Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite

Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite


Cathy on the trail with the inner gorge in the lower background

Sometimes I don’t hold the rock, it holds me. Some rocks don’t get stuffed into a pocket, then put on a shelf. Sometimes I nestle into a nook where I fit as well as a rock might fit in my hand, and make a memory to hold. Last October, backpacking into the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon (where the myriad rocks are oh-so-tempting, but I only take pictures and only leave footprints) was one of those times.

I went with my friend, Cathy. She yearned to experience the canyon, a place she’s described as her inner landscape, though she’d never seen it except in photographs before. To witness her eyes widening at her first look over the rim into and across the canyon, was one of the best views (and that’s saying something) of the trip for me. Then we swung our 35+ pound packs of gear and food and water on and began the descent. We shared 5 amazing days of hiking, exploring, discovering, and being. She even let me go on and on about the geology, from the scale of a bit of mica to the deposition of the formations into which the canyon is carved.

Holding mica

Cathy finds a bit of biotite mica

After settling into camp on the fourth day, I scrambled up a wall of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge.

Geologist learn to think in terms of hundreds of millions of years, thousands of feet of sediment being deposited, and mountains being uplifted by miles pretty casually. But understanding the processes that shape the earth makes them no less awesome, perhaps even more so, and that last evening in the canyon, I mused on the rocks’ age and beauty from a big-enough-just-for-me ledge.

The next morning at dawn, Cathy and I began our hike out, 7 steep miles from the river to the rim on the South Kaibab Trail. We climbed through 2 billion years of geologic time and a place of such splendor and complexity that I will never know it all, no matter how often I explore it. And maybe that’s the point, I can never know it all. But I can always learn, wonder, and wander, and almost always find the perfect rock to hold me for a while.
.Deb on ledge

Tell me, what sparks your wonder?

Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet

Kagán is a bluewater cruiser, a stout and seaworthy sailboat. If we, her crew, are prepared and courageous enough, she can take us around the world. The sailing instructor who gave me the know-how and instilled me with the confidence to singlehand Kagán when I took the helm as skipper, spoke about boats like Kagán as magic carpets. And she ought to know, she sailed hers around the world twice!

Deb fixing anchor light

Deb fixing the anchor light

The lure of that magic has sailed through my mind and heart for years. Not that I’ve romanticized what full-time sailing would be like, though it is tempting to do so I’ve fixed too many leaky hoses, changed too many joker valves (part of the head assembly, yuck), spent too many hours waxing and polishing, and changed the bulb in the anchor light (which happens to be at the top of the mast) too many times to do that. But the self-sufficiency an ocean crossing would require, the courage it would demand, and the awe it would inspire intrigues me. Just imagine standing watch on a clear night when the moon is new and no light pollution from horizon to horizon – only the stars in the sky and the bioluminescence in your wake. Sailors often use terms that invoke flights of fancy – we fly spinnakers in light airs and we sail wing-on-wing on downwind runs.

wing on wing in stuart channel

Kagán sailing wing-on-wing south of Dodd Narrows

But these days, the flight of fancy that crosses my mind most is steering a heading toward a destination that hasn’t lost its moral compass, and concerning myself with trade winds not trade wars. Casting off the dock lines for a faraway port would leave me too busy to follow the news on a minute-by-minute basis, even if technology could keep me connected. Instead I’d be setting sails and standing watches and fixing what breaks (because Kagán, as stout as she is, is a complex piece of equipment afloat in a corrosive medium whose motion is ceaseless and powerful).

sailing tile

But here on land, there are values and people and landscapes I hold dear. So my decision, at least for now, is to stay grounded and try to fix what feels broken here, knowing there’s a magic carpet I can climb onto and sail away someday if I choose.