Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 8 - Grand Canyon

My favorite moment yesterday was seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. We entered the park and were driving along; the scenery around us hadn’t changed at all for 50 miles, when, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the opposite side of the red-, orange-, purple-, and yellow-striped canyon wall. Both vans immediately pulled over and we piled out at Mather Pt., completely in awe of the great crevice and the ledge that dropped off inches in front of our toes. The North Rim, at 8,800 feet, loomed 1,800 feet above us as we stood at the edge of the South Rim. The Colorado River raged 6,000 feet below us.

The whole experience seemed surreal; my sense of depth-perception was non-existent. It was as if someone had hung a sheet in front of me and painted a colorful, hazy horizon, a breathtaking illusion.

I was bold at first, clamoring around rocks and tourists to get a good view on one of the broad ledges. But as some hung back in fear, it started to hit me that this wasn’t an illusion; just one wrong step and I could be well on my way to the bottom of the canyon. I sat down on a sunny rock and tried to minimize my movements. My muscles started shaking uncontrollably; my voice became quiet and wavered softly. I watched groups of thrill-seeking visitors step confidently to the very edge of the outcropping, turning their backs to the canyon to pose for pictures that would be the pride of their vacation. When they recounted to their friends the dangerous nature of their recent escapades they would not be exaggerating. To sit at the edge of a 6,000 foot ledge and dangle one’s feet into a canyon, leaning over periodically to view the raging Colorado River below, requires a grave malfunction of the amygdala or a serious case of misinformation about the law of gravity.

After thoroughly examining the canyon from our viewpoint at the South Rim, we headed into the Grand Canyon Village to stock up on water before setting out on a hike. A wise hiker advised us to take minimum 1 gallon of water per hour for each hiker. I had brought exactly one half-drunk 16 oz. bottle of water, and no one else had brought much more than that, so it was clear that we were going to need some supplies. The general store was nice and new, but generally way overpriced. And walking into a giant grocery offering 6 brands of water took a little bit of the cherished ruggedness out of the experience. I would have preferred a little shack offering one flavor of ice cream cone, a rain poncho, a lone bottle of ketchup on the shelf, and a water spicket out front to this commercialized version of adventure.

In thinking about the greatest trips I've ever taken, it's not the most comfortable ones that make the Top 3. In fact, it's the emergence of happy moments in miserable conditions that truly make a trip memorable. Upon leaving the all-in-one grocery/deli/bakery/hardware store/sport apparel shop, I took a moment to mourn the loss of small town general stores and their delightful meagerness.

I soon forgot my shopping sorrows as we descended into the canyon by way of the Bright Angel Trail. The plan was to go 1.5 miles to the first water station and then turn around and hike the 1.5 miles back up. Halfway to the water station I looked up, saw a good 300 feet above me, and started to wonder if I would make it back by dark. I started scoping out little nooks in the canyon wall along the trail, making note of where would be a good place to curl up for the night--just in case. There is nothing that I feared more than being stuck on the trail in the dark--it was sandy, rocky, slippery, full of branches, and had absolutely no guard railing at any point. To make matters worse, I had just listened to a grocery store attendant tell a woman that, "More people have fallen in this year than normal. Each day we have a few fall in. Not all of them die though."

I found my only comfort in my dad's last words of our conversation the previous day: "Feel free to go get hurt; I already paid the insurance deductible for your brother's surgery this year, so you're totally covered." At least they won't leave me to die on the operating table for lack of insurance coverage, I thought. I mean, really, how many general insurance plans would usually cover falling into the Grand Canyon? I felt lucky to say the least.

It really didn't turn out to be all that bad. We made it down to the water station in about 45 minutes, filled up our bottles, and headed back up. Emma and I started to feel lightheaded on the way up--probably due to a combination of elevation change, sun, and no food--so we stopped a few times to rest for a minute or two. But an hour and 15 minutes later we arrived at the rim, tired, but safe and sound.

We had an hour and a half drive ahead of us to get back to the bus in Flagstaff, but hunger won that battle and we stopped for dinner in Williams. Pizza! I can't tell you how good it is to be out of the South and away from all their fried food. There are a lot of things I like about the South but you must understand, fried food is not one of them.


We had a great day in Salt Lake City today, which I'll tell you more about tomorrow. For now, we're on our way to Las Vegas. We have plans to visit a wedding chapel tomorrow afternoon, and there's been some talk about a possible impromptu marriage, so if I come back from this trip married, you'll know what happened!


  1. the canyon is very beautiful. i'm glad you liked it. just keep in mind that the store sells water at outrageous prices because people are willing to pay them. they are a larger store instead of a snoshak because the market demands it. it's just capitalism.

    thank you for sharing this with us, shirah.


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