I knew where we were heading. It was a canyon. A canyon in northern Arizona. I was told that its name was Antelope Canyon. We were on the bus with the AC on and my hands and feet were ice-cold. There was the strange, unpleasant smell of buses and I felt sick from the way the vehicle shook from side to side. On my left, the window was blurred by the reddish dirt; I peeped out through the thick curtain – outside was endless red soil littered with tiny spots of dried-up plants. Low hills were visible, too. It seemed as if we were driving on and on forever.
About an hour later, we reached our destination. Outside, I felt exposed under the huge, dazzling sun. Heat waves swept through the crowd. People opened sun umbrellas and sprayed sunscreen all over the place. I sneezed at the pungent smell. Feeling impatient, I was pushed forward by the crowd, but my view was blocked by adults and the reflected light of the umbrellas.
The tour guide was a middle-aged man from the nearby tribe called Annajo. He was extremely tall, talkative and liked telling jokes. “The canyon was formed due to the erosion by storms and floods over millions of years,” he informed us. He warned us not to wander off on our own. Later, I learnt of the tragic story of 1997: a sudden, violent flood took the lives of 11 tourists. Now, tourists can only reach the canyon with a local guide.
At last, we reached the entrance of the canyon. In front was a narrow, steep set of stairs leading somewhere underground. I gripped the handrail and the rusty iron rubbed against my hand as I inched downward. As the dazzling sunlight shifted, the surroundings began to darken. The air became cooler. I shivered as the temperature dropped. It took time for my eyes to acclimatise to the change in light: things around me seemed dim, as if an overhead lamp had been put out. Gradually, as I adjusted to the environment, a new world was laid out before me.
The Antelope Canyon is about 150 meters in length and 20 meters in height and the space twists and turns and the only light is a small ray from overhead. The extraordinary sight – the magic of what I encountered – is hard to describe. It was like finding Narnia. It was a magnificent world filled with flickering light and floating shadows. The rock walls were shaped like waves and were saturated with colours, immersed in the light from above. Low light reflected from different angles, creating a mixed palette of pink, orange, red, blue and violet.
I reached out my hands, gently touched the surface of the wall. I thought it would be rough, but it was fine and smooth, as if I was touching hand-polished ceramic. The cold wall was like layers of frozen waves and I could feel the imprints of time, hear the uproar of storms and floods from millions of years ago. Dust became visible in the still air under the dim light; they glimmered, like grains of sands from the sea shore, like grains of sands from an hourglass. Was all of this created by the flowing of time and water? Someone whispered that it seemed like the creation of a god.
When I stepped out of the canyon, struck with fury. We retreated back to the bus. With every step I took, receded. When I looked back, all I could see was the vast red land – that colourful world of ancient rock was nowhere to be seen. But, as I stepped onto the bus, I knew I had, in my heart and mind, taken a piece of that wondrous space with me.
Ruochen Liu, 15, at Yucai School in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. My name is Rachel and I am a ninth grader. My hometown Chengdu is a city with profound cultural heritage and a long culinary tradition. I am fascinated by it. I am not so good at socializing but quite talkative. I like reading and traveling, and I am also a photography enthusiast. With the eyes to insight and with the pace to measure the beauty of the world.