Monday, April 9, 2007


I saw an alien creature in Bryce Canyon.

It was on top of a spire of rock, called a hoodoo. The picture above is not the alien I saw as my camera malfunctioned when I tried to snap the photos. However, the picture shows a few of the hoodoos—somewhat similar to the alien shaped one. There two reminded us of the Olympic flame logo.

Glenn thought the alien we saw looked like E.T. I agree. The hoodoo definitely had the strange fist shaped head and face of the little alien who wanted to “phone home.” Later that afternoon, a fellow hiker claimed he saw Steven Spielberg. I don’t think it was Spielberg, but you never know. Was the director visiting the rock that inspired him to make the famous movie, E.T.? The world may never know.

Anyway, there’s something special about getting up close and personal with rock formations. You can see shapes and images that you can’t see from far away. In Bryce Canyon and Zion you can get so close to the rocks that their mysteries are revealed. You can see the contours, the watermarks, the little plants growing out of the cracks. There’s something so special about being able to really see things up close. More personal books that are not quite so epic usually do the same thing, they get up close and personal, whereas the epic books sometimes get lost because of too many characters and not enough enticing details.

At the Grand Canyon I got the epic view and many of the details could not be seen. The canyon is so vast that it seems unattainable, distant, incomprehensible. I felt like I knew Zion and Bryce. I’d seen the color of their eyes, the wrinkles on their faces. I could put them into a box and file them away so my brain could comprehend them.

The Grand Canyon is still a mystery to me and to most of the people who have visited there. How do you fathom something over five thousand feet deep and at least ten miles wide? The whole thing is considered over to be like 277 miles long. From what I’ve learned, people have spent lifetimes trying to explore the canyon and still they haven’t seen it all or unlocked its many secrets. “The Canyon” is bigger than the human mind and reminds us of how small we really are.

My trip made me think a lot about life and writing. Bryce and Zion provide closure, as books should. I saw them, loved them, and felt good about the journey. I saw the hoodoos, got close enough to touch them. Zion and Bryce ended and could be conceptualized by my feeble intellect. Those two canyons were personal friends and I feel like I’ve gotten to know them pretty well—though another few trips are essential as there is still much to see.

The Grand Canyon is different. I spent a week there in the past and a few days as a child. This trip I spent three days and "The Canyon" is still a mystery so big and vast that it leaves me feeling unfulfilled—like a book over 1,300 pages long that is book one of a thirteen book series that may never actually end.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the journey, especially going into the canyon. Hiking back out wasn’t that bad either. But I like visiting places that are small enough that you can actually get a feel for them. The commercialization of the Grand Canyon doesn’t help either—and the big crowds. Bryce and Zion were so peaceful and relaxed, while Grand Canyon was frenetic and well, epic.

Huge epic books can be so magnificent to read, but the time it takes to read them is sometimes a negative—and the time it would take to really see the Grand Canyon is a negative for me as well. Grand Canyon is one of those places we should probably all see before we die, but next time I’m going to the North Rim where few people actually go. It’s smaller, more personal, and less crowded. I’ve never been there either and that makes the adventure so appealing.

Now if only my favorite epic fantasy writer, George R.R. Martin, would come out with the next Song of Ice and Fire book. I’m guessing it’ll be like the last book and be way over 1,200 pages. Still the series won’t be over.

There are some worlds you just want to dive into and others that intimidate you because of their sheer size. Martin’s books, like the Grand Canyon, might scare some people away, but both are worth exploring.


Patrick M. Tracy said...


I felt the same way about the Grand Canyon. Whereas you can get your mind around some of the smaller canyons--get to feel that you know them--the Grand Canyon is far too much to really fathom. It's unattainable, really, a thing that can really only exist as a concept. The smaller, more accessible canyons become "yours" in some way.

There are similarities between books and canyons, as you alluded. I think the biggest problem is this: authors who try to craft a series of such massive and unattainable grandure will generally fail, if only because they are human, and flawed, and limited in vision. Only the full weight of the living planet over the course of millions of years could form something like the Grand Canyon. We are but small, and mortal, and limited, alas.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! I've been head-down in massage stuff for weeks, and meanwhile you've been doing all this amaaaaazing shit! You rock, Paul. I'm too happy right now to be envious of any man, but I'm definitely kinda wishing I were there. What fun!