Saturday evening: I’m feeling quite insignificant at the moment; quite small. This is because I think I’ve just found something more impressive than the Grand Canyon during the day – the Grand Canyon at night.
I’d heard things about the night sky in Nevada and Arizona but had never made the effort to drive out to somewhere away from the hotel light pollution. This evening, once the sun had been down for over an hour, I left the hotel and drove the six miles back to the Grand Canyon visitor centre. Using the torch on my phone I walked down one of the trails and then out onto one of the viewing points that juts out into the canyon.
I turned off the torch.
Initially I couldn’t see much – the darkness was completely enveloping. But then, slowly, the sky developed from a dark mass into a million points of light. I’ve never seen a sky like it before: The Milky Way stretched all the way across the sky from one side to the other and I could actually see variations in colour in it. The rest of the sky was so populated with stars that it took me almost ten minutes to start to recognise some of the basic constellations – picking the points out from the ‘clutter’. In the whole half-hour I spent freezing myself in the middle of the canyon I think I saw more shooting stars than I’ve seen in my entire life. A few of them streamed across the sky for a number of seconds before flaring and burning up.
The canyon itself was completely dark, save for a few distant pricks of light that must have been from people camping in the bottom of the canyon overnight. When the wind wasn’t blowing it was completely silent. Completely silent. What surprised me was how much
light was actually given out by the stars and how well my eyes adapted to it – I didn’t need the torch at all on the walk back to the car.
Being confronted by that star-field having spent the day driving through some of the most spectacular scenery in North America really puts you in your place. We spend our lives agonising and worrying over things that are, in the grand scheme of things, so insignificant.
My mind keeps going back to the pioneers who first discovered the American West. It’s not so much the fact that they made it this far, but it’s that, when they were confronted with something like the Grand Canyon, they carried on. Can you imagine what they must have thought when they first came over the brow of a hill and seeing that expanse of nothingness? I wonder if we’d still have that pioneering attitude today; Or would we spend a few days pointing out all the reasons why going on was a bad idea and worrying about everything that might go wrong if we did?
I think a portable Grand Canyon star-field would be a useful thing. It would be a way to add perspective when you’re sat worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. I suppose the only problem is that you’d end-up spending all your time staring at it, trying to comprehend just how tiny and insignificant this planet, and everything on it, ultimately is.
I’m tempted to drive back to the canyon and look again…