Point Sublime - any hyperbole would be an understatement.
If you've ever been to the Louvre in Paris, you'll know exactly what I'm saying. When you FINALLY get through the crowd and see the Mona Lisa, your biggest thought is probably "is that all there is"? It's small, you're squeezed in a crush of people, and you're so far away that a postcard gives you a better view of the image. The Colosseum in Rome was the same for me - I had a much more moving experience spending hours wondering Palatine Hill above the Roman Forum. I had a moment of awe looking down the Champs De Mars at the Eiffel Tower at night... but that was quickly interrupted by someone begging for spare Francs and someone else asking me if I wanted a date for the night. It seems most bucket-list items are like that; they are SO built-up that when they're finally achieved it feels almost empty and disappointing. And so it was with every PREVIOUS trip I had taken to the Grand Canyon. Sure, it was impressive and beautiful but it never *literally* took my breath away. It didn't *move* me. At any tourist destination, you are usually scrambling to get the same "perfect" view (photo) dozens of other people are trying to get. You notice the cigarette butts on the ground, and hold onto your wallet in the hustle and bustle. Like Disneyland, there's just so much to stress over, it dulls the shine. This was my fourth visit to the Grand Canyon as an astrophotographer, and THIS ONE was entirely different than my previous trips!
I arrived long before sunset (it required I leave Vegas at 10-or-so in the morning), and Im so glad I did! I've seen the Grand Canyon during the day, both from the South Rim and North Rim visitor centers. I also caught it during daylight from Point Imperial twice. It was nice... but not as "OMG!!!!" as I expected it to be. But this time...... THIS time......!!!!! O!!!! M!!!!!! G!!!!!!!!!! As I stood inches from an immediate 178-foot drop, gazing across the canyon - with no handrails, no manmade walkways, and not another person in sight..... it TRULY "took my breath away." For those who like numbers.... Across a TWO MILE expanse of air, Mencius Temple (alt 7100ft) jutted up 3,350 feet from Tuna Creek below. I was standing at an altitude of 7,420 feet, - 300 feet ABOVE Mencius Temple. So, although the immediate terrace was 200 feet straight down, I was looking at almost 3300 feet down into the canyon.
And that was just the first ridge. The entire complex of canyons stretches 6 miles beyond at this part before reaching the South Rim. At it's base, the Colorado River (which you can actually see from Point Sublime) is at altitude 2,320 feet - nearly a mile below Point Sublime.
As much as I love taking panoramas, this location made me realize how they can lessen the effect of a truly enormous area. The panorama below was built out of 27 WIDE-ANGLE photos! As you look at the photo, you don't realize just how much you need to turn your head to see it all, so I put a little "typical vision" oval to show how much you would see just looking in one direction without moving your head.
So now that I've hopefully impressed in your mind with just how massive the scene is, perhaps you can grasp how overwhelming the nature of this location is. 360 degrees horizontal and vertical of awe-inspiring beauty!
I've stood by the fence at Daytona as stockcars fly by just inches away - going over 100 miles per hour..... and I've felt the ground shake as F4 Phantoms power up on a flight line. I've been tased multiple times (no, I wasn't a bad boy - it was part of training). I've presided over wedding where the love between the two was so intense, you could actually feel it emanating from them. The birth of my sons, sitting on a beach as enormous waves crash against rocks....those events made my breath catch in my chest for a moment. This was that instant lasting non-stop for MINUTES!
I've never known beauty to have a drastic PHYSIOLOGICAL effect... just BEAUTY! Scared. Impressed. Humbled. Excited. Invigorated. ALL AT ONCE! Did I mention scared? At my age, I've learned the things that F'k you up AREN'T things you plan for. So, sure, you can be cautious walking towards the edge and not be stupid...... but that doesn't mean the very thick and unmoving terra firma beneath your feet won't suddenly decide to collapse beneath you and slide down the side of the mountain. That doesn't mean a gust of wind won't make you stumble (and a stumble is all it would take). It doesn't mean you won't turn to walk to a safer distance and just catch the edge of your shoe and trip. We've all done stupid shit like that. How often have you nailed your toe on the foot of your bed? So yeah. I'm not gunna' lie and say I didn't have a good amount of fear mixed in. And YES throughout the night there WERE gusts of wind that made me reposition my feet because they were so strong and knocked my balance! That was one of the weird parts. Throughout the night there were times I couldn't hear ANYTHING except my tinnitus because the wind was so still... then a moment later I would hear the gust coming up the canyon, rustling the trees closer and closer until it would hit hard! I'd be nervously looking at my cameras on their tripods thinking, "Well... if it goes over I'm not going after it." There were no animal sounds either, which I think is a first. On these night trips, I always here wolves, coyotes, birds, raccoons... all sorts of things going 'bump' in the night. But not this time. When I took photos over at Point Imperial, I even had bats flying around and chirping as if to ask what I was doing out there so late. Did you even know bats chirp?
Anyway..... all those emotions, hitting at full force all at once... it was an unbelievable experience. For a jaded old man (from Las Vegas - the most jaded city in the world), it was a very pleasant surprise!
Going back to the analogy I started with.... imagine being in the little house in Vinci, Italy (BRAG POINT: yes, I've been there.. lol) back in the early 1500's. You walk in and see this painting sitting on an easel. You've been invited by Leonardo to see his latest work. You can sit before it and take it in... take the time to appreciate the balanced tones, the perfectly captured expression. You don't have to say anything.. you can just appreciate it. See: Pierce Brosnan's character in The Thomas Crown Affair - "I just like my haystacks" Or being allowed to listen to a live orchestra as Stravinsky conducted his Firebird Suite... without the applause.. the coughing.. the whispers that people don't think anyone hears.. or the rustling of chairs and people. Just hearing the pure music. That's what this was!
And I hate to be a dick , but it's because there weren't any people around to spoil it. There were no distractions. Just me, the Canyon, and God who created both of us! I often think astrophotography is my 'church'. Sure, I belong to a religion, and I attend mass (not often as I used to). But like the Grand Canyon tourist spots, church gets ruined by too many distractions and too many people (in my humble opinion). When I go to church, I want one-on-one time with God/Jesus, but I want it in an environment that is befitting the greatest being in the universe - our creator. That's why I love big, baroque or gothic churches with lots of incense, beautiful music, and powerful choirs. I just want to be there alone. Is that too much to ask? Hahahaha
So, in the nights when I'm miles away from any other living soul, I take in his wonderful creation and that is the one-on-one time I crave.
I will certainly go back to Point Sublime, but only AFTER I get rid of my Jeep-in-name-only Patriot and get myself back into a Wrangler.
Such incredible spots come with a price, and usually that price is inaccessibility. You have to WORK to get to them - either driving or hiking. But it's certainly worth the price! Thank you for sharing the experience with me!