Our visit to Horeseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona wasn’t a prominent feature of the travel itinerary when we visited the Soutwest in October. Not being the family vacation planner I didn’t know about it until the day we went. It was a possibility, an afterthought, something we’d get to if we had the time. There wasn’t the expectation, the pressure to get there like with the well-known national parks in the area. Don’t get me wrong the views are staggering. But with “Grand” in the name can it live up to the hype?
The Horseshoe Bend experience threw me. You basically pull off the side of the 2-lane highway and into one of two nondescript parking lots. You park, go up a hill and follow the .75 mile path through the desert to a cliff.
One of the things that struck us on this trip was how many foreigners visit these parks. There were charter buses filled with Japanese tourists in the parking lot of nearly every place we went, including this one. We didn’t hear very much English. Particularly on this short pilgrimage to to the overlook I don’t think we heard our native language at all. To hear anyone speaking you had to listen closely. Our fellow sojourners spoke in happy but generally hushed tones (the desert does have a quieting effect). It seemed like there were people from all over the world. Specifically I remember only an Indian woman–her sari flapping in the dry breeze. I wish I remembered the languages I thought I heard but too much time has past since then.
I do remember that the hike feels like a walk to nowhere. There is no sign of civilization save for a few smoke stacks in the far distance puffing away their anonymous industriousness. As far as you can see the flat landscape has only the yellows and oranges and pinks of sand, the low green clumps of sage brush and a thin ribbon of people that frays at the cliff’s edge.
It is a rare, simple and timeless scene. It felt apocalyptic, other-worldly, futuriatic. It seemed Biblical somehow, though I couldn’t quite figure out how or specifically why. It had something to do with seeing nature in such a pure state. It also had something to do with people from all over the world walking to the same place, isolated by their language barriers but physically unified in their common goal of setting out to see something beautiful.
The view at Horseshoe Bend is stunning to put it mildly. It is raw nature at its best. There are no admission fees, handrails, signs, vending machines or gift shops, just a dirt path to a 1,000 drop off with the Colorado River at the bottom. Standing at the edge you feel small, fragile, finite, insignificant. You feel in awe of the Creator and the majesty of his craft. You wonder at the work of flowing water over time, at the handiwork of God that started and sustains the flow. You marvel even at the color, force and other qualities of water that cut this shape (Wikipedia calls it a “meander”) through the earth’s surface.
When we arrived back at the car starving stray dogs were wandering the parking lot looking for handouts. You could see their ribs and their panting tongues hung low. Yet optimistically they trotted around looking for a compassionate soul to give them water or food. I watched people come down the hill and return to their cars and RVs and rummage about in their vehicles. They set out empty yogurt cups and paper bowls of water for the dogs. They gave refills and watched them drink before driving away.
About a month later a Pentatonix version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” ended up on my Facebook feed. I watched the video many times. As overplayed as it is there is still something about that song. As overused as it is, there is just something about that word. Hallelujah. Just saying it feels sacred, feels like blessing tumbling out of your mouth, feels like a confession of holiness, like a prayer for help. It is all of these wrapped up in four syllables. And then I realized everything about visiting Horseshoe Bend was exactly that–some kind of Hallelujah.