white mountains of cumulus piled high. in the air and perhaps fretted with golden fire by the setting sun. When and where have you ever seen such a comprehensive depth, such a magnificent arch, such a translucent blue ?

If you look closely at its cobalt depths you may perhaps see portions of it breaking into violet vibrations—vibrations that at times seem to form into faintly-seen descending shafts. What an immensity of precious color above the world ! And how it seems to cap the vast landscape ! Compared in color with the earth it is the greatest apposition, the mightiest contrast of all, and yet again, and finally, there is no lack of harmony. The dome fits down in color as in form and completes the picture. Truly a marvellous picture !

People come here to see the Canyon—to look down. But they should also look up. For the sky here, as elsewhere, is the crowning feature of landscape. Out of it comes light, light the creator of all things visible, light of which the beautiful blue is only a broken and dispersed fragment.