Monday morning we left our hotel at 6:30 am for the Grand Canyon. Way too early for the girls and me, but the parking lots at the canyon fill up quickly in the summer and we had a 2 hour drive to get there. Today Doug actually asked me to drive – he said he was tired, but I think he just wanted to take pictures. During the first part of the drive, we climbed up a steep, windy 2,000 feet to Flagstaff and then stopped for gas. As soon as I pulled up to the gas pump, a giant wave of vertigo hit me.
Vertigo – my nemesis. If you’ve never experienced vertigo imagine feeling like you are on a boat in the middle of a storm with the waves tossing you to and fro, except in reality you are perfectly still. Once the wave passes, you may consider moving your head to look at something, or bending over to pick something up or tie your shoe. Then another wave hits you, and if your not careful, knocks you off your feet. No day is a good day for vertigo, but having it when walking the rim of the world’s largest canyon seems particularly inconvenient.
There are all sorts of theories about why some people have recurring vertigo – inner ear problems, silent migraines, neck tension. My physical therapist and inner ear specialist believe I have a combination of causes. Joy. Joy! Treatment options vary from migraine and anti-vertigo meds (which make me very sleepy) to some fairly simple, though awkward, PT exercises restore balance to the inner ear. I held off on the anit-vertigo meds but took some advil. Then, while the family went to see the IMAX Grand Canyon movie (I decided this would probably not be a good movie to see while having vertigo), I laid down in the back seat of the car, with the door open, hung my head off the edge of the seat and rolled around. Anyone who saw me must have thought I was crazy. But, as the saying goes: desperate times call for desperate measures. I wasn’t magically cured, but things slowly improved throughout the day. Doug and the girls took turns holding on to me when I walked, saving seats for me on the shuttle busses and picking up anything I dropped so I didn’t have to bend over!
All this may seem irrelevant, except that I believe the distraction may have tainted how we all viewed the Grand Canyon. I feel almost sacrilegious telling you this but, oddly enough, none of us were very impressed; or maybe we expected too much or something more than we had seen in pictures. Perhaps we were constantly worried I might fall over the edge, or we were a little tired from the elevation after spending weeks in the lowlands again, or maybe we have seen so many beautiful, fascinating wonders already.
I like Jacquelyn’s and Christina’s theories best. Christina said that the canyon was so big that all the cliff and rocks didn’t even look real, but rather like a painting. And Jacquelyn thought that the massive size made the reality of the canyon difficult to comprehend. I think they were both right. On this trip we have driven through several canyons (I especially loved the one in Big Horn Mtns.), following rivers and creeks as they carved through the rocks making the way for the very roads we drove upon. Here, after a glimpse of the bright green Colorado River, one might not even believe it moves at all. Maybe if I we had more time (and I was able to walk a straight line) we could have climbed or ridden down into the canyon to feel a different connection. Though one good friend cautioned me against hiking into the canyon unless we had several days, because the canyon is so large, even after miles of walking, the view doesn’t change. We felt similarly, even as we drove the rim.
One final observation: we visited at the canyon in mid-day at the peak of summer, when the sun is at its highest point. That kind of sunlight can wash out a landscape, robbing it of depth and color. I wonder if a visit in the morning, evening or off season is more impressive. Whatever the case, I am still thrilled to have seen the Grand Canyon with my own eyes. Standing on the edge of such an ancient and immense part of creation, humbles and frees me from the clever and persistent trap of self-importance.