The Grand Canyon is a sight to behold on a clear sunny day and at night it represents a deep and vast darkness devoid of contour and light. But when snowfall on surrounding high terrain and low clinging clouds are illuminated by moonlight, a different character is revealed that resembles a deep blue sea with white caps highlighting its form. Colored lights on the horizon help us to understand that the night cannot purely be defined by black and white.
Passing southeast of the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, the scene is dreamlike as low wispy cirrus clouds stripe the desert floor with their shadows. In the space between shadows, the sun burns away a morning mist. Once completely obscured in the mist, the Peloncillo Mountains awake from their dreams. Meanwhile Mount Graham peeks out from under the layer and awaits its moment in the sun.
Descending vertically into night. As the sun sets between layers of cloud, we descend into the top of the clouds, the aerial horizon seemingly rising with every second of descent toward the deck. A temperature inversion exists above the cloud deck and we find colder air below as the rime ice melts on our windscreen. As we emerge from the bottom of the clouds and the last chunks of ice fly away, it is suddenly night and we follow the lights of the city as we find our way to the airport for landing.
Departing Las Vegas in the early morning light, the Colorado River cuts its way through the rocky terrain south of Lake Meade. Lines of erosion running perpendicular to the river mark the path of water runoff from the surrounding high desert plain. From directly overhead we can see shadows and reflections of the terrain on the river’s glassy surface.
Two ships that pass in the night… Two 737-800s cross paths separated by 1000 feet of crisp clear autumn air and closing at nearly 900 knots. In a moment of recognition we see one another’s tail feathers and smile before vanishing from view. Once in a while it can be nice to look in the mirror. I love the sleek look and reflectivity of an aluminum clad Boeing jet.
Earth and shadows rise to meet us as we turn toward Las Vegas. The sight of this terrain makes every moment of our journey more interesting. When masked with clouds, this same terrain can be treacherous if not given the appropriate respect. Vigilance, training, and experience are the essential tools of our trade.
There are times that it seems we may never see the sun as we fall into a routine of flying through the night. In the darkness we are conveyed across the continent by our aircraft, the winds, and our will. In the moments when the darkness in the void between lights takes shape it communicates a sense of motion. One such dark conveyance is the Kanawha River as it exists between the lights and twists through the city of Charleston, West Virginia.
Scattered flecks of light in a sea of darkness, a slight indiscernible glow on the horizon, light without dimension or context…As we near them they take on the shapes of cities. The lights of Victorville first appear before Los Angeles takes shape. Separated by a sea of blackness, the void takes on meaning as the lights that line Big Bear Lake come into view winding through the San Bernardino Mountains…darkness has dimension.
Happy Thanksgiving to all, but especially to all of my fellow travel industry workers who make “over the river and through the woods” possible so that so many others may enjoy their times with family and friends today. See you on the road. Safe travels.
Departing Los Angeles on a cloudy morning, we look forward to climbing into the sunshine above the cloud layer and escaping the earthbound gloom…Though we are blessed with sunshine overhead, the cloud deck persists and we write off our hopes for scenery below. As we pass Las Vegas the clouds magically part as if the earth had been commanded to reveal itself. Our eyes follow Colorado River on its path through the Grand Canyon and gradually the vast expanse of scenery is fully revealed.
As the cloud deck drapes the planet in obscurity, we observe a metaphor for our perception of the world around us. When the clouds part, the veil of our limited perception is lifted and we catch a glimpse of some holy place on the earth below. There are moments when we recognize the significance of what has been revealed but we can only express it in our “sense of awe.” Navajo Mountain in Utah is one such place, a holy protrudence of earth that amazes the soul.