Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Canyon that is Grand

Brian and I went to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We had a little weekend getaway which included Saturday in Sedona and Sunday at one of the seven natural wonders of the world, about which, more in a second.

It was lovely! Of course I already knew how lovely everything was but I was excited about showing Brian these places for the first time, probably even more excited than I had been about showing him The Vegas and The Angeles for the first time, because this was "my" state! I guess you could say that out of our galavanting-about-the-Southwest trips I saved the best for last. Unless we do end up going to a Mexico border town for some debauchery, which can never be ruled out entirely.

When I went to the Grand Canyon as a child, my family's approach was generally to park, hop out, take lots of pictures by the rail, then drive around some more. This same approach was employed over the years when I brought out-of-staters to the Grand Canyon, whether they were New England grandparents, college friends, Californians who had lived a life of severe road-trip deprivation, and so forth. However, since about mid-high school I have been an avid hiker. Interesting that my avid hikerness coincides with the point when I was able to start driving myself places...I think my only hikes before that had been with my Girl Scout troop, or the one summer I went to girls' camp with church (yikes). Anyway, Brian also enjoys the hiking and I have been only too pleased that he and I hike hike hike when we come to Arizona. Yay!

Therefore, I knew we would do a hike on our Grand Canyon trip, and I selected the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point, which is a doable day hike, with fantastic views for a "short" hike. Short as opposed to doing an overnight to the river and back. It was so unbelievably beautiful! Switchbacks, giant walls of red rock dotted with pine, enormous skies, lots of English accents on the fellow hikers, practically no fellow hikers once we passed Cedar Ridge and continued on to Skeleton Point. Descending down into the Canyon, even only a couple thousand feet ("only" - ha! you still have to go back up, and then "only" anything goes out the window) really opens your eyes to the layers, the colors in the rock, the colors in the varying vegetation, and the vastness in every nook. From pine to prickly pear, from brown dirt through red, we plodded down, splayed on boulders to take a rest, then staggered back up in some mighty winds that had us clutching our hats for dear life.

We also encountered some squirrels that were WAY too used to humans, and specifically to humans feeding them. They showed absolutely no tension or fear and hung out around our feet. Particularly when we perched on our slab just past Skeleton Point eating our apples before turning around to head back up, enjoying our peek at the Colorado River, there was a relentless squirrel that could not seem to understand why s/he couldn't have my apple core. I felt like a parent, all "this-is-for-your-own-good" about it, but I had to stomp my feet -- multiple times -- to make the squirrel go away. Mind you, I was on a boulder with a drop-off of hundreds of feet behind me, not exactly the best place to be startled by a squirrel without a skittish bone in its body. There was also a crow who wanted in on the apple core action. Watching the various birds soaring through the canyon was one of the best parts of the day; I kept joking that they were hovering over the hikers so they could have a feast when the hikers die. Yeah, morbid. This bird that came to lunch with us obviously wanted to just take our food, not make us into its food.

Obligatory note about what to bring on the hike so you don't die: We ate muffins and downed one bottle of water at the trailhead right before setting off, and carried along four more bottles of water as well as two apples. I would advise anyone hiking in summer as we did to carry along five or six bottles for two people instead of four. We were OK, but I found myself very tempted to ration my water on the way back up even though I have known since 4th grade desert survival class that rationing the water is a bad idea. I should also have brought a sandwich or banana or both in addition to my apple...I was so hungry once it got to be late afternoon. But I also would advise leaving earlier in the day than we did. All in all, we did quite well, but trust me: bring more water than you need, let alone more water than you think you'll need. I am a fairly confident desert hiker with a bit of experience, and I had the sense to bring multiple liters of water, and I still was appropriately saddened by the display at the trailhead with the picture and story of a 25-year-old girl who died of dehydration in 2004 hiking in the Canyon -- a 25-year-old who happened to run the Boston Marathon in a little over three hours and assumed she was in great enough shape to handle it.

Hike! Hike! Hike! It was one of my favorite days and a fabulous Grand Canyon trip.

Now, about those seven natural wonders of the world ... I want to visit them all. This has been something I've thought forever in a vague someday-I'll-do-that sense, but now I am getting serious about it. I want to start on my quest to see them. I am totally due for a trip to Alaska (and have even put it off so long since my friends Jay and Ei-Ei moved there that now they are moving on to their next locale) and I have been half plotting a trip to somewhere in Africa soon so as to explore a new continent--so that could be Victoria Falls. I believe it is time to get serious about seeing a natural wonder a year for the next six years.

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