Painted desertGrand Canyon National Park, AZ

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Of course, with all this talk of national parks, leaving out the crown jewel of the Park Service would be downright criminal. But until last summer, I’d never been to the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I finally go there, I did my best to remedy the heck out of the situation. And the weather did its best to oblige me—in just two short days I feel like I got to see the Canyon in an incredibly broad variety of moods and colors.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Actually, sketching there sort of broke my brain. Not only is it easy to fall into the trap of trying to document every minute detail, but the light also seems to change every few seconds. I’d look for a bit, mix up some paint, and then look again to find the colors and shadows completely different than just a moment ago.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So whenever the grandeur threatened to overwhelm me, I shifted my focus to my fellow tourists (including the four-legged ones).

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

To tell the truth, I found the tourist trade every bit as fascinating as the canyon itself—especially since it goes back a long, long way. The Grand Canyon might be the most well-known national park, but it was far from the first. And that’s because well over a century ago, commercial interests fought long and hard to keep the canyon private to maximize profits—hard to imagine, considering the number of tourists who flock there today. But those early tourist traps are now preserved right alongside the rocks themselves—and I was just as eager to sketch them as the vistas.

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, nothing beats nature for a spectacle. I was one of hundreds lined up on the cliff’s edge this night, but as soon as the sky turned pink I forgot all about my fellow tourists. Seeing something that vast, paradoxically, has a way of shrinking the whole world into a pinpoint of a moment—one that’s every bit as personal as it is universal.

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