Natural vs. Man-Made

October 26, 2010 13 Comments »


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 a 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 in 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 the horizon and wonder how this land remains so untouched. Mongolia, Morocco, Egypt???

No…the American Southwest.

Ever since I’ve been traveling, I have played this game with myself; I try to look at America through a foreigner’s eyes. I am in awe the same way I look at Morocco or Mongolia. 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.

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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 to provide us with 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, it is 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 two 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 filling up our SD cards, we bid farewell to Lake Mead, and Penelope pointed us toward 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 is 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.

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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 microbrew was insanely good. Happy with 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 of great value. As we walked out, we happily declared, “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.

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 – neither my camera nor my skill in using it can do this natural wonder properly. 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?

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