Sunrise over the Canyon

Begrudgingly for the past eighteen months I had been waking at the crack of dawn to teach adults English in South Korea. Now, waking from the hangover of Vegas I finally had a reason to rise. We were in Flagstaff, Arizona. Base camp for the Grand Canyon, part of the iconic Route 66 and the first International Dark Sky Community*.

Flagstaff had only been our home for a mere seven hours and now in the darkness of our motel room a commotion interrupted the stillness of the night. On and on it cut through the silence until finally we put an end to its poisonous voice.

We were an hour from the southern rim of the Grand Canyon and the alarm was an enemy to aid us.

Our previous attempt at watching a ‘picturesque sunrise’ was two years ago at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Arising early with a couple of dozen people, we were greeted to a bashful dawn sun peeking curiously through mist and grey clouds that clung to the horizon.

But with Vegas and three days of caffeine still pumping in our veins we were ready to take a gamble on another sunrise and try again.

Already having made arrangements with Enterprise Car Rental to hire one of their compact cars for the day, the Toyota Yaris was still waiting outside our hotel where we had left it hours before. So under the cover of darkness with Alicia at the wheel we set off down Route 66 on the hunt for a beautiful sunrise.

A quick stop for a giant cup of double strength coffee and we were back on the unlit road that sliced through the desert guiding us to our destination. To the east we began to see light creep onto the horizon as the black sky transformed into navy blue. We were running out of time. The race was on: nature versus us.

Pulling over just outside the entrance to the Grand Canyon we stepped onto ground 7000ft from sea level and into 40mph winds. It was cold.

As the wind bullied us with its brute force, the edge of the sun came into view.
The whole of the horizon transformed from the navy blue night sky into deep bright intense oranges, yellows, crimsons and pinks. We watched in awe as our giant burning star rose fully into view. With camera firmly strapped to her eye Alicia began capturing moments.

After the spectacle we drove on-wards deeper into the National Park. The sun fully uncovered in the sky stretched its rays warming the desolate landscape. Lighting the way to the Grand Canyon visitor’s centre.
Exhausted, we stopped, parked and slept waiting for our world to warm up.

© John Brownlie 2012

*Awarded in October 2001, by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). A non-profit organisation striving to ‘preserve and protect the nighttime environment’ from unnecessary ‘light pollution’.

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