The rhythm of sunset rolling over the canyon was disrupted by the fire I’d set in my kitchen: a beer-can stove I’d fueled with the wrong type of gas. Its flames danced on Bright Angel Creek’s bank, illuminating my campsite and licking up my leg when I tried to stomp it out.
I’m going to burn down the Grand Canyon, I thought.
I was born on Leap Year, so I was accustomed to dreaming up big ideas for birthdays I only got to celebrate once every four years. This one would be no different. The plan was to descend the Grand Canyon and drop acid for the first time in its meditative depths while watching shooting stars.
But as I watched my birthday dinner turn into soaring flares on my second night in the park, I knew my solo party would be as unlucky as it was uncommon. I slid down the bank to extinguish my leg in the creek, quickly checked that I wasn’t seriously harmed, then scaled back up to put out the rest of the fire, destroying my stove in the process. Trembling in the immediate dark that followed, I looked up at the stars, as if they knew how I’d eat for the week.
Earlier that morning, my descent began in a blizzard that kept shuttle buses in Grand Canyon Village from running. I hiked the five miles from Mather Campground toward the South Kaibab trailhead in a whirlwind of sparkling snow, not seeing another soul the entire way. Mules that usually carry visitors to Phantom Ranch at the heart of the canyon stood in silence like statues in the wind, giving off a damp scent by their stables. When I reached for the tube attached to the contained reservoir of water in my pack, it cracked in my hands, frozen.
During rare moments when the blizzard paused, the entire forest would seem to slip into a peaceful coma, tucked beneath its glittering layers of powdered-sugar snow. Then the storm would start up again, like the amplified revving of a car’s engine waking me from a dream.
After hours of trekking through the storm I finally reached the trailhead and got a clear panorama of the canyon—red rock mesas dusted with white as far as the eye could see. I began the careful work of coasting down the terraced edges of the canyon, pausing for stability every few moments when the air’s currents threatened to whip me away. Halfway down, the snow melted into mud so I removed my crampons. I proceeded to get painted in red clay from the waist down, sloshing along the soupy trail that bore no resemblance to the one behind me.
After reaching the bottom and almost blowing myself up, I hiked the two miles from Bright Angel Campground to Phantom Ranch Canteen—a restaurant for those staying in the sole lodging facility below the rim. They gave me hot water close to closing time, rendering my dehydrated dinner edible, then switched the lights off as soon as the door shut behind me, like the sudden ending to a song.
I sat on a nearby bench waiting for my food to steep and looked up at the theater of constellations playing above. The Big Dipper poured its light directly over my head and I had the strange feeling I was an insignificant figment of the earth’s imagination. This otherworldly sensation reminded me of the LSD hidden in the coin pocket of my pants, but when I reached for the plastic baggie, it was gone.
I observed the passing of another four years like I observed the shooting stars that flew across the sky that night: on their way from one atmosphere to another, from meteoroid to meteor … fumbling toward the future in a fleeting moment. I observed and thought, psychedelic drugs have nothing on this.
A queer mestiza travel writer from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador,
mission is to decolonize travel media.