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‘I have heard rumors of visitors who were disappointed,’ J. B. Priestley once said of the Grand Canyon. ‘The same people will be disappointed at the Day of Judgment.’

I have to confess I was disappointed on my first visit to the canyon more than a decade ago. One July, on our way to Los Angeles, my family and I swung off the highway and made the 60-mile detour to the South Rim, and found ourselves caught in a long traffic jam. When we eventually managed to park, and walked to the rim, the scale of the sight off the edge was so great that it was hard to muster a response. It was so vast, and so familiar from innumerable pictures, it might just as well have been a picture. What impressed me most was the babel of languages audible among the files of visitors pouring off the tour buses. It sounded like Times Square on a Saturday night, with every continent represented in the hubbub.

We only stayed an hour or two. But before we left, from the rim I saw a trail, pale as chalk, winding down a huge slope beneath a cliff. There’s something about a trail seen from far away. This thread snaking over the landscape — where does it go, who uses it, why does it seem so intimate with the land? And why does it arouse such an intense longing to follow it? An unknown path seems almost necessarily a metaphor. We like to conceive of life as a thread, after all, a path crossing unexpected terrain on its journey to another element. There wasn’t time to follow it, and I left with a nagging sense of opportunity lost, and that pale thread of a path still pulling at me.

It wasn’t until last winter that I got to answer that pull. And the first thing I learned is that for the Grand Canyon, winter is the time to go. As the chief district ranger John Evans told me, ‘You’ll more or less have the place to yourself.’ Although the canyon is a desert, it’s a kind of oasis in winter — a place of peace, sequestered from the rest of the world. In three days of hiking I saw only two or three mule trains, each carrying baggage not riders, and maybe two dozen hikers in all.

Winter is cool, and cool is good for hiking. It’s true there’s snow on the trails, and long-molded tongues of ice pounded into enamel-like smoothness by the mules that go up and down with supplies, but that’s only on the highest reaches. Drop 2,000 feet from the rim and you’ll most likely be free of it. Sunlight becomes a blessing instead of a 120-degree curse, when you step out of the chilly shade into some welcome warmth.

To experience the canyon, you have to leave the rim. The frustration aroused by the bigness, the grandness, on a rim-only visit becomes a liberation once you drop down. The modern world falls away. It’s not just a trip out of the human realm, but into the deep geology of the earth. Layer upon layer of the planet’s crust is revealed. And in the silence and stillness, in the solitude of the canyon in winter, it’s all the more impressive.

As I prepared to go, and talked to friends about the coming trip, I was amazed how many people knew the inner canyon well. One acquaintance told me that he had spent 300 nights below the rim, falling just short of a lifetime’s ambition of a full year. In a grocery store in Santa Fe, where I live, I got talking with a Grand Canyon-crazy runner who hikes from rim to rim in a single day several times a year. A woman in a coffee shop line told me about the time a 10-pound falling rock nearly knocked her off a trail. I began to get the feeling the Grand Canyon is truly a national monument, similar to the Lake District in England. ‘Each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon,’ Carl Sandburg said. It’s something all Americans share and take pride in.

This was all very well, but the canyon is one mile deep, and the trail itself about 10 miles long, and that translates to a very arduous walk, especially for an 8-year-old. By some arcane family algebra, it was Saul, our younger son, who was due a trip with me.

After an impossibly smooth two-hour ride in the vintage coaches of the Grand Canyon Railway from the nearest major settlement south of the canyon, we checked in at Bright Angel Lodge near the canyon rim, to reconfirm our bookings for Phantom Ranch, down in the bottom. The woman behind the desk glanced at my young son and said: ‘I hope you’re planning to leave immediately, if not sooner.’

It was already 1 o’clock, and most hikers set off in the morning.

My heart dropped. Saul is strong, fit as an Olympic athlete, but still only 8. Was it crazy and cruel to ask him to walk down then up a whole mile of elevation? What if having got him down he hurt himself, or his feisty spirit gave out? And then there was my own bipedal apparatus. What if my own legs failed me?

The fear only amplified over the first spectacular mile of trail, where we had to pick our way precariously over ice. But then we were out on the spine of a ridge that dropped precipitately to either side, and the ice was all melted away. Here, it wasn’t so much about looking at a view as being in the midst of one.

I wouldn’t want a creationist to misinterpret this, but I always find geology more or less unbelievable. Were those hundreds of square miles of limestone hundreds of feet deep truly made by trillions of marine creatures dying? Could a river really carve out a gash that deep? But before the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, in a single day the Colorado River used to carry away 380,000 tons or more of silt, enough to fill a train 25 miles long. Each day. A river this size is indeed an efficient grinding tool. The scientist John Strong Newberry said that ‘nowhere on the earth’s surface, so far as we know, are the secrets of its structure revealed as here.’

ВОПРОС 1. On his first visit to the canyon, the narrator was astonished by
1) the number of foreign tourists.
2) the size of the canyon.
3) the picturesque view.
4) a long traffic jam.

ВОПРОС 2. The narrator wanted to return to the Grand Canyon because
1) he hadn’t taken any photos on his first visit.
2) he planned to explore unexpected terrain.
3) he wanted to follow a trail.
4) he was going to have a rest in the canyon.

ВОПРОС 3. John Evans advised the narrator to visit the Grand Canyon in winter because
1) he would be able to reserve mule trains for carrying his baggage.
2) the canyon turned into a kind of oasis in winter.
3) the weather was less severe during that period.
4) that was the least crowded time in the canyon.

ВОПРОС 4. When you leave the rim and drop down, you experience the feeling of
1) grandness.
2) freedom.
3) admiration.
4) frustration.

ВОПРОС 5. Preparing for the trip, the narrator understood that
1) he would have to work hard.
2) all his friends had already visited the Grand Canyon.
3) Americans are proud of the Grand Canyon.
4) the Grand Canyon is hard to hike in winter.

ВОПРОС 6. When they checked in at Bright Angel Lodge, the narrator was worried because
1) he wasn’t able to reconfirm their bookings for Phantom Ranch.
2) he thought his son would not be able to endure the hardships of the trip.
3) the receptionist told them they were late for the trip.
4) he had problems with his legs.

ВОПРОС 7. According to the narrator,
1) he always trusted geology.
2) it is impossible to understand the origins of the Grand Canyon.
3) the Colorado River couldn’t have carved the canyon.
4) the Colorado River could have carved the canyon.

ВОПРОС 1: – 1
ВОПРОС 2: – 3
ВОПРОС 3: – 4
ВОПРОС 4: – 2
ВОПРОС 5: – 3
ВОПРОС 6: – 2
ВОПРОС 7: – 4