April 2015

Another grand canyon

By David Feela

A popular tourist feature at the south rim of Black Canyon National Park is Chasm Overlook. Across the canyon I spotted a railing that protects sightseers from taking a fatal step off the north rim. Not even a quarter-mile of thin air separated us, but the 2,000-foot plummet contained all the encouragement I needed to just smile and wave.

President Clinton upgraded the Black Canyon by designating it a national park in 1999, 66 years after President Herbert Hoover first declared it a national monument. I asked a friend of mine, a retired park service superintendent, What’s the difference? He told me that generally national monuments have a single natural feature that attracts visitors, whereas a national park contains more than just one. I see, I said, but I didn’t. He must have sensed my confusion, so he added: Mostly it’s just politics.

Though the Black is a grand canyon, it’s not THE Grand Canyon. Nearly 5 million visitors stop by annually to look over its edge and say Wow, but to visit the Black Canyon a person really has to want to go there. It’s not just a detour to a colossal dip in the road while traveling to or from Disneyland. It requires some backroad planning.

Standing at the precipice, I heard the Black Canyon call to me, subliminally, from beneath the river’s roar. I had never been to the north side, and it beckoned me to cross. In the 30 years I’ve lived in Colorado, I’ve only visited this national park once, and for me time is trickling away. For the canyon, where a billion-year-old precambrian rock tooth glistened in a slip of sunlight reaching near the bottom, time is not such a big deal.

Or it could be those folks waving from the north rim inspired me. No bridge to span the canyon has ever been built in the park’s history, and thankfully imagination always falls short, so driving seemed the only way. The park brochure recommended allotting two hours for the trip.

The road along the north rim twists like black licorice, and the view is sweet. Though the way is narrow, it’s not as harrowing as the canyon itself. I pulled in at every available vantage point for a look and a photograph. You see, there’s nothing so inspiring as depth. We scratch the surface for most of the days of our lives. If we get the chance to look over the edge, we should not forget to take a deep breath and be inspired.

I was once surprised to learn Robert Frost’s roots make him a Westerner, for he was born in California, but he is known as a rural New England poet. At age 11, he moved to Massachusetts to live in his grandfather’s house following his father’s sudden death. His geography changed, and a rift in his young life altered his perspective. Had he grown up in his native West, I believe his famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” would never have seen any snow and ended something like this:

...these canyons are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

During my trip to the north rim, that verse echoed in my brain like a song that you can’t stop humming.

Over four hours later – not the prescribed two – I came full circle, back to the Chasm Overlook where I had started, my odometer having clocked 185 miles. The evening shadows had just started their descent to the canyon floor. All I had energy left to do was make my way to the south rim campground and open a cold beer. Lucky for me, I hadn’t made any other promises.

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/