Scott Thybony's Grand Canyon Commentary: Cape Solitude

Jul 12, 2013

Commentator Scott Thybony left today on a trip to Cape Solitude, on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Before he left, he shared some of his thoughts on the significance of the river junction Cape Solitude overlooks. Deep in the canyon below, The Colorado and Little Colorado join together at a place known to many as The Confluence.  

A view of The Confluence from Cape Solitude North
Credit Shane McDermott

Ed Abbey needed a place to hide, so he headed to Cape Solitude. A grueling month on the lecture circuit had left the writer burnt out and discouraged. But he knew the cure. After negotiating a series of backroads he parked his truck and began walking until he reached the edge of Grand Canyon. He then dropped his pack and promptly removed all his clothes, including his hat and boots.

"Let others save the world for the time being," he wrote. "Tonight and tomorrow and for the next few days, I am going to walk the rim of Cape Solitude, along the palisades of the desert, and save myself. Without half trying."

The place he chose overlooks the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado, two rivers flowing countersunk to the earth 3,000 feet below. It's a dramatic setting of cliffs and the ruins of cliffs, a place held sacred by a number of tribes. And to my surprise, plans are now underway to build a resort complex on Navajo lands along the rim. That's where I once camped with tribal ranger Jim Tom.

We were spending several days locating hiking routes for use by search and rescue teams. Reaching the promontory known as Cape Solitude North we made camp where Marble Canyon falls away on one side and the gorge of the Little Colorado on the other. Standing on the point in the evening light I could look directly down the river passage into the heart Grand Canyon. Here the impossibly blue waters of the Little Colorado enter the great river not far from the Place of Emergence, where the Hopi believe all people entered this world and began their migrations.

Explorer John Wesley Powell reached the river junction in 1869, and faced an unmapped region he called the Great Unknown. For the Navajo people, on the other hand, it's known country. Once used as a refuge in times of war and drought, the confluence still plays a role in certain ceremonies. And two main deities, Changing Woman and Salt Woman, met at the place where the rivers join while on their epic journeys.

That night the ranger told me about his time in Vietnam and how thankful he was to finally make it home. He mentioned the four sacred rivers forming the border of the traditional Navajo homeland, and two of those were flowing together in the canyon below us. Whenever the old people crossed the Colorado, he said, they prayed. And as they prayed, they placed offerings of pollen or turquoise on the shore, close enough for the lapping water itself to take them.

The two of us were camped at the frayed end of a strand of dirt roads, miles from any highway and far from the nearest homestead. Across the gorge from us Ed Abbey once sat on the rimrock of Cape Solitude. "We must preserve," he wrote, "not obliterate, what still remains of the American wilderness, the American hope, the American adventure." As the air chilled he put on his clothes, and in the solitude on the edge of the canyon, he settled in for the night.