Trump

At some point we should start getting worried about Donald Trump. 

I’ve been thinking (and saying) that for well over six months now but seem to be in a minority. Trump is still being portrayed by many sections of the media as a kind of comic relief: a joke act to be laughed at the in the US presidential primaries. His ‘antics’ are presented in headlines with lots of exclamation marks: 

‘What will Trump do next?!?!’ 

‘Trumped!!: Read Trump’s outrageous comments on Mexicans!!’

Articles with him are usually peppered with jovial references to his ‘alleged hair’, his time on the apprentice or his tower in New York. In the UK he is compared to the ‘lovable buffoon’ Boris Johnson. ‘Look! They both have blond hair! Look! They both seem a bit dishevelled! Look! They both get up to antics! They’re basically twins!! Trump is the American Boris!!’ 

Really? 

The problem is, this kind of commentary makes people familiar with Trump. It makes them think that he’s ‘an average guy’, that he knows what he is talking about and that any ‘gaffs’ are excusable and quite comical. Commuters read about the latest ‘Trumpism’ on their phones in the morning, make a comment to the person next to them (Have you seen what Trump’s done now?)’, laugh, and then click on a link to something else. Trump’s provided them with a bit of entertainment on the train to work.

But this is a man who is running to be President of the United States. This is a man who is vying to be the Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military machine. This is a man who wants to be looked on as the leader of the free World, as the global embodiment of everything that’s great about liberty, freedom and democracy. And he isn’t a million miles away from achieving that goal: It’s more likely than not that he’ll now win the Republican nomination. And then he has a 50/50 chance. Fifty-fifty. The toss of a coin. Heads you win, tails you get Trump. 

At some point we should start getting worried about Donald Trump. 

But why?’ You ask. ‘Sure, he’s a bit of a nutter but who isn’t these days? He has some strong views but a lot of people have sympathy for them.’

Wait what? 

I have strong views about the parcel delivery habits of the Royal Mail. I have strong views about the incorrect application of the word ‘literally’. I have strong views about the use of converted busses to run most of the rail services in the north of England. 

Donald Trump doesn’t have strong views. Donald Trump is a fascist, a racist and a very dangerous man

Too harsh? 
When I state the above to people they recoil a bit, sip their tea and say ‘oh surely he’s not that bad?’. 

Oh really? 

Let’s play a little game. Hopefully it will show you what I mean. This is how it goes: First, you take an outrageous quote from Donald Trump (spoken in 2016 need I remind you):

I am calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on… there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. …Wmust Make America Great Again.”

Hahaha! He said that?? Oh Trump you rogue! What will you do next? You’re so out there! What a maverick!!”

What you now do is take the same quote and swap out one of the words, to maybe put what he says in more of a historical context: 

“I am calling for a total and complete shutdown of Jews entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on… there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Jewish population. …We must make America Great Again.”

Still think he’s a lovable rogue?

Can you image what would happen if Donald Trump said that? Overnight his campaign would have been over. He would have lost all support, all backers and sponsors and would probably also have been finished as a businessman. I think it’d be fair to say that he may even been forced to leave the United States. But when Donald Trump uttered the first quote his support soared. He went on to win the vast majority of the early primaries and dominate the news agenda. He followed his comments on Muslims with similar remarks about Mexicans. His support soared again. 

At some point we need to start worrying about Donald Trump. 

It’s all too easy to look back at history from a distance with scorn. Why on earth did so many people in the 1930s not see what was going on in Germany? Why did the United Kingdom do political deals with the man who would later flatten London and commit the greatest war crimes the world has ever seen? How foolish they must have been! How nieave! We would never make those mistakes today! We’re smarter than that now!

Look around people. The rhetoric and language that Donald Trump uses to demonise an entire people based on their religion is exactly the same as that which was used against the Jewish population in the 1930s. The Jews were used as a political scapegoat for the financial and political troubles that Germany found itself in. They were blamed for destabilising the economy, for conspiring against the German people and for making Germany weak and powerless. These accusations weren’t made overnight: they were built up over the span of a decade and numerous electoral cycles. They became so commonplace that people started to believe that parts of them might actually be true. And then they were true. They were accepted. The party that made them were voted into power. Three times. 

Donald Trump claims there is a Muslim conspiracy against the United States. He says that they have made America weak on the World stage. He would ban them from coming to America. He bellows that Mexicans are destabilising the economy through immigration and are responsible for a fair proportion of the crime across the great land of the free. This rhetoric, these fantasies, are striking a chord. They are repeated endlessly by a media organisation obsessed with celebrity and the shock factor. People start to think that maybe there is some truth in these paranoid delusions. 

And the rest of the World looks on with a mix of disbelief and mirth. 

At some point we have to start worrying about Donald Trump. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the States and will happily vouch that the American people are amongst the most kind, generous, intelligent and helpful people you will ever meet. They are not (as they are commonly portrayed) a four-hundred million strong mob of red-necks who sit on their porches chewing tobacco and shooting passing rodents. They are a people who are constantly forging on into new areas of science, technology and the arts. They’ve driven us all into a remarkable new age of global communication and information technology. They are people just like you and me. 

But they are voting for Trump.  

I despair. I really do. I want to shake the population of the United States awake; to throw a bucket of water over them so they come round and tell me all about a strange dream they just had. 

In a way it’s easier to write off Trump as only being supported by hill-billies. It’s scarier when you realise that his support is spread far and wide, across the northern states as much as the southern and mid-western ones. 

I feel like I’m on a train that is careering off a cliff in slow-motion. When we stop humouring Trump and start treating him with the disdain that he deserves? 

 

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One Year On

I couldn’t let this day pass without writing something on here. 

A year ago today is when it all began. I can’t remember exactly but around this time a year ago I think I was hurtling towards London Euston station on a Virgin ‘sauna train’ and about to be mistaken for a terrorist in the Kings Cross branch of Nandos. This evening I would board the Caledonian Sleeper and spend a night being buffeted by diesels before awaking under bright blue skies in glorious, snow-covered, Inverness. 

It’s strange to think that only a year ago I had no first-hand experience of the stunning beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the remarkable architecture of the city if of Edinburgh, or the bone-grating, soul-destroying monotony of three-and-a-half hours on the unwanted bastard offspring of a bus and pneumatic drill. (Even after all this elapsed time I’m still firmly of the opinion that the ride I had on that Pacer would have been much more comfortable if they hadn’t bothered with the rail conversion and had just driven the damn thing over the sleepers.)

It was a remarkable week. The breadth of experiences I had and variety of different places I visited made it feel like a year in itself. I was lucky with the weather (with one notable exception) and was only once consciously affected by a delayed train (something strange happened on the Night Riverera sleeper but I was half-asleep as most of that unfolded so it doesn’t really count).

I still have several pages of notes from that week that never even made it onto this blog. Like with the recent visit to the United States I will try and formulate these into something substantive when time allows me to. It may be this doesn’t happen until I decide to retire from my current line of work but who knows, maybe the time-travel experiments will start to yield some more positive results soon. 

It’s funny how, as you go through life, certain events will cause you to subconsciously drop a marker in the sand. You don’t realise this until an object, sight or smell triggers the neurons in your mind and, suddenly, you’re thrown headlong back into a moment from many years ago. An example of this for me would be whenever I’m somewhere that’s freezing cold. Despite having done my time in Northern Canada (in winter), being very cold always mentally links me back to a certain night of a holiday I took to Poland in the winter of 2010; don’t ask me why – it just does. Even if I’m walking on a mountain in sub-zero temperatures with a wind that’s blowing a gale I will make a little mental note that, while it may be quite cold, it’s nowhere near what I experienced that night in Poland. For some reason, this helps take a little bit of the bite out of the wind. 

Ever since the trip I took this time last year I’ve found that I’ve now got another of these markers in the sand:

Imagine a dark winter night. It’s not particularly cold but the rain is lashing down and a gusting wind is ensuring that you’re getting completely soaked. You’re walking through a city centre in these conditions. It must be very early in the morning because there’s no-one else around. All the shops are shut. Most of them are boarded-up or have metal shutters jammed half the way down which are rattling in the breeze. It’s close to Christmas but all the lights have been turned out. Over the houling wind you can just make out the sound of a rabid dog barking itself insane. Your eyes dart about searching for something, anything that proves that the place you’re in is still inhabited. All you see is darkness and decay. But what’s that? A hunched figure in the distance dragging itself across the road towards you. It points in your direction and starts cackling. You start it panic. Your pulse rises and you consider running blindly into the night…

But you pause. 

A flag springs up in your mind.

“This may be a pretty bad situation” you think to yourself, “but at least it’s not Blackpool”.

 

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The Longest Day

I have returned. 

Please don’t ask me when it is, but I’m pretty sure of where I am – and that’s back in the UK. I got up at around 7am Pacific Time and am now sitting in Heathrow having a coffee at 11:30 GMT, or 3:30am Pacific. In true style I didn’t sleep on the overnight nine-hour flight from Los Angeles and ended up watching four films back-to-back, which have now merged into one in my over-tired mind. (To summarise the plot: Eleven cyborgs are sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future to conduct a heist on three Las Vegas casinos. Ten of them are killed in the process (and none of them find Sarah Conor) and the surviving one goes on to have a brief career as an abusive drum teacher in New York. He’s rapidly stuck off for his tendency to ‘terminate’ band members who don’t meet his exacting standards and is exiled out of the US to the Australian desert, where he gets a ridiculously souped-up oil tanker and goes slightly mad while fleeing from a guy with the world’s best electric guitar / flame-thrower.)

I’m hoping the coffee will steel me for the hour tube journey into London to catch my train back up north. It seems as if I’ve been away for months. I was trying to remember earlier the incident with the snow-plough when I was driving to Flagstaff – but that seems like it happened a lifetime ago. This is always the way though. I’ll go back to work tomorrow and greet people as if I haven’t seen them for an age, in response to which I’ll get a puzzled look and a “Weren’t you just here a few days ago?”. I know as well that, by this time tomorrow, all of this will seem like a distant memory. That is also, always the way. 

Nothing particularly exciting happened on the flight back – except for the fact that it had wi-fi. 

It’s odd isn’t it? All those films in the eighties and nineties about ‘the future’ and none of them accurately predicted the ridiculous ability we now have to communicate with anyone and everyone, anywhere and anytime. Every hotel I’ve stayed in has had complementary wi-fi, even the ones nestled in the Colorado mountains. But the fact that I was able to sit in a pressurised tube, 36000ft above the Atlantic and communicate with people on Whatsapp is nothing short of crazy. If you start thinking about the technology involved with installing the equipment on the plane, maintaining a constant link to a satellite network and then navigating the message you send back down to a particular handset in a particular country that could, in theory, be anywhere in the world – it’s, as I said, crazy. If you described this technology to people thirty years ago they wouldn’t have thought it possible. A hundred years ago they would have thought you were a god. They would have talked about the endless possibilities opened up by instant mobile text, voice and video communication with anyone on the planet. But I can guarantee you that none of them – none of them – would have foreseen that this entire global communications grid would be built up solely to facilitate the transmission of increasingly complex pictorial humour relating to cats. 

Anyway, I must go and brave the tube now. I’ve finished my coffee and the freestyle jazz that’s playing in this Café Nero may cause me to do something reckless (early retirement?). I suppose the jazz is better that the transcendent choral music that now seems to be a staple of all the men’s toilets in Heathrow Terminal 2. (I don’t know what that is all about but, for a moment, I thought I had walked into a chapel. I imagine that it’s meant to be calming after a stressful flight but, to be honest, it’s just a bit odd. You stand by the hand driers expecting to be raptured.)

I’ll post some more on here in the coming weeks as there are some stories that I haven’t had a chance to tell. For now though I’ll leave you with a picture from yesterday. To my overly-tired (and rapidly failing) brain I can only assume from this picture that a) I visited Mars and b) There are now roads on Mars. 

So long. 

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Duel

Anyone who’s ever seen the Spielberg classic ‘Duel’ will know the dangers that can be associated with encountering large trucks on desert roads. I first saw that film many years ago (we had it recorded off television on VHS) and it flashes into my mind every so often when driving in the states, especially in the scenery I’ve been in for the past few days. 

Strange things happen when you’ve been driving for a long time. In the UK there is generally something to always occupy you, even at the quietest times of the day / night. It’s rare in the UK that you get a non-motorway road that is dead straight for anything more than a mile or two. If you do then it’s usually an ‘old roman road’ and somebody is mandated to mention this as you drive down it (“Ooh this is a very straight road. We must be on the old roman section of the B472”). 

If you get out any road map of the US west, or look on google maps, you will see that in the mid-western states many of the roads are just straight lines, hundreds of miles long. This kind of makes sense: if you’ve got a flat plain a thousand miles across, where nobody’s that bothered about who owns what (when you have a ranch bigger than Wales you’re not so touchy on where the road goes) why would you not build all your roads in straight lines? The mid-west is also in the odd situation that, in many cases, the roads were the first thing there, or, if not, followed alongside the railroads (which were also dead straight). 

When you’ve been driving on a dead straight road for over an hour, and have only seen one or two cars going in the other direction, you start to get possessive. You also start looking for challenges or things to entertain you – this is true of all road users. Yesterday, after having over an hour of this on a particular road:

..and many miles left to go I suddenly spied a speck on the horizon. Right in the distance, maybe two or three miles away, a little black speck on my road.

‘Who is this?’ I thought. ‘Who is this that dares intrude on my road?’

Ten minutes went by. The speck became a blob. I was getting closer.

(At is point you must remember that 95% of all driving in the US is done on on cruise control. You set your car to 55 or 65 or 75mph and let it go. Speeding seems to be comparatively rare compared to the UK and only seems to happen in the cities. This is an interesting point. In over two-thousand miles of driving this week I can only recall two occurrences when someone shot by me on the interstate – the kind of thing that happens every thirty seconds on the M1. I think it’s because the police over here have quite a heavy presence on the highways and interstates, with cars parked in prominent positions at the road side with their radar guns going.)

The fact that the blob was getting bigger meant that my cruise control was calibrated slightly differently to the blob’s, and that in twenty miles or so I’d have to overtake them. 

Another ten minutes went by. The blob got big enough for me to determine that it was a truck. Trucks in the US are not speed-limited like in the UK and have huge engines so can easily keep pace with everyone else. On the long highways whether or not you’ll catch a truck depends very much on the road. Every time there is an up-grade (as it’s called) you will gain slightly on the truck as their cruise control takes longer to respond. On a steep down-grade the truck will gain on you as it’s brakes heat up and it begins it’s spiral of doom that ends in a emergency run-away truck escape ramp (these are a work of art in themselves and are found on all steep down-grades.)

The road I was on varied between level and gradual up-grades so, over the next ten miles I caught the truck up. It was quite a substantial truck with a bright blue cab and lots of chrome / truck-bling.

I overtook the truck and then spent the next ten-to-fifteen miles watching it disappear into the the rear view mirror. I thought nothing more of it. 

The road continued on. It passed over the summit of the landscape and then the road started to drop away in gradual, and in some places slightly steeper, downgrades. 

Twenty more minutes went by. 

I glanced in the rear-view mirror:

What was that? Imperceptible on the horizon was a large black spec. It couldn’t be could it?

The road went on and became quite undulating? My mind wandered for a while then, absent-mindedly, I glanced into the rear-view mirror:

Crap. This actually startled me quite bit. How’d he got so close so quickly? In an excellent piece of timing he also only turned his headlights on after I’d been looking for him for about a half-second in the mirror. It was almost as if he knew I was watching him. 

I was getting worried. Maybe I’d angered him by overtaking. Maybe this was the start of back-and-forth battle between us that would ultimately end in us both catering over a cliff. Maybe Spielberg was right. 

The gradual down-grades continued. Every time I looked in the mirror he was closer, black exhaust spewing from the vertical pipes either side of his cab every time his engine kicked up a notch. I was fighting a loosing battle. On a down-grade there was no hope. 

A few miles later he was practically on my bumper. The road dropped away ahead and I looked again in my mirror. He was gone! Disappeared! The car was buffeted to the right as he flew past my left hand side. As his cab passed mine I got a blare from the traditional American truck horn. 

Touché truck. You’ve been planning this for miles. 

He pulled over in front of me and then gradually started to open up a gap. I watched him disappear into the distance over the next twenty miles. Eventually, he became indistinguishable from the shimmering mirage as the road disappears into the horizon. 

You win this round truck. 

The whole thing had been played out in well over an hour and, as a result, I only had ten miles left until I had to turn right. For the rest of the day I kept half-expecting the truck to appear in my mirrors again. 

 

 

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The House Always Wins

I’m back in Nevada. It took around five-and-a-half hours to get back here today but more on that later. The important thing is I’m now a mere hundred-miles from the airport where the first of the two flights that will ultimately get me back to the UK will leave tomorrow afternoon. I’m staying in a brand new Holiday Inn Express in the town of Mesquite. This town is only a mile over the Nevada / Arizona state line and hence is littered heavily with casinos and other gambling resorts. I’m also back in the Pacific Time Zone (GMT -8) so gained another hour. 

Upon arrival at the hotel I got another free upgrade – this time to a room with a balcony! This is the third upgrade I’ve got this trip and I can see a pattern emerging: basically, the more English you sound on check-in the more likely you are to get a better room. This only works in areas where English people are not a common occurrence (ie away from the big cities). I think the fact that the new bond film opened here this weekend and is being advertised wall-to-wall helps too (I kid you not, as I typed that another advert for it came onto the television).

My balcony has a quite a nice view:

In this picture you can see the key attractions of Mesquite: A Walmart and a Freeway junction. Apart from that (and a golf course) there’s not much here. Except for casinos. 

The hotel doesn’t have provision for any food that isn’t breakfast so I set out in the evening to find somewhere else to eat. The best bet (according to TripAdvisor) was a restaurant located around two miles away. I use the world ‘restaurant’ in the loosest possible terms as, in Nevada, ‘restaurants’ are essentially casinos with catering facilities. The same can be said of most other amenities too. Airports are casinos with runways, supermarkets are casinos with grocery aisles and schools are (I presume) casinos with lesson plans. I’m pretty certain that if, for whatever reason, I ended up in the ER, I’d be offered the choice of playing a game of two of blackjack prior to going in for emergency surgery. 

When I arrived at the ‘restaurant’, my suspicions were confirmed by the sign outside:

Inside, the ‘restaurant’ was more like a series of glorified bar areas, where the server would walk along one side while everyone sat along the other:

This may seem like a bit of an odd set-up, but if I pan out a bit with the picture you’ll see that the reason for this is that the ‘restaurant’ is, in fact, located along the side of a casino floor:

I had some standard American food to eat (meat, fries and a ridiculously oversized side-salad) and watched the casino floor while I ate. It was all quite depressing really. 

If you go to Las Vegas, the casinos are generally populated with people who are there for a weekend. They’ve come away on holiday from all over the US and go into the casino for a night for a laugh. They take out $100 and will stay until they’ve either spent it all or won something big. It’s usually all quite dramatic and noisy then before they go and have some food, frequent a bar and then go to bed, flying home the next day. 

If you go to any of the other casino resorts in Nevada (like the one I was in tonight) this is not the case. The casino floor is populated with people who you get the distinct impression spend all their free time (and money) there. They don’t seem to take any fun out of what they’re doing – it’s almost like watching humanoid robots who have been programmed to do a small number of repetitive tasks (put in money; pull lever; press buttons; repeat). Their faces are expressionless and illuminated in a plaid blue by the glow of the machine they’re sat at. A fair number of them had a cigarette stub in one hand and an empty beer or wine glass sat next to them. I did wonder if they’d noticed that these other vices needed replenishing or if they were so absorbed by the gambling machine that they wouldn’t even notice if the building burnt down. 

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that a fair few (probably the majority) of the people you see in these casino resorts are in the grip of a gambling addiction. They come in, sit down and then pour into a machine all the money they’ve just worked a fifty-hour week to earn. They don’t do this out of choice but because they need to. The casino have employees who walk around and occasionally ask the ‘regulars’ if they are ok, need a break, or have gambled enough – but from the conversations I witnessed the casino staff are really just going through the motions. 

The thing that gets me is that the majority of the ‘regulars’ are sat a the fixed-odd slot machines. They have no chance. At least if you’re at the black-jack table or playing the roulette wheel there are ways that you can start to predict what’s going to happen (it’s actually quite clever how people can predict roughly where a ball will land on a roulette wheel bass on spin history and the  person spinning the wheel). But at a slot machine there’s no skill involved at all. You’re playing a fixed-odds game and the odds are stacked against you so that, ultimately, you will loose. The house will always win eventually.

Sitting there having my dinner I almost wanted to run up to some of the regulars at the slot machines, take them outside, turn them around and show them the massive building they’ve been sat inside of for most of their recent lives. “Isn’t it obvious?” I’d say: “The fact that this massive resort even exists is all the proof you need that you’re never going to win this. Go and spend your money somewhere else, on something productive.”

In my mind I like to believe that this would help them see the error of their ways and they would then head off to a better, brighter future. In reality though I know they’d come straight back in. Addiction is a powerful thing and, sadly, is another area where the odds are stacked against them. 

After I finished eating I decided that I was going to give this gambling thing a try. I wandered round the casino floor and watched how the various machines are used. This didn’t help me much as the ‘regulars’ do things at lightening speed. The one commonality seemed to be that all the machines functioned as reverse-cash-machines. With a cash-machine you press some buttons, the machine beeps, and it produces some banknotes for you. With all the casino machines you put the banknotes into it, press some buttons, the machine beeps and *poof*, you’re money’s gone. 

After a fair bit of reconnoissance I decided that I was going to enter the world of gambling on the ‘penny slot’ machines. There were quite a few of these knocking around and I figured that if I used one of those the worst that could happen is I end up pawning out the hire car. I selected a machine that had ‘proper’ moving parts inside of it (I don’t trust the all-digital ones, I think it’d be too easy to tinker with the programme to stacks he odds even more against you ). I tried to figure out what buttons did what:

I put a $1 bill in and suddenly had 100 credits. Not knowing what I was doing I pressed some buttons, the machine beeped, the wheels spun, and I then had 20c less. I thought these were meant to be 1c a go? Ah…1c was the minimum bet and I appeared to have just bet 20c. I pressed some different buttons, the machine beeped again, stuff went round and then – what was this – lights stated flashing! A bell rang and the machine made a happy noise – I had won! And won big! 

I looked at the credit counter: $1.04. I was ahead! 4c ahead! I pressed some other buttons and was about to make the machine go again…. but hesitated.

I was winning. The house was loosing. 

If I went on I knew what would happen: My 4c of profit would become a $1.00 loss. I’d then put another dollar bill in to try again. I’d loose that one too. I’d then go and get change of a ten, and move onto a 25c machine to win my money back quicker. I’d lose the $10, then the remaining $50 I had on me. I’d take up smoking. I’d withdraw some money against the credit card and keep playing to win back my initial loss. Night would become day. I’d miss my flight (or I’d sell the tickets to get some more cash to gamble with). I’d end up in over my head with a maxed-out credit card and a re-mortgaged house. A few weeks down the line I would legally become the property of the Nevada Gaming Commission and would spend the ret of my life walking around a casino asking people if they ‘had gambled enough’.

I moved my hand away from the ‘spin reels repeat bet’ button and instead pushed the ‘cash in’ button. The machine beeped to itself once again and printed me out a voucher:

I headed across the casino floor to the cashiers’ booth to claim my winnings. The lady there didn’t bat an eyelid as she converted my $1.04 into cash. 

I took one last look around and then walked out of the casino, cash in hand. I considered it a victory, no matter how small, against an industry that makes its profit from the addiction of those who can’t afford to be addicted. In my mind, the casino business is as bad as the tobacco industry, the only difference being that the way it poisons people isn’t quite as blatant. 

My gambling career finished as quickly as it began. The house had lost and I had made 4% profit on my money, which is more than you’ll get from any UK bank account at the moment.

I haven’t decided what to spend my 4c on yet, but it won’t be in a slot machine.

 

 

 

 
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Stars

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…

 

 

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The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon National Park runs for about forty miles along the sides of the widest and most dramatic parts of the canyon. The main road runs parallel to the canyon itself and there are various view points that you can drive up to. I entered the park from the gate by the ‘desert view’ area – the far end from the main visitor centre and, with hindsight, the best place to view the canyon from. 

I paid my entry fee at the gate and made my way down the road to the above viewing point. The speed limit in the park was 45mph (as is the case with most National Parks in the US – it takes a very long time to get through Yellowstone!) and there were numerous small tracks diving down to picnic areas and ‘historic monuments’.

A few days ago in this blog I recalled how it was said that the first time you see the Grand Canyon it leaves you speechless. 

It’s true. 

It doesn’t matter how many pictures you may have seen of it, when you walk up to the edge for the first time it completely takes your breath away. The sheer scale and desolation of it is difficult to comprehend. It doesn’t seem possible that you’re seeing what you’re seeing – it’s almost a ‘does not compute’ moment. I saw some people spontaneously burst into tears when they walked up to it for the first time. The way you approach the canyon means you don’t really see it from the road – which makes the power of the ‘reveal’ all the greater. 

I’m not going to try and describe it anymore here – I simply won’t do it justice. Instead, here are some pictures followed by some facts that might give you an idea of the size of the place:

 

Let’s imagine for a moment that the river at the base of the canyon is not the Colorado River but is, in fact, the River Thames in its current geographical location. If the Thames were at the base of the canyon then the canyon itself would stretch from the Thames Estuary to Penzance (around 300 miles). The width of the canyon varies quite a bit but is on average ten miles wide. The widest parts can be more than double this distance. For the Thames analogy this means the rim of the canyon for one of the widest sections could sit as far away from the river as the southern section of the M25 does. 

And what about the depth? As we’re in London let’s use The Shard as a comparison. Some of you may have been up to the observation deck on it – it’s pretty high. You can see the whole Greater London area laid out below you. 

If the Thames were the Colorado then, at what height would the visitor centre I went to today be? One Shard? No. 

Two Shards? Nope 

Three? Four? No. No.

Five? Not quite. 

Five-and-a-half Shards high. That’s from the river to the visitor centre on the rim. In some places this is an almost vertical drop down. That’s a very long way. If you dropped a coin off the top it would take eighteen seconds to hit the ground (count them) and would be doing 640kph when it did so. 

There you go then. If the Thames were the Colorado the Grand Canyon would run from Penzance to Herne Bay, be at least half the width of Greater London wide and the surrounding land would be five-and-a-half Shards high. 

If you ever get a chance (ie you’re ever in the American West), make sure you go and visit the Grand Canyon. It should be on everybody’s bucket list and has to be seen to believed. The National Park surrounding it really well-maintained and is packed full of bike and hiking trails – you could easily a spend a day or two exploring all the various viewpoints and another two days just staring and going ‘oooooh’.

 

 

 

 

 

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