Rim to Rim — Page 4

The Tonto Plateau

Tonto Plateau

The Tonto Plateau is big and it is flat. Following a dramatic section of switchbacks through the Redwall below Skeleton Point, the Tonto confronts hikers with a most unexpected landscape.

That such a wide and open plain exists within the depths of the Grand Canyon offers us an eye-popping reminder of the Canyon's true size. I've seen this view before on my South Kaibab loop hike, but still...it feels a bit as if we're taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on an old-west prairie.

Switchbacks Below Skeleton Point The Redwall On the Tonto Plateau Bird of Prey

All that's missing here is a saloon town and some tumbleweed. Check that—we've got the tumbleweed.

The Tonto's flat ground affords me the opportunity to make up some time, or so I hope, though everyone else is probably moving faster here as well. Alas, despite my best scampering, my brother and friends remain out of view, probably already descending the Inner Gorge ahead.

What strikes me about the Canyon—and what makes it likely the finest place on Earth for humans to hike—is the way the landscapes are ever-shifting. Often within the span, seemingly, of only a few feet of trail, the view changes so completely it's as if you've just been beamed into another world.

The colors change—sometimes vivid yellows and oranges, sometimes chalky whites, sometimes rich-hued reds, greens, blues.

The verticality itself changes—and this is a nifty trick. Sometimes we're inches away from massive drops over seemingly-impenetrable cliffs, sometimes we're high on a ridge top, sometimes we're wandering across expansive flat ground that seems to stretch off to infinity.

And then of course there is the magic of that Arizona sky.

It, too, is ever-changing. As the landscape below shifts so too does the light—sometimes mysterious, dark, brooding, sometimes hot and piercing. I suppose as a photographer I should be delighted by all of it, and I am, but that delight is also tinged with a measure of despair, for I realize that photos and even memories of this place are only shadows in comparison to real thing.

That makes a Canyon hike more ephemeral, perhaps, than any other. It is like a stage performance rather than film, a one-time-only show never to be repeated in quite the same way ever again. But alas! Why dwell on such somber thoughts? I am here and I am hiking. And the Canyon's finest act is yet to come.

next: The Inner Gorge

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.