There is no way to capture the depth of the space in a canyon in a 2-dimensional photograph. If you are standing anywhere near it, though, you get a sense of your own size and scale in relation to it. After a full day of walking outdoors in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I began to feel an existential shift. It may have been coupled with dehydration or an altitude reaction. That huge expanse of open air off the edge of the rim fascinated me. I could disappear, be swallowed whole, and evaporate like a drop of rain before hitting the ground. I stood before a terrifying beauty. I trembled. My legs were weak. I sat down on the rock shelf in Steve’s embrace and wept.
I was 9 years old and seeing the mountains of Colorado for the first time the last time I was here. Frankly, the only thing I remember of it from back then is the name. It kind of scared me.
It is a National Park, a deep gorge, a wild river, a cross-section of geography, and a wilderness where humans are temporary visitors at best. From the Visitor Center parking lot, a glimpse of the scale of its depth is merely a tease.
After a good night’s sleep, we walked the canyon rim from the campgrounds to the Visitor Center and got a closer look.
The early morning silence, the delicate frost in the shadows, the warm fragrance of juniper and sage, the glimmer of rushing water at the canyon floor…I had stepped into a holy sanctuary that Sunday morning and wept with awe and joy…and sadness.I feel the threat to wild land as a pain deep in my gut. The river that carved this place is running high this year and being “managed” and diverted and manipulated to provide irrigation and recreation and serve a host of human needs. I don’t know how all the demands are weighed on this issue. My desire is to listen to the place itself, to let it simply Be, and to learn what I can with my brain, my heart, and my soul.
A volunteer guided us on a wildflower walk later that afternoon and introduced us to Western species new to us. Many of the Gambel oaks had just budded when that late snowstorm hit, and their tiny, crisp, shriveled leaves looked woefully sad. They are a hardy bunch and will hopefully recover, but the acorn yield in the fall will likely be diminished. The colorful blooms along the trail seemed to be not at all harmed.
This plant tour proved very useful. We saw a lot of Oregon grape, which is quite common and looks a lot like poison oak when it shows up as just three leaves with a reddish tinge. However, it does get additional leaves and yellow flowers which make it obviously distinct.
The campsite we found later in the Manti-La Sal National Forest was covered with it. I was glad to know I wasn’t risking a poison oak rash every time I went in the brush to pee!