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The Grander Canyon

Within a few hours, the rocks were almost too hot to touch. The sheer size of the canyon threw off any sense of scale -- the Colorado looked near enough to hit with a pebble, but never seemed to get any closer. We rested in small patches of shade and trickled water on our heads and backs, imagining how great it would feel to finally jump in the river.

It was hard to believe that where we stood had been underwater many times. Millions of years ago, when this part of the country was covered by an inland sea, these arid slopes were laid down as ocean sediments like blankets in a trading post. Lake sediments farther down bore witness to the times lava plugged up the river.

Tuweep Point offers sweeping views of the Grand Canyon -- with few people to obstruct the scenery.

The last part of the trail was treacherously loose, stone Grape-nuts and baseballs over sand, but we were so eager to reach the water that we surfed down it like rivals in some prehistoric X-Games.

We plowed through the bushes and squealed like schoolgirls when our feet hit the water. Released from the depths of Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam upstream, it's close to freezing. But in the heat (the high 90s), such sweet relief. We splashed in the muddy shallows, while overhead, khaki cliffs soared to maroon escarpments and a robin's-egg sky.

Two motorized rafts puttered by, and we scrambled downstream to watch them hit the rapids, whose growl grew to a roar as we approached.

At Lava Falls, the Colorado drops 37 feet in 100 yards, including one gigantic, boat-sucking plunge of 13 feet. Despite the name, these rapids were formed by debris spilling down the canyon across the river. Still, the image of magma meeting water is the one that sticks.

"What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here!" Powell wrote in his expedition diary. "Just imagine a river of molten lava running down into a river of melted snow. What a seething and boiling of the waters; what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens!"

The rafts disappeared over the falls like leaves down a storm drain. In seconds they were out of sight, and we were alone again.

Food always tastes better outside, and that night our curried rice with nuts and cheese was a gourmet feast. The sun set somewhere above, drawing a shade of black up the canyon walls. The dry air cooled quickly, and we wrapped up in our sleeping bags on the soft sand.

At first light we were up and climbing to beat the heat. To our relief, the hike out was much easier, especially in the morning coolness. At the top of the first slope an unmistakable dry whirring rose from a shaded patch of trail. It was a Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake, the most common of six species found here. The sound hits some primeval button; before its source even registered, our hackles were high.

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