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The Grand Canyon
posted by John : March 4, 2014


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Ta da!


(Please excuse the lack of coherence in this post. I'm still (three weeks later) trying to wrap my head around the Grand Canyon.)

When you look up the seven wonders of the world you'll see the Grand Canyon on that list. Why? It's just a hole in the ground. A rift. Big deal.

Except when you stand on the edge and look across it's hard to comprehend. At the widest point it's 10 miles from rim to rim. It's 4,000 feet from the south rim to the river. It's exposed some of the oldest rocks known to man. When I look at a picture of someone standing in front of it the backdrop looks fake. Like you'd get at JC Penny.

That's why it's one of the seven wonders of the world. I don't know how many of the wonders I'll ever see, but given this one is so close I feel silly for having waited so long to see it. (Other wonders I'll likely see? Mt. Everest (from base camp), the Aurora, and the Great Barrier Reef.)

Seeing the expressions on the kids' faces when we first walked out to the rim are one of the reasons I adventure with them. Each had a different reaction, but all rooted in awe.

Clara began cataloging the scientific features she could see. She's doing a geology program in school so she studied the layers and the way the Colorado River cut through the canyon.

Lilly saw the colors and the curves. I think she felt small, but blessed to see such a view with her own eyes. (Of course, I might be projecting a bit.)

Henry walked right up to the edge and looked down. He asked what would happen if you fell over the edge. He took a step back.

After our initial reactions we started getting our day in order. After all, we had only this one day. (I had hoped to get to the Park for sunset the day before, but we were a little late getting into town.) First up: The Fossil Walk to satisfy one of the requirements for the kids' third Junior Ranger badge.

Our ranger was used to guiding geology walks, but with older students. His usual walks lasted all day. Ours would be only an hour, but he crammed as much as he could into that hour. Amazingly, a lot of it stuck. Henry later explained the reason we see fossilized tracks going up, but not down slopes is that when you walk down the sand collapses behind you and fills in your track. When you climb that doesn't happen. (It's true!)

We were guided to a seemingly ordinary patch of rock and told to look closely. It was full of fossils. Tiny, tiny fossils from when it was underwater. We spent a solid 45 minutes picking and brushing and finding fossils. Amy's history and science collided and she was almost as into the work as the kids.

After we had our Junior Ranger books signed we started walking up the South Rim trail. It was mostly paved where we were, but was still right at the edge. Disturbingly so. Clara and I decided we'd continue walking and catch up with everyone when they got off the bus. This turned out to be a great decision. We wound up arriving at Hopi Point after the others had already turned back. A sign showed where a California Condor made its nest. Cool.

But as we were heading back to meet the others there was this guy setting up a really expensive looking spotting scope. "You think there are some condors you can see?" "I know there are." "Oh, really?" "Really." (Yes, the conversation was pretty much like this.) I loitered a bit and asked questions and was eventually allowed to look through the scope. Not at the cave where the nest was, but at a tiny, tiny black speck on the rock.

A baby condor.

Big deal. Not into birds, huh? How about if you knew they were technically extinct in the wild in 1987 when the 22 remaining wild condors were captured and sent to San Diego and Los Angeles for breeding. What if you knew they were being reintroduced to the wild and now there are 237 in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Now is it cool? Well, Clara thought so and that's what really matters.

We met up with the others back at the lodge and had lunch. Of course, a nice walk along the paved "trail" didn't quite satisfy me. Of course, I wanted to hike down into the canyon. Of course, I didn't want to go alone. Thankfully, Clara was happy to go with me.

The Canyon is steep. Really steep. The trail is carved into the wall and switchbacks back and forth as it descends. When we looked back we could see the sheer drops the trail had somehow navigated while only giving us minor vertigo. (Me more than Clara.)

We passed a mule train coming up and had a crow harass us for food, though we weren't sharing what little we were carrying. We were buzzed by what we thought was another crow, except it was way too big. And it had white under its wings. Another condor! The cameras were on rapid fire as it swooped close overhead. When we looked at the photos later we found we could actually see the condor's tag. It was #35! This bird was bred at the Oregon Zoo in Portland and released in 2010. It was seven years old and named Squiggles! Amazing.

Putting the wildlife aside, I was thrilled to be dropping into the Canyon and seeing the views from a different perspective. 1,200 feet doesn't seem like it should be that much, but it made it more real to me. When I looked from the rim it felt like something was wrong. Someone had chopped off the top of the view. I don't usually see a flat horizon above the mountains. From even just a little way down I could look up and feel more at ease.

We descended as far as Cedar Ridge. Clara was surprised at how quickly we had gotten down (about an hour) and since we had a little extra time we poked around and lazed on the rocks. The sun was coming out and it was warmer so we were in no hurry to head up. Of course, we did have to head up at some point. As the sign read, "Down is optional. Up is mandatory." So up we went.

The climb up wasn't as bad as I had feared. Most of my hikes lately have topped out around 5,000 feet. It was still cool and the setting sun lit up the canyon with hues we hadn't seen earlier in the day. At every turn I saw something new (including a repeat performance by our condor friend and one of his friends). Clara was also shooting a picture or two or thousand. She kept grabbing my phone because it would do panos that hers wouldn't. (She has our old repurposed iPhone 4.) We made it up in about an hour. I was proud of Clara for pushing all the way.

The bus took us to Yaki Point, the most southerly of the South Rim area where we saw yet another view. Each was viewpoint was slightly different and worthy of a quick stop. We talked with a woman from France that was trying to see the Canyon in just a day, like we were. Her return trip will be much longer, though.

Our day ended with non-stop chatter about what we had seen as we returned to the hotel. Although the pool wasn't open, there was a bowling alley in the basement. We had a blast trying to knock down pins (Nana scored 100+) and trying not to break a hole in the floor by dropping balls.

Although I had an option to go back the next morning to try to capture the sunrise I opted not to. What I had already seen was enough to convince me I'd be back. Not in 20 years when the kids were ready to bring their families, but in just a few so they can see it again and we can give it the time it deserves.

(No, not really named Squiggles.)

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