The Still Of The Canyon

It’s just before seven and the shadows are slowly lengthening. To the right, monolithic mesas and buttes stretch to the horizon and glow orange, scarlet and copper red as the rocky outcrops absorb the last rays of the sun. This is the other worldly experience of Lake Powell - a Mars-like landscape in the heart of the Canyonlands Grand Circle.

At milepost 545, a short drive from the vibrant town of Page, is a small dirt track off the highway. Park here at the end of a warm autumn afternoon, walk over the brow of the hill towards the setting sun and you will be richly rewarded by the experience. The Horseshoe bend of the Colorado River flows gently and in eerie silence through Glen Canyon below as you sit on the edge of a massive precipice. All sense of size, perspective and dimension is scrambled as you gaze down at a breathtaking 1,000 foot drop.

Spending most of our working lives desk-bound, many of us are not satisfied with a week’s rest on foreign beaches. Wanderlust still has a craggy grip on our shoulders. We crave a change to provide some inspiration, a physical challenge to beat the everyday churning of the grey matter in the office.

The Wild West offers the perfect antidote, trading the mental stress of the office atmosphere with stunning vistas of winding red canyons, sheer cliffs and a dusty, yet invigorating fatigue that only days in the great outdoors can bring. An easy, congestion free road trip can take in the wonders of at least half a dozen awe inspiring US National Parks.

The lake itself boasts 1,960 miles of shoreline with 96 major side canyons. The area was unchartered until John Wesley Powell‘s first expeditions in 1869, but he would need a snorkel and flippers now. It took 10 million tonnes of concrete to build Glen Canyon Dam, and 17 years to fill the lake. The only blot on the landscape is a hydro-electric power station, a reminder of modern energy needs in prehistoric surroundings.

Glen Canyon plays host to two outstanding examples of natural architecture. It is difficult to comprehend nature could create Rainbow Bridge, a rarely formed rock arch nearly 300 feet in height and span. Equally impressive is Antelope Canyon, known for a strong and deathly silence befitting its description as ‘nature’s cathedral’. The narrow slot canyon is passable on foot but only a few feet wide with shafts of light interrupting the shadows and illuminating the smooth corkscrew sculpted sandstone with sunbeams.

As evening draws in, an old Navajo Indian, wrapped in a hand woven blanket, sits watching the tumbleweeds blow by. A rickety trestle table in front of her displays all manner of trinkets to sell to the last of the day’s travellers. An isolated cloudburst drenches the surrounding canyons, painting the beautiful arc of a rainbow skyward. We depart in silence, to return to office desks we had found so easy to forget.

T Willcox

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