From Plateau Point, seven miles hard walk from the top of the Grand Canyon there’s a sheer drop, thousands of feet, to the muddy brown Colorado River below. Craggy cliffs on the other side of the river soar upwards, in layers, like a demonic wedding cake, a hallucination, a dream. Behind Plateau Point, the path snakes back through a flatlands of prickly-pear cactus, and then up, in switchbacks, the ascending cliffs, the path getting ever-steeper, in early April ever-more snow-covered, as it rises. High, high above, invisible from Plateau Point, the fierce path ends and the cacophony of Grand Canyon Village begins.Only 5% of visitors, according to park rangers, venture anywhere down the canyon trails; iconic paths like Bright Angel and Kaibab. A far smaller percentage go down to Plateau Point, or, beyond that, to the river itself, its frigid waters fed by snow melt.
At the top of the canyon, it’s all noise and chaos; bus-loads of tourists pulling up to the rim just long enough to snap a few photos and move on. It’s easy to get contemptuous of the tourism culture up at the Village. It’s overly commercial, everything’s handed to visitors on a plate, it’s superficial and so on and so forth. There are an awful lot of people at the top who seem to view the majesty of nature as something to be absorbed at speed, in between visits to snack stands and trinket stalls, for subsequent conversion into a screen saver. They are, I snootily imagine, doing their utmost to make John Muir, founder of modern American naturalism, and Teddy Roosevelt, the president who kick-started America’s National Park system, turn in their graves.