Undertree 2019-01-19 12:27:02
28 February 2018
Grand Canyon, South Rim
Growing up, I had little opportunity to travel. Our family could not afford distant vacations but we spent a few long weekends each summer going to the lake to camp, water ski, swim, and play. We’d often take a float trip down a river in Missouri with a group of friends if we weren’t spending time at the lake.
Places like the Grand Canyon were just backdrops to old movie westerns or a picture in our geography text book. I dreamed of seeing these places, but the time it would take from my home town to drive there…. and then what? Do you go all the way there just for a photo?
We woke up at sunrise on the desert side of the canyon in the Kaibab National Forest. It was a brisk 30 degrees, but we had survived the cold, windy night always being comforted by the huge, full moon casting shadows of the small scrubby trees in the forest. Entering the National Park early on the first day of the spring season for tourism was a calm, quiet introduction to the majestic, empty canyon. We traveled from east to west stopping to see the various viewpoints and learning about the wildlife, terrain, and climate.
But by the time we left in the afternoon, something didn’t feel quite right. I had told the boys we always plan to *experience* these places, this nature, the culture. But the South Rim of the Canyon receives more than 4.5 million visitors a year and I have to think only a very small percentage of those people are outdoor enthusiast here to really become part of this beautiful natural wonder. We heard more than six languages just walking around the viewpoints, but until I was behind a girl on a trail that has many stops on the way to the one-mile depth of the canyon, I never had a chance to chat with anyone. And that was a short conversation as she had her parents from Shanghai with her and they couldn’t walk very far on the trail. It wasn’t too crowded this early, but it seemed the goal was primarily to get a selfie or a couple family photos and move on. As I said earlier, I don’t like to be a tourist, and without the time to take a long hike down into the canyon.
On a side note, I think we felt more connected to the canyon reading about ti through the eyes of a wild burro in 1916 and the history of campers, miners, explorers, and adventurers. Reading aloud with our boys is a huge part of our learning and experience together; I think this book has saved my dreams about the Grand Canyon, and I look forward to visiting the North Rim where there are 90% fewer tourists. Maybe this will give us a more authentic opportunity to be part of the canyon.
Let me compare this idea of tourism and experience:
The next day we hiked in Zion National Park in southwest Utah. Once again we headed in early at sunrise to see the changing light on the red and golden rocks and explore before it got too busy. Our first hike up to a viewpoint over Zion Canyon was amazing. But even more refreshing was the people we met along the trail. These were not tourists. Even though we had never met and they came from who knows where, on the trail we were immediately friends. This wasn’t a hard hike, but it wasn’t pavement and you had to earn the view. The people on this trail shared a common bond of loving nature, appreciating the clean, beautiful environment, the quiet and the solitude. These people would say hi, they would stop and let you pass the narrow trail. They would respect your space if you were sitting quietly enjoying the view. They would never drop trash or disturb the trail. We would share resources any help if needed.
Our goal is to experience everything around us, not just see it and document it. True experience comes with time, patience, connection, and a lot of effort. We must engage, listen, wait, and seize opportunities to connect. This is the real backpacking life, the real nomadic adventurer.