Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Grand Canyon really is grand!

I’ve come to the conclusion that Arizona is really big country, huge, immense and stretches as far as the eye can see. In fact stretches way beyond what the eye can see. And we have a great view as we’re in the Copper Canyon dome car with a curved glass roof with the grand panorama laid out before us.

The wide expanse is broken up by the occasional Icelandic rocky outcrop and charcoal black or barbecue sauce brown steers frolicking amongst the scrubby wasteland.

After an age the scrub starts sprouting the odd bonsai tree, they look like they've just grabbed enough nutrients to stretch their branches above the parched soil but then ran out of energy. As we chugged further into the park, closer to the Grand Canyon the trees got bushier and taller until the landscape changed again and we were totally immersed in the Ponderosa pines, the pinyon nut (where the pine nuts in your salad comes from) trees and the odd juniper (apparently the Native Indians have many therapeutic uses for them but we just make gin!).

Gone was the vast expanse as now we were in a cutting surrounded by the sweet smelling trees.

A rumour went round that there were elks in them there woods but we couldn't spot the merest antler. We pulled in the car park and muster the troops to set forth to peer into the Grand Canyon (or Kaibab as the Native Indians more poetically referred to it, which means 'mountain inside out' or 'mountain fallen over').

It's hard to describe your first reaction on witnessing the momentous power of Mother Nature when carving out this incredible geologic feature as it all rather overwhelms the senses. The supreme vastness of it all, the reds, yellows and purples, the layers so visible, the sculptural rock formations, the glimpses of the green of the Colorado river a mile below.

Every time you snap the perfect view, you take a few more steps and a whole new vista springs forth with the sparse mountain trees in the foreground and the blue rugged slopes on the other side. Our almost irritatingly enthusiastic guide informs us that we would have to drive 236 miles to cover the 12-as-a-bird-flies miles from the edge of the rim to the other. We have no particular desire to visit the other side so stand in awe and admire the majesty of the landscape laid before us.

Unfortunately there's not enough time to buzz the stripy layers in a plane or helicopter but we did witness a trio of condors taking advantage of the thermals rising from the canyon.

We've been fortunate as whilst we watched the train snaking its way into the national park the sky looked decidingly iffy but on arriving at the big hole the sky obligingly turned blue and if anything turned a little too hot and some of our party had to duck for shade.

After wearing our cameras shutters out capturing the canyon from every possible angle (trust me, this is only a small sample!) we re-boarded our thankfully air-conditioned coach and heard a few more ba-boom anecdotes from our guide (including the origin of the turtles’ shells) and then headed for the Bright Angel for more stunning views of the dazzling gorge and yes a few more reams of photographs (how did I live before a digital camera and a large memory card?) As we wend our way to the lodge we see many curious examples of the effect the vastness of the canyon on the local flora. As you turn each corner there are different shrubs and trees that either thrive in sunlight or not, as the angle of the sides means that some areas live permanently in shade and the plant life adjusts themselves accordingly.

As the sun beats down on us we head back to the train for lunch and the next leg of our journey. Lunch is a busy affair and as there are no sittings it’s a case of the hungriest and the fastest first. The menu seems complicated initially, maybe it’s being out in the sun, and then I realise it’s just two choices for main either a Beef & Mushroom Wild Rice Risotto – Creamy Arborio and Wild Rice enriched with seared Filet Mignon, Wild Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions Mascarpone and Parmesan Cheeses, completed with Heavy Cream or a Sesame Chicken Summer Vegetable Salad – Organic Mixed Greens composed with Sesame grilled Chicken, Asparagus, Carrots, Red Onion & Red Cabbage then finished with Citrus vinaigrette. Perhaps the rather lengthy description bamboozled me! I chose the risotto though rather intrigued/alarmed by the wild rice inclusion as it’s not my favourite but it worked very well and gave a delightful nutty touch to the creamy risotto. We also have some delectable bread to accompany our dish.

For dessert we tucked into the Peach and Pear Crumble with Macadamia Nut Topping which was scrumptious. I wouldn’t normally think of crumble at the height of summer but frankly it’s so delicious that it’s good for any time.

On our way out of the Grand Canyon National Park I noticed the wonderfully named ‘W Jack Rabbit Drive’, definitely a street name I’ve never seen in England.

The Grand Canyon was on my list of must see places and it didn’t disappoint at all. It was truly awe-inspiring and just a magnificent sight that I will never forget. I’m not quite sure what I thought it would be like but it certainly way exceeded my expectations and literally took my breath away.

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