When I opened the car door at Fairview Point, I could hear the wind—a constant rushing through the trees—and it sounded more like the Pacific Ocean during winter swells. The map had confused us, and we’d been planning for Inspiration Point. In the truck parked next to us was a wiry and weathered park ranger, but when I looked closely, I saw she was quite beautiful. We handed her the map and shared our confusion. We’d overshot by eight miles, she said, and we were in awe. It hadn’t seemed like we’d gone eight miles since we entered the park, let alone eight more miles than we should have. But since we were there, we figured we’d take a look. “It’s the windiest overlook in the park” she said. “If you can survive this one, you’ll survive them all.” We stood at the wooden railing and looked into the abyss. Words seemed cheap, but we uttered all the standard phrases about the beauty of nature and feeling small. I admired the way the white snow contrasted with the red rock, and took pictures that, even as I snapped them, I knew they would never come close to expressing the beauty I was seeing.
We hopped back into the car and coasted down the canyon until we reached the turnoff for Inspiration Point, and it was no wonder we’d missed it. The signage was impossibly small. Again we parked and stepped out of the car into strong winds, but this time there was a small hike up to the observation point. If I’d thought the first overlook was spectacular, I’d been wrong. This one lived up to its name. The hoodoos—the rock formations that are the signature of Bryce Canyon—stood like army men waiting for their orders. We walked along a trail that had no railings—just a few hundred yards or so—to view the natural amphitheater from another direction. The wind whipped around me and I nervously stepped closer to the edge so that I could look over. I laughed that we’d passed signs noting the “dangerous cliffs” and yet a bench was provided so that you could sit on the edge of it. The ground seemed mushy and crumbly beneath my feet, and I thought of the unstable cliffs in Southern California.
I also thought of the conversation we’d had at dinner the night before. We’d had a philosopher present, and had talked of disaster after disaster. Fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, rare Central American snakes, swimming with alligators, being attacked by a baby shark, and Stephen Colbert’s personal nightmare—BEARS! At one point, the conversation had turned to hiking in the canyons and the fear of falling from a great height. Then the philosopher shared with us the thought of some old, dead, great one: It is not the fear of falling, but the fear that you will not be able to prevent yourself from throwing your whole being into the abyss. Around the warmly lit dinner table, it had seemed an interesting point, but a bit ridiculous. Standing there, on the rim of Bryce Amphitheater, I understood it perfectly. I edged closer to the chasm below, the wind rushing around me, and I felt deep down that maybe I could fly. I’ve never wanted to fly so badly in my entire life. To swoop like a hawk or even a flying squirrel, just a little closer to the hoodoos, I would have given anything.