A Grand Canyon Adventure

January 1, 2020
Finding Joy in the Canyon

The sun had just risen in the east and the light was translucent on the silver bark trunks of thousands of Aspens bordering the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Their delicate golden leaves shivered in the September breeze as we pulled into the North Kaibab Trailhead parking lot. The sight before us was awe inspiring.

“We would like to hike down to the bottom of the Canyon if you 2 would be willing to drive around and meet us at the South Rim tomorrow.”  David surprised us.

We had heard nothing of this nor planned for it yesterday. The 4 of us had bought a car and agreed each would never drive more than 2 hours at a time during the month as we traveled from the East Coast to Vancouver across Canada. After taking the coast road south to Los Angeles, we were on our way back to Boston. At times we would camp – 2 in a pup tent and 2 in the back of the Chevy Station Wagon. Distances were great, so sometimes 2 slept for 4 hour shifts while 2 drove and David and Fiona had thought of this during the time we were sleeping.

We packed them up with all the food and water we had, as they understood there would be none to find before we saw them more than 24 hours later. They took sunscreen and their light packs with sleeping bags and started out, with 14 miles of trails ahead of them before the campground at the Colorado River.  We arranged to meet at noon at the Bright Angel trailhead the following day.

Mark and I started driving on the only road heading to an Indian Reservation where the map said there was a gas station and a general store. As we drove and drove, the aspens gave way to a scrubby desert. we were hungry and especially thirsty, but there was no sign of the Reservation. The fuel tank indicator was reading empty and we had not seen any other cars on the black topped road. It wasn’t possible to have lost our way, but we wondered if we might have missed a sign to the store which may not have been adjacent to the road.

We spent a very anxious 15 minutes, wondering when the gas would run out, and planning to wait in the car if it did.

We spent a very anxious 15 minutes, wondering when the gas would run out, and planning to wait in the car if it did. With the temperature rising rapidly it was not safe to walk when we were already dehydrated, and if we had missed it, we could be walking in the wrong direction.

There was heat haze on the road, so when we spotted  a raised gas station sign  ahead, we hoped it was not a mirage. We were so thankful to have traveled at least 20 miles on empty according to our faulty gauge. While Mark was filling the tank, I spotted a chocolate machine on the wall..  This was 1962, and fancy machines where the item drops to a covered trough when you put in the coins and dial a number, had not yet been invented. I fed the machine and expected to see it spit the chocolate bar out on to the ground unless I could intercept it first. I watched in horror as huge drops of a brown liquid fell to the ground in front of me. This was no way to assuage my hunger.  The general store was less than a mile further on so we could fill up with food and water.

Mile after mile of boring desert, a dirty sandy color if I remember.

The journey around to the South Rim was long. Mile after mile of boring desert, a dirty sandy color if I remember. We camped overnight and did not arrive at the Bright Angel trailhead until almost 10 am. We didn’t have much time but we wanted to go down at least some way into the Canyon ourselves. We needed to be back for noon. We applied sunscreen and set off. I was wearing flip flops and a bright red sleeveless blouse, with short shorts. I didn’t own a hat or sneakers. The trail was rough, with loose gravel, often very steep but we were in a hurry. We reckoned we would have to turn back at 45 minutes as the climb uphill would take longer than the descent. We were almost jogging down when we came up behind a train of mules.

“Don’t run up behind them mules. They kick.” Someone yelled at us from the front of the group. They all stopped abruptly and I nearly ran into the one at the back with panniers hanging from the saddle. The trainer then shouted at us to pass slowly on the outside of the path. The drop-off was sheer and it was a little scary, but we managed to pass them. The leader’s bronze skin was very wrinkled and almost as hardened as his faded brown leather jacket. As we approached, he lifted his battered Stetson as he looked us up and down, as if we were aliens from another planet. He enquired, slowly, in his twangy voice,

“Where you folks from anyways?”

“Where you folks from anyways?”

“London, England, “ I replied.

“You mean England, England?” he sounded incredulous.

“Yes,” we replied in unison. As he nodded, we wished him a good day and did not waste more time.

We rounded a few more corners on the zigzag trail and there in front of us, puffing his way up, was a friend of ours from Oxford, who had been on the same charter plane we flew from London to New York on some 10 weeks earlier. He was wearing a Harris tweed sports jacket, long grey flannels and had a boater of his head. “Mark” he exploded, red in the face and obviously feeling the heat more than us. Air temperature was at least 115 degrees Fahrenheit. He needed to stop to catch his breath and explained he read the notice at the trailhead. It had warned people not to go down into the canyon unless they were wearing long sleeves, long pants, appropriate sturdy footwear and a hat.

That explained why the mule  train leader looked at me so quizzically, but I am sure I was much more comfortable than David in his only outfit matching the requirements. After spending a few minutes talking we reckoned our time was up, so we headed uphill together, and shortly after reaching the rim, ran into David and Fiona who had survived their long hike to the bottom of the canyon.

About Dr. Margery Franklin

After 40 years of practicing pediatrics, retirement has afforded Margery the opportunity to travel more extensively and pursue her interests in photography and writing. She often travels alone, but sometimes with one or more friends as when she walked 90 miles on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2016.

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