Natural vs. Man-Made

12 Comments 26 October 2010

Where am I?

I close my eyes and shut off my brain’s internal GPS system; when I re-open them I see a foreign land. Surrounding me is barren, red landscape stretching out as far as my eyes can scan; random alien-like rock formations are peppered throughout and clay colored mountains are in the distance. There are no trees, instead green bushes pop up and vie for my attention as if they are begging for liquid attention among this dry landscape. It looks like no one lives here…nature is king of this land. I look at the asphalt road ahead of us stretching into horizon and wonder how this land remained so untouched. Mongolia, Morocco, Egypt???

No…the American Southwest.

Ever since I’ve been traveling, I play this game with myself; I try to look at America through a foreigner’s eyes. The same way I look at Morocco or Mongolia; in awe. I wonder how people live here and what they do to survive. Are they bored, or a little crazy? I conclude the people who live here must love seclusion and beautiful landscapes. Then abruptly among all of this natural beauty comes an alarming digitally produced voice breaking the silence, “In 1.5 miles turn right.”

That was ‘Penelope’. She was our hi-tech guide leading us to one of the most popular destinations in the world; the Grand Canyon. When Steve and I left Vegas on our road trip into Arizona and Utah, we decided it wasn’t just 2 of us in the car for a week…our car’s trusty GPS unit was also there with her shrill bit/byte voice. I decided to name her Penelope; after all, we might as well all be friends if we were going to spend a week together.

On our way to the greatest natural wonder America has to offer, we decided to stop off and see the greatest man-made wonder America had to offer – the Hoover Dam. Of course we could count on this itinerary providing us hours of fun conversation on the man-made vs. natural debate; which is better? Feel free to weigh in.


Penelope guided us with ease and we arrived as the Dam opened up to the public for the day; beating the lines to the popular tourist destination. We took the Dam Tour (who doesn’t love saying that?) into the depths of the concrete monstrosity. I found it to be a bit pricey – $30– but overall an educational tour. We learned a few interesting facts that stuck with me:

  • There was enough concrete in the Hoover Dam to construct a 4 foot wide sidewalk around the equator.
  • It was completed in 5 years – 2 years ahead of schedule (I want to hire THAT project manager!)
  • Constructed during the Great Depression, the workers only had 2 days off a year…TWO. There were no such things as ‘weekends’ and all of this work for only $4 a day. Wow – talk about needing a career break

Inside the dam concrete

See all Hoover Dam Photography

After a filling up our SD cards, we bid farewell to Lake Mead and Penelope pointed us towards that big hole in the ground – the Grand Canyon. This was Steve’s first trip to see the Grand Canyon and my second. Steve’s excitement about seeing this natural wonder was impossible not to catch; he was actually giddy. We were right on schedule to arrive at the South rim for sunset.

Trees hide the big drop!

What IS the meaning of life???

I find the approach to the Grand Canyon really unusual, forest and trees surround you and you really have no idea that something great it just in front of you; the ultimate camouflage. It’s impossible not to have your mind wander into the past imagining what it felt like to discover this on horseback for the first time. We walked along the rim near the visitor center and watched as the sun set, lighting up the canyon in brilliant reds and terra cotta colors. We sat and simply took it all in for a while; it’s a ‘bigger than life’ experience when you sit on that edge gazing out across the expansive canyon. An appropriate moment to ponder your life and how you fit onto this big rotating marble.

As we drove back into Tusayan, the nearest town for lodging,  we searched for dining options…which were few and far between. Then we saw it – a good, simple marketing message – “We Cook Pizza and Pasta”. We both laughed about it at first since this appeared to be the exact name of the restaurant. I guess sometimes ‘literal’ works. Inside a big line of people waited to order; apparently in addition to being literal, it was a popular restaurant. When it was finally time to order, we decided upon our dinners and happy hour beer ($1.50 for a pint of local micro brew was insanely good happy our prices!). Danielle took our order and said, “I’m going to give you guys the ‘local’ discount’” Granted – maybe she gave everyone the local discount – but I don’t think so, for some reason she took a liking to us and our inquisitive ‘what do you recommend’ questions. The food at We Cook Pizza and Pasta was excellent and a great value. As we walked out we happily declared “We like We Cook Pizza and Pasta!”

The alarm abruptly woke us the next morning in order to catch the sunrise over the canyon. We had decided to hike the rim trail as far as we could take it. It wasn’t a strenuous hike at all, and most of it was actually paved, but it did provide amazing views of the kaleidoscope of changing colors. As the sun rose and the shadows moved across the canyon the colors and scenes evolved.

Grand Canyon Photography

It was a perfect morning photo walk. We shuffled along, changing lenses, experimenting with exposure, and lying on the ground to get different perspectives; trying our best to capture what our eyes were taking in. However, I had the same feeling previously when I last visited the Grand Canyon – my camera, nor my skill using it, can do this natural wonder proper justice. It’s something you just have to see, feel, and experience for yourself. I hope you make it there to do just that.

In the great debate of natural vs. man made…I know what I vote for – what about you?

Your Comments

12 Comments so far

  1. Earl says:

    In the end, it’s all about natural for me. Nothing can match a beautiful landscape or the powerful effect that it can have on he/she who is lucky enough to witness it with their own eyes.

    I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon in years. Perhaps it’s time for another visit myself…

    • admin says:

      I’m with you Earl – I prefer the landscapes and natural beauty. However – when I see places like Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s a different kind of awe and respect that you have.
      Yes – You should get to the GC again; it never disappoints!

  2. Steve B says:

    I had forgotten about Penelope! Funny… just a month a go, I would have been lost without her. (Rim shot.)

  3. Jenny says:

    I like both natural and man-made. They each have their place. I’ve yet to visit the grand canyon, but will finally get to next year on my road trip through the states! yay.

  4. Anil says:

    I think both show us the wonderful potential of nature and humans but nature has a way of showing us the most complex things in the simplest of ways.

  5. Ayngelina says:

    I’ve never been to the American SouthWest but agree that sometimes we need to view things as an outsider. I’ve been to many countries but I’m sad to say I haven’t seen a lot of my home country.

    • admin says:

      I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to get out and see some of the sites/parks in America lately. I got tired of everyone asking me if I had been to the Grand Canyon or Mt. Rushmore when I was traveling. I felt silly for saying no!

  6. I just found your site and love it. My home base is Taos, NM and I’m endlessly fascinated with the American Southwest. When I’m not here I road trip around the country, me and my 13′ Scamp named Sadie, but I’m always glad to come back home to this beautiful place.

    Thanks for sharing your adventures!

  7. Mark H says:

    Like most of your readers, I am a fan of natural wonders. While there are some fine man-made sights in the world, nature at its finest is somehow more uplifting, more surprising (it keeps changing with the seasons, wildlife turns up) and a greater chance for our minds to wander and escape life for a while. I can’t imagine someone sitting staring out at the Hoover Dam tunnel in the same way that you are photographed overlooking the Grand Canyon.

    • admin says:

      excellent point Mark. My overall feeling of looking at the Hoover Dam was nothing at all similar to sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon!!

  8. I completely agree with the experience on the Grand Canyon…it’s a giant, and its grand scale cannot be experienced through a post card. The natural world is far too grand and much more majestic than a skyscraper, so thank you for this post. I hope to meet you in my travels one day!


  9. Adam says:

    Great post! I absolutely LOVE the Grand Canyon, and it’s even better taking someone else there for their first trip. The school-boy-like anticipation and excitement are just impossible to match.

    As far as man made vs. natural, that really is a tough one. My first inclination is to say natural. Seeing things like the Grand Canyon and Iguazu Falls and the Himalayas is just so impressive. But then I think of the man-made wonders, especially ones that have been around for so long. Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Taj. It impresses me so much to think of the ingenuity of some of these people in times when technology was nowhere close to what we have today. To build sites like these, literally by hand, and have them standing hundreds of years later, is tough to grasp.

    So to answer your question. I honestly don’t know. Do I really have to choose? 😉

Share your view

Post a comment

Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
New here? Then Start Here.

Where am I and Where am I going?

Costa Brava Spain -> Barcelona

Receive Ottsworld Updates via Email

green line
green line

green line