From Yavapai Point you can see 15 kilometers into the distance – and 1.5 kilometers below. The Colorado River has been chiseling around this gorge for millions of years, eating its way through the rock, which in turn up to 1.8 billion years old is. It has long been just a thin, deep blue band, far below.
I stand on the edge and lean forward. The hard shadows of the sun transform the view into a surreal photo wallpaper. A prehistoric photo wallpaper.
Here, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the past, present and future merge. At the same time, all ideas about getting older, about the ravages of time that gnaws at us mercilessly, merge here.
Old? The Grand Canyon is alt. Geologically this can be seen in the dozen rust-colored rock layers read that the Colorado River has cut free over the millennia. The years of my life – a number that I quarrel with often enough – wouldn’t even be a finger’s breadth.
Suddenly I feel very young. Everything is relative.
Such midlife meditations were not my intention when I recently arrived at America’s greatest natural wonder on an oven-hot late summer day. Rather, I am on the run from everyday life. On the run from the corona drama, from America’s political shitshow, from, yes, other people. The last few weeks have hardened me from being a mask cop to being a misanthrope. Let’s get away.
So my partner and I get in the car in Las Vegas and set off on a road trip through the largely deserted US Southwest. We hope to be able to escape the broken civilization all around, whose drunk-stoned grimaces babble one last greeting on the casino “strip” of the gambling town. A trip to the Stone Age suddenly seems very appropriate.
But at the latest when we reach the Grand Canyon, after six hours of strolling along the historic Route 66 with its rusted gas stations, I realize that this is also a road trip through my past.
Not because of young: I stood at Yavapai Point for the first time in 1988. At that time I was still studying in Germany and during the semester break I traveled through the USA with two friends. We crashed in campsites and hostels from San Francisco to New York City. At night at the Grand Canyon we heard the coyotes howl.
We had many dreams that youthful summer of adventure. Depending on my mood and the day of the week, I wanted to write crime novels, draw comics, direct films, become a photographer and, at least that was the study requirement, work as a journalist, maybe even in the USA. After a few detours and wrong turns, at least the latter has actually come true. But nothing else is as I had imagined.
Climate change, corona crisis, political decay: it’s not just my world that is becoming an apocalyptic nightmare. End times mood. Who would have guessed that in 1988?
The orange-brown clouds of the forest fires hang over San Francisco, through which we hiked enthusiastically at the time – a beacon of the climate crisis that many Americans willfully ignore. At the Grand Canyon, where we listened to the coyotes, the few tourists are wearing corona protective masks today – a signal of the pandemic, which Trump willfully downplayed. In Washington, where we wandered reverently through the Capitol, the end of democracy is being planned today as they rehearse civil war inland, as we rumbled through in the Amtrak sleeper – a beacon of a story that repeats itself if you don’t learn from it.
It all seemed so simple before. Today everything is so complicated.
Sure, 1988 wasn’t child’s play either. Ronald Reagan put Americans into a trance while another, long-ignored epidemic – AIDS – was already Tens of thousands painfully cost his life. 32 years later, Trump lies about the corona virus so as not to spoil his election chances. Learned nothing.
From the Grand Canyon we continue through dramatic, lonely landscapes, trekking through the 320 million years old Red Rocks, explore that Montezuma Castle, 1100-1425 aD carved high into a limestone cliff by the natives, poked us at the 200-year-old cacti of the Sonoran Preserve and browse through the clay works of art by Arcosati, a utopian village that has been built in the semi-desert since 1970, but now looks like a dusty science fiction film set.
Finally we end up in the present tense again and among – few – people. Our resort in Scottsdale has lowered its exorbitant room rates to cheap motel level due to Corona. It is compulsory to wear a mask at the swimming pool so that we as humanity do not end up like dinosaurs.
Back to life, back to reality. The ravages of time continue to gnaw on us and on the Grand Canyon.