Canyons are an impressive wonder of nature, both for the eyes and for the mind. It is one thing entirely to look over the vast crevices in amazement. It is another entirely to connect with the history of the creations.
There is some strange evolution taking place within me, as I strive to understand the how and why behind the sights that we are so fortunate to see. Perhaps it comes with a writer’s curiosity to tell a story. Maybe from the passion to teach our children from the tools of this wide wonderful world. Or, indeed this evolution might have something to do with the broadening horizons of a seasoned traveler.
From Peru we have learned the long history of humanity, Christianity, gastronomy, craftsmanship, music, and beyond. We have even touched on issues of environment and ecology, anthropology, paleontology, and architecture. But, the study of earth, geology, somehow had not yet crept into this edition of the book of life.
Standing at the crest of the Condor Cross, where millions of other toes have pressed against the stone barriers…the significance of life takes on a whole new meaning. The plunging neckline of the canyon careens into the gushing jewelry of the Colca River some 2 miles below. And at the arches of the valley, dazzling white caps draped over the volcanoes twinkle like diamonds atop a crown.
From the far corners, a single steadfast waterfall betrays the mountain maiden with tears that echo through the canyon for miles. Like beacons of hope akin to the dove and the Arc, giant swooping birds drift between the walls and perch on the knuckles of the earth.
The nearly-threatened Andean Condor has claimed this territory for more years than anyone knows. For, at the beginning there was no man to document their arrival following the formation of the canyon an astounding 100 Million years ago. I whisper the number into the abyss and it returns to my lips with twice the volume and tenfold the significance. One. Hundred. MILLION. Years ago.
Looking down at the vibrant rain boots splashing in the puddles and the tiny arms outstretched in mimic of the majestic birds, I can see the impact of just three and five tiny years. I can not lie, it is not possible to comprehend 100 million years when I can scarcely understand how five years have already gone by so fast.
This Colca Canyon, inaccurately touted as the deepest canyon in the world…is in fact, the third deepest canyon in the world, and only at its most vast point. But, despite the discrepancy in the name of tourism, the place has a certain quality that doesn’t need exaggerations. It is still twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in North America, although only mildly comparable.
Having seen both canyons myself, neither is remotely like the other with the exception of the river lying at the bottom. The Colca Canyon is narrower in width, greener in terrain, and totally encompassed by numerous relevant volcanoes and mountain peaks.
The creation of the Colca Canyon occurred with the eruption of the nearby Sabancaya Volcano, which happens to be quite active in these days. Quite remarkable for a smokestack over 100 million years old! Initially, the underlying river was held up by a dam created by the movement of the tectonic plates. But, several million years later, an epic earthquake rattled the natural dam free and dropping the flow of water numerous kilometers from its origin.
This water flow that starts with the glacier melt from the Mismi Volcano, has officially been revealed as the farther origin on the Amazon River that feeds the Amazon Rainforest. This little-known statistic has been documented and confirmed no less than 3 times in the last decade.
The modern discovery of the Colca Canyon didn’t happen until early in the 20th Century when pilots taking aerial photographs accidentally unveiled the impressive topography. But, the significance of the canyon didn’t achieve public importance until the 1980’s after it’s “discovery” and location were documented in an issue of National Geographic.
Since then, the locals have prepared with disdain for the expected tourism boom that never lived up to it’s expectations. Almost 40 years later, with modern highways, toll systems, and hotels in place, the Colca Canyon is only seeing around 100,000 visitors a year. A very tiny fraction of the 1 Million visitors that climb to Machu Picchu annually, only a few hours drive away.
The problem as we see it, is that the area is treated as day pass, a place worthy of a few hours for travelers passing between Puno or Arequipa and Cusco. But, we of course, beg to differ. We managed to explore happily through the Colca Canyon for nearly 3 weeks.
The hiking and outdoor adventures are endless, the encounters with native animals and indigenous people are priceless. Plenty of beautiful, tiny villages with fascinating culture and history. And the ruins! You’d think that after seeing several dozen ruins in Peru, we would be sick of them. But, the Colca Canyon has quite a few very unique ruins like nothing else we have seen! Imagine rural ruins that resemble igloos made of stone and tombs with skeletal remains still in them from 200 A.D. Quite special places indeed!
We have immensely enjoyed the Colca Canyon and with it the quirky tales and tricks of the tourism trade.