Grand Canyon – Rim Views

THE lower platforms with the Granite Gorge and the River may prove interesting playgrounds for a few hours, but as the days pass by you begin to cast longing eyes at the Rim. You miss the horizon line, the lift of the sky, the broad expanse of light. After all, the depth is something of a pit, a shut-in abnormal valley at the least. In the summer it is very hot down there, while up on the Rim one has pleasant memories of night winds blowing through the pinyons and cedars. Besides, El Tovar has its attractions.

Indeed, the hotel is far too beguiling. From that comfortable quarter you look out and perhaps indolently come to the conclusion that you are seeing the whole Canyon. Nine people out of ten rest content with that view and that conclusion. They get no farther than the benches along the Rim. There they watch trail parties on Bright Angel, or study the houses and trees below them at Indian Garden, or locate buttes across the River with the aid of a section of pipe hung on a swivel. Perhaps the dessert end of dinner is curtailed to see a sunset effect on the north walls, and when the evening train goes out they go with it, rather glad that they came, and quite satisfied perhaps that they have “seen” the Canyon. What a mistake !

The view at El Tovar is limited. The hotel site was not chosen for its view but for its railway facilities, and the hotel itself was perhaps more of a happening than a planning. Look about you from where you stand and you will see on your left Maricopa Point, and far on your right Yavapai Point. You are in a pocket between these points and cannot see up or down the Canyon. Moreover, the pocket is in a swale and it is not possible to see over the ridge of either Maricopa or Yavapai. In the summer neither sunrise nor sunset (on the horizon) is visible from the hotel. You see it merely in the upper sky and as reflected from the northern walls and buttes. The view straight ahead is yours and little more.

That is not to say the view ahead is hardly worth while. One gets depth and plunge at El Tovar. And also width. It is the widest part of the Canyon—eight miles from where you stand to the edge of the Kaibab Plateau, twelve miles or thereabouts to the head of Bright Angel Canyon on the north side. This gives something of a sweep; enough at least to show many upright walls, dozens of isolated buttes, and scores of lateral canyons.

There is hardly any view, however limited, at the Canyon that does not reveal the grandly picturesque.

Practically all the face-walls are to be seen from the hotel terrace, though not at their best. Under Maricopa Point at the left are the cliffs of the Kaibab and below them come the sheer wall of the Coconino and the steps and serpentines of the Supai (Plate 1). Beneath these follows the Red Wall, which can be seen to the left and the right of Bright Angel Trail. There are arenas in it that from El Tovar are very marked in curvature because seen at a distance and with some perspective effect (Plate 3). Yet the distance itself deceives. The arenas are much larger than you imagine. Across the River, in the bases of the great buttes, there are even larger arenas and of more striking regularity of form.

Over the saddle between the Battleship and Maricopa Point there is an unpretentious ending of a promontory called Dana Butte, to which attention has already been called (Plate 1). It is peculiarly charming in form and color, especially in the evening light. Its form is enhanced by a pointed knob of red Supai shale at the top. The upper layers of Coconino and Kaibab were washed and worn from it centuries ago, and nothing now of the thousand feet of Supai remains save this small knob. Directly under the knob you can see a red stain on the face-wall, while at either side merely a dull salmon shows. The salmon at twilight shifts and passes into many odd hues and, in conjunction with a surrounding of Tonto greens, forms as fine a gamut of low-toned colors as you will find anywhere in the Canyon.

The, Tonto platforms at twilight, on both sides of the River, are almost always exquisite in pale tones of green, gold, saffron, or even rose and lilac. Across from Dana Butte they spread out in beautiful slopes and terraces. Stream-beds that drain Osiris, Shiva, and other buttes wind in and around just there, and the green and yellow of the shales lend note and accent. These buttes and terraces should be watched at sunrise and sunset for their subtle color-changes. For instance, just after the sun has gone down, drifts of colored air seem to cut off the bases of Shiva and Isis, the reds of the upper structure become coral red, and the Coconino caps glow like translucent porphyry. The buttes themselves become phantom-like and. half-transparent. In contrast to this color-scheme, if you will look far to the right at Zoroaster and Brahma, you will find a different angle of light has flushed them with a brilliant Indian red.

The hotel bench is also an excellent place from which to see clouds, mist, and rain. The clouds are often veiled, fringed, plumed, winged, but more often merely torn and scattered. They are not only above but frequently below the Rim. A cold rain falling into the Canyon, that has been blazing in the sun all day, means that a great deal of vapor begins to rise in warm currents from the depths. As soon as these warm currents reach the Rim they are struck by a colder air and condensed into cloud. Or the cold air may draw down into the depth and create clouds around and under the walls. One can see them forming, breaking, dissolving, with great distinctness from the Rim. Sometimes they seem to boil up from below and fill the whole Canyon; then they dissipate, clear away, and, as dusk comes down, grow pale blue, with the _ depths below them a dark ultramarine. Very forceful are these drifting patterns of blue and white seen against the dark depth, and vastly more beautiful than the fogs which merely bank the Canyon full and obliterate forms and colors of all sorts.

While the outlook from El Tovar is not to be depreciated, the view from Hopi Point, two miles to the west, is more imposing. Hopi and Maricopa are two spurs that project from one promontory, and perhaps Hopi gives the wider angle of vision. Both are spectacular. You look east, west, north, across miles of buttes and promontories. Those who are interested in identifying the buttes by name can here make out, to the west, the cap of Osiris; to the right of it Dragonhead, Shiva, and Isis; and around to the north Cheops and Buddha. To the east of Bright Angel Canyon are Deva, Brahma, Zoroaster, Walhalla Plateau, and Wotan’s Throne; on the far North Rim is Cape Final, and in the eastern distance are the Palisades lying in front of the Painted Desert.

It is a wonderful view but not very intimate in any part except in the near portions under you such as the little Horn Creek, the Dana Butte, the great arenas in the Red Wall, a small section of the Colorado, and the dry Trinity Creek across the River (Plate 8). The view is too distant, too large, for intimacy; but then that is the quality of the whole Canyon. The great display of form, the mere bigness of it, have much to do with the feeling of exaltation that almost every visitor here knows. Mass, space, and sweep are elements of the sublime.

Something of sublimity, too, is revealed by the repeated masses of color—the great fields of it spread under the blue dome of sky. At first one thinks the red of the Supai the prevailing tone, but later on the Nile greens of the Tonto seem more potent and the mauves and violets of the Granite Gorge more enthralling. Of course none of these color-tones is so remarkable in local hue as in what it will echo or reflect under different lights. Light is the great color-maker and nowhere works more wonder-fully than on these Canyon walls. Add to this the binding medium of air—an air that shifts from gas-blue to rose, lilac, and purple—and you have a color display that may well produce aesthetic rapture.

The Rim Road runs west from Hopi Point around by the Inferno (that being the name for the basin that sets back and in just here) to Mohave Point. This is another point of observation not essentially different from Hopi, though each point at the Canyon has its variation from the type and possesses its own local features. At Mohave, for example, your distance view has not materially changed but you have to the east the steep walls of the Kaibab and Coconino under Hopi, and to the west a pitch downward into Monument Creek and its upper basin or watershed, known as the Abyss. The view of the red walls of the Abyss is decidedly impressive. The proportions are not only vast but the walls are graceful in a large monumental way—that is, they bend in and out and run on in great waves that flow but do not break. Pima Point is, however, the better outlook because the walls under the Mohave side, looking across the Abyss to the east, are more abrupt in lift and serpentine in flow. Besides, their color under morning shadow is astounding. The brilliancy of this color is partly caused by reflection from the opposing walls in sunlight.

The Rim Road continues around to Pima. This point is the projecting wedge between Hermit and Monument Creeks. It runs far out into the Canyon and the distance views from it are magnificent. To the west are Cocopah and Havasupai Points; directly over the mouth of Hermit Creek is Point Sublime; and the famous temples and towers of the gods, whose names we ignorantly worship, are to be seen from almost every angle. The water-worn Canyon stretches on unendingly, the far ring of the horizon sweeps above and around it in a tremendous circle, beneath the sunset are the peaks of the Uinkaret Range, and to the southeast spreads the Coconino Plateau. What wonderful distances !

The Hermit Creek Trail Ieads down the west side of Pima, and Hermit Camp is almost under its point. By looking down you can see the trail where it emerges on the Tonto from under Cathedral Stairs. Cope Butte projects just there, being in kind a thin knife-blade under-prow of Pima Point. The Granite Gorge with its dark rocks is just beyond, and quite a section of the River is seen in its depth.

The Abyss is about as noble in enclosing walls as anything seen at the Canyon; and Pima Point, with Hermit Basin on its left and Monument Basin on its right, is the most effective point west of El Tovar, barring Havasupai. From it one sees excellent illustrations of Canyon carving and plateau erosion. It is all about you. The point itself is little more than a left-over projecting cape. Eventually it will be cut through at the back and become an island—a butte. The drainage streams across the River should be noticed just here for the way they have broken through the backs of the Tonto platforms.

The climax of all western views is undoubtedly that from Havasupai. A wood road runs out to the point, but it is not well travelled, and the point itself is little visited. It is thirty miles from El Tovar and the way thither is not in good repute with automobilists. Bass Camp is two miles west of it, and from there the traveller reaches Havasupai by a faint Rim trail, or he can make a short cut through the woods by Fossil Mountain. The point is spur-shaped and (from the end) very steep in descent. There are swift downward flights that may be thought disturbing. The drop to the River in a mile and a half is four thousand five hundred feet—one of the most abrupt descents anywhere in the Grand Canyon. At the left, under Fossil Mountain (a mountain apparently cut in two and sometimes called Split Mountain), there are tremendous walls—sandstone and red-shale walls—that are amazing in their lift, their depth, and above all in their mass. Looking down from them might well make one dizzy, for here is the unmistakable precipice. But the traveller is not supposed to go over there on an idle quest of precipices.

Havasupai is the last of the very high points, for the Canyon walls begin to break down just here. The Grand Scenic Divide is to the left, under the foot of Havasupai, and that is the division line between the Grand Canyon proper and the flatter continuation down to the Grand Wash. The change, as already premised, means steeper palisaded walls, fewer isolated buttes, fewer side-canyons, and larger, more extensive promontories and platforms that push out in the Canyon and then descend in one or two swift drops to the River. The drops are often a thousand or more feet. Mt. Huethewali, around to the left, is practically the last of the Canyon buttes as the Scenic Divide is the beginning of the long, flat promontories. The Colorado here runs straight west, turns sharply to the south, and then doubles back to the north.

Perhaps the flattening down of the Canyon here is at the expense of grandeur, but to make up for it there is an increase in the picturesque. The terrain has a simpler surface. The lines are longer and more continuous, the forms are more massive, the shadows broader, the colors in larger fields, the light greater in its spread. And what a superb sweep now in the horizon ring ! The circle is quite complete, and not the least interesting segment of it lies over to the west against the sky—the Uinkaret Range. That Range, like almost everything in the Plateau Country, is more or less odd and strange when seen close to view. It is punctured every-where with volcanic craters and covered with sheets of lava—a base of sandstone and shale blanketed with obsidian. But seen from Havasupai, seen as a mere decorative pattern, how beautifully the blue ridge stretches against the Great Blue and rims the sunset west !

Beneath Havasupai the Tonto spreads out and down in wave-Iike terraces, dry washes are between the slopes, and creek-beds cut through everywhere to the River. The Colorado itself is seen, but its enclosing purple walls are not so lofty as at Bright Angel, though its ribbons of rose granite still wave serpent-like. The Archaean is beginning to go out here, and farther on disappears entirely. On the north side of the River are buttes apparently set on star-shaped bases. Dox Castle, with a Coconino fragment on its top, lies almost directly north of you, and beyond it, a little to the right, is Holy Grail Temple, with King Arthur and Guinevere Castles. Straight to the east across Sagittarius Ridge is Point Sublime, which Captain Dutton thought was the climax of all Canyon views. The long lines of Powell Plateau and the steep jut-out of Ives, Wheeler, and Dutton Points to the north-west are not less grand. Every point here is sublime. And everything in the sunset glow is wonderful. An orange horizon, above it a green sky running into lilac, and all the shadows in the Canyon pitched in violet and purple ! What a glory of color !

Sixty or more miles to the east you can see, against the horizon, Cape Final, and opposite to it on the South Rim is Desert View. That is the beginning, as this is the ending, of the Grand Canyon proper. Both extremes sink down a little through dips in the strata and have not the full height of Hopi and Grand View, but perhaps they have more color-splendor. Down at the eastern end, stretching away for many miles, spreads the Painted Desert. The name suggests an attempt to describe its color, but the name is wanting in imagination. It fails to create an image of the reality. But, then, all words fail with the Painted Desert.