If I close my eyes, I can almost see Bright Angel Creek spilling into the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I've been here only twice and don't know if I'll ever make it again because it's a long, hard trip down from the rim — seven miles, losing 5,000 feet in elevation, along the South Kaibab Trail, the way I hiked into the Big Ditch in 2004, or a slightly more gradual 9.3 miles along Bright Angel Trail, the route I took before that on the back of a mule.
Five million people a year stand on the rim taking a gander at the 277-mile-long chasm, a stirring sight to be sure. But for those who make it down to the river there's something even better: a strange little patch of paradise, halfway to the center of the Earth, it seems, where layers of ancient rock and a raging river speak eternal verities.
I'd imagined going there ever since my grandma gave me Marguerite Henry's 1953 children's classic "Brighty of the Grand Canyon," about a free-spirited burro that toted water up and down the North Rim along Bright Angel Creek. So it was a dream come true to pitch a tent in the campground on the west side of Brighty's stream, named by the great, one-armed canyon explorer John Wesley Powell.