Published in Sunday Monitor, September 8th 2013. www.monitor.co.ug
Once ruled by the native American Indians today it’s occupied by tourists from all over the world. A hike in the Grand Canyon is a trip into the deep geology ofthe earth. It’s exhausting and indulging.
The temperature has crept up over 40 degrees; the air coming through the open car window while we whiz through the dry Arizona desert landscape is warm and soft. We – a family of four; parents and two teenage boys – have been on the road for four hours towards Grand Canyon and have to stop to quench our thirst.
We pull into a small lonesome cafe by the highway and order our drinks from a middle-aged woman.
On the wall behind her hangs a poster of a group of four Indian men on their horses.
It’s the kind of image we all know from the old Western movies: The ones that portrayed the cowboys as the “good guys” and the Indians as the “bad guys.
Yet, this poster is different: “Fighting terrorist since 1492” it says with big letters across the image.
The woman notices the direction of our gaze.
“Yeah, once all this land belonged to the Indians”, she says
We arrive right before sunset at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and check into our pre-booked accommodation at the Grand Canyon Village.
Standing on the rim of one of the world’s top travel magnets we watch its color palette changing while the sun goes down. The landscape lights up with myriads of shades of brownish-orange, alluring and intriguing. We notice a narrow, pale footpath deep down in the bottom. From the distance it looks like a white piece of string disappearing into the distance. The boys want to follow the trail and find out where it ends.
The following day we set off early for a hike into the centre of the magnificent valley.
The temperature is relatively cool during morning hours, but by noon the heat is almost unbearable and the deeper in the Canyon one travels the hotter it becomes.
The track we follow is called the Bright Angel trail. It was originally built by the native American tribe, the Havasupai Indians to create access to a lush area with natural water points, grass and trees deep down in the Canyon.
The Havasupai inhabited the Canyon for at least 800 years before they in 1540 met García López de Cárdenas, the first European known to have visited Grand Canyon. But Mr. Cárdenas never made it all the way down. According to legends, the Havasupai were not exactly helpful in showing him the way.
A few hundred years later the Havasupai and their fellow Indians finally gave up on the struggle to keep their ancestors land away from intruders. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the Havasupai to leave the area to make way for a national park. Today the only reminder of the Indians in the lush area along the Angel Track is the name; the Indian Garden.
Inside the planet is balsam for the soul
By the time, we reach the Indian Garden we are about 1km below the rim and have tracked for four hours .The boys want to continue and get to the end of the Angel trail, which ends in a plateau overlooking the Colorado River. My husband and I are already totally exhausted.
We let the boys go on and rest in the Indians tranquil oasis in the midst of the millions of years old geological wonder where the planet’s inside is revealed.
It consists of layers of layers of stone of different origin, shape and colour: Toroweap limestone, Coconino sandstone, Redwall limestone. Some are shaped as upright cliffs others as fractures lying on top of each other. For a geologist the Canyon must be candy-land. For a layman the visual sensation and serenity is balsam for the soul.
Tourist from all over the world
On the way up again I cant help thinking about the poster of the Indians behind the woman in the highway cafe when we chat with fellow hikers; Chinese, Germans, French, South Africans. More or less fit for hiking, more or less sweaty and exhausted but all in for the very same dip into the warm geology of the earth – once ruled by the native Indians today occupied by tourists from all over the world.