Brachiopod fossils at the Grand Canyon with a Swiss knife for size comparison.
Author's note: Part 1 of 2.
I had never been to the Grand Canyon but Ruthie, my wife, had. Except it had been long ago and she'd only looked down at it from the overlook.
So, here we were at the South Rim as Ruthie, ever the photographer, tried to shoot its immense grandeur.
She put down the camera. "Even with our wide lens, I can't capture it all!"
On our left was the Bright Angel Trail. Gripping her hiking poles, she added, "It's also lots deeper than I remembered!"
We're no sissies with hiking trails, but this one was edged by rock walls plunging straight down for thousands of feet. Plus, the cold, blustery mid-May wind was buffeting our jackets.
Others were milling around at the overlook just long enough to take quick snapshots and then beating hasty retreats into the warm visitor center for nice hot breakfasts. Briefly, we were tempted to do likewise.
Not on your life. Irresistibly drawn by the spectacular scene below, we pushed off with our hiking poles and started down.
Walking downhill wasn't hard, but as low-elevation Wisconsinites, we weren't used to the altitude. Stopped to catch our breaths I gasped, "What's the elevation, I wonder?"
A nearby veteran hiker heard me. Feeding me a smug little smile, he yanked out a GPS unit and announced loud enough for anyone within 50 feet to hear, "Our present elevation is exactly 6,550 feet!"
As we continued down, Ruthie shushed me as I muttered, "Showing off his GPS like that, what a jerk!" I added, "Maybe we could get one?"
Our ooos and ahhs burst out non-stop as we wound down through the rock formations lit by the sun in living Technicolor. Our shoulders virtually brushed the Coconino Formation, a layer of white-colored sandstone 200 feet thick. Ruthie pointedly photographed the next layer of Hermit Shale painted in gorgeous deep reds. Scattered on its slanting slopes in striking contrast were gigantic white blocks of the Coconino tumbled down from above.
Now hundreds of feet below the rim it was warm enough to shed our jackets and gloves. Compared to the winter conditions topside it was summer here.
A young woman who'd been hard on our heels joined us when we stopped to examine walnut-sized fossils sticking out of a boulder. Having already peeked at our guide booklet, I had read about these fossils. Showing off what I knew, I proclaimed, "Aha! These are brachiopods!" Unimpressed, Ruthie just rolled her eyes.
After snapping close-ups of the fossils, the young woman poured it out in a rush. "Hi! I'm Nao Ko from Japan! I only get one week off a year from the Tokyo bank where I work! So, I flew over here to see the Grand Canyon! We have nothing like it at home! I only have time to go a little farther! Goodbye!" After throwing us a cheery wave she hurried down ahead of us on her impossible mission with seeing it all in a day.
At the two-mile point, we reached the Rest House, a log hut built atop a gigantic boulder jutting out from the canyon wall. After using the john and refilling our water bottles, we peered over the balcony rail at the trail below. What we could see of it meandered downward until dropping out of sight over the edge of a broad plateau. More than 1,000 feet below this was the bottom of the canyon. Down there we could barely make out the Colorado River, a tiny gray thread winding between the massive canyon walls. Should we head down closer toward it?
Find out whether we did in part 2.