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A brief wander to Grand Canyon in mid-February

February 20, 2017


“The Grand Canyon provokes two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it.” 

This quote (from a recent, lengthy and fascinating article titled “Grand Canyon: Two Backpacks, 650 Miles, and the Story of a Lifetime”) seems to fall into the “sad but true” category.

Last weekend I spent two full (8am-5pm) days sitting and listening to speaker after speaker expound on a variety of topics that could all, somehow, be traced to these two ideas.

The seminar: 2017 Grand Canyon Hiking Guide Training.

The place: “Shrine of the Ages” (former multi-faith chapel, now all-purpose activity center) on the South Rim.


A gentle snowfall provided much distraction for this girl from no-snow So Cal.

The attendees: well over 100 mostly young(er) folks who make their livings (but probably NOT whopping piles of money) interpreting human and rock and plant and animal tales of Grand Canyon (Ongtupqa or “salt canyon” in the Hopi tongue).

My connection: I am an instructor for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (GCAFI); as such, I lead a three-day creative writing workshop at the North Rim (this June 16-18 will be my third annual). 
I also serve as “WooFeR” (Wilderness First Responder) assistant for GCAFI adventures–in May I will assist with two: Take a Load Off: Mule-Assisted Camping as well as Paria Canyon Geology Backpack.

The presenters: a variety of geologists, historians, non-profit representatives, authors, National Park Service and GCA staff, and members of two tribes who call the canyon home (Hopi and Navajo).

The topics: Holy Cow. Way too many to list, but highlights included: lightning fire statistics (2382 since 1931), risk management (“How Not to Kill Your Clients in the Field”), Search and Rescue statistics (deaths in the canyon average 15/year), updates on uranium mining and the Escalade (a proposed rim resort + tram down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers), sedimentary rock (super interesting! I “heart” geology) and volcanoes (ditto!) at Grand Canyon, an entire Powerpoint of insane river-raft-flipping photos, how to answer “stupid questions’ (#1 on list: “Is it real?”), Bright Angel Trail history, and voices from People who have ancient and enduring connections to this place.

My reactions:

Information overload. (But in a good way, like the sensory overload of standing on the rim looking out and over and down.)

Ironic back pain from being trapped inside for a two-day seminar about leading hikes in this magnificent place.

Happiness at being around so many like-minded Canyon-loving folk (including the nice young men who let this old grandma strum her ukulele along with their expert guitar stylings at the evening campfire).

Optimism at getting a chance to shake hands with the new Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent, who listened politely and asked a few good questions as I urged her to bring back the Artist-in-Residence program (being AIR at the North Rim back in June of 2011 is what started my relationship with Grand Canyon).

Serendipitiociousness at re-meeting the Phantom Ranch ranger to whom I turned over care of the male college student suffering heat illness on a breath-takingly stupid “run to the river and back” during a heat alert last June. She told me that she made sure he cooled off in the ranger quarters shower, then gave him intravenous fluids, and even allowed him and his Midwestern (i.e. clueless) friends to spend the night at the bottom (supplying them with sleeping gear from the giant box o’ left-behind stuff at the ranger station. It was nice to know he recovered; more than once I’d wondered what happened after I dropped him off and continued on my way across the canyon for my first night crossing . . . partly barefoot . . . but those midnight scorpions!)

The drive: 486 miles to get there: I-15 to I-40 to Route 64.  While I was gone (and I wasn’t gone long), So Cal had another fabulous flush of rain, and I-15 lost a couple of southbound lanes in the Cajon Pass area. So . . . I added 48 creosote-scented post-rain desert miles between Needles and Blythe to my drive home so as to miss the multi-hour delay in Cajon Pass. Mmm . . . the Colorado Desert after a rain.


Highway 95 between Needles and Blythe, CA: puddle-wonderful!

But my aching (caution: geology pun ahead) seden-mentary body! That’s two more days–almost 1000 miles–of: sitting. “Grrrr,” said my lower back and major body joints each time I exited the car. “Yikes,” said my tense shoulders and grippy fingers each time an 18-wheeler whizzed toward/around/past/behind me.

New word: Incringing (can’t remember which speaker created this): they seemed to mean a combination of infringing and encroaching. I like it.

Old word, newly learned: Hozho (Hopi for “living in balance”)

Best question from audience: “What do you wish us guides would tell our guests on trips?”
Answer from Lyle Balenquah, Navajo Nation: “To educate them about ‘real Indians’ vs. Hollywood and media stereotypes. To emphasize our common humanity: ‘We should all be able to walk in each other’s shoes.’ “

Best advice: PRACTICE HEADLAMP ETIQUETTE! (That’s right; I’m shouting in agreement with Ranger Della, who bewailed the ruination of nighttime in Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Camp when people wear headlamps and slash the lovely dark with mega-lumens while traversing the trail that goes RIGHT THROUGH the backpacker’s campground. Her advice? “Hold the light in your hand. Point it down.” For those spending the night, Ranger Della asks, “Why do you want to sit around your camp at night and blind the people you’re talking to?”)

Favorite Powerpoint slide:


Jason Nez, Hopi, was part of the presentation “A Time of Profound Change: Hopi and Navajo perspectives on the advent of federal land management policies; the creation of public lands; and the meaning to native people of the past and present.”

Most distressing: when one presenter spoke about “wilderness” at Grand Canyon without acknowledgement of the fact that Jason Nez had so graphically displayed on the above slide: our continent was not an uninhabited wasteland before the Europeans arrived; it was populated with People who have made (and continue to make) their homes here–People with no language for the concept of “wilderness” (for this is surely an imported-to-America idea).

Second most distressing: The tendency of so many (mainly NPS folk?) to refer to Grand Canyon as a “resource.” I was going to try to make a jokey comparison here: “Notre Dame Cathedral as ‘asset’ on France’s balance sheet” . . . but . . . sheesh . . . )

So we all sat and learned (and sometimes suffered) for two days, not to make “whopping piles of money” from this place . . .but maybe just a bit of a living while we nudge Grand Canyon visitors toward knowledge, appreciation, connection . . . protection?

And a few more images from the weekend:


This trailhead! So many good memories of starting/completing hikes here. I was there between storms, so the trail was not icy at all, but a storm was on the way yesterday . . .


It was an action-packed couple of days, without much time for hiking (insert giant sad face here). But I did wander a little ways down the Bright Angel Trail, where an edging of snow remained from a recent storm.


Cloud and rock layers! What a lunch break on Saturday!


Lunch break selfie–me and all the other tourists.


How small we are here . . . an important reminder, always.


Temps in the 30s at night, 40s by day: I capitulated. Sandals it is.


Then the adventure homeward after all the West got a good drenching.


Even the truck stops were transformed into places of great beauty.


The Whitewater exit off I-10: where the 10,800-foot scarp of Mt. San Jacinto dwarfs the monstrous 150-foot tall wind turbines with blades half the length of a football field.


Roadside puddles called me to stop more than once.

Happy puddlicious trails! It’s raining again!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2017 5:38 pm

    Keep up the puddlicious posts!

  2. Gina permalink
    February 21, 2017 4:06 pm

    I love how you make me feel like I was there, once again, Thea. Thank you! The Greek word Sozo has a similar meaning to the Hopi Hozho, interestingly….

    • February 21, 2017 6:12 pm

      Hi Gina! Thanks for the note . . . and the word comparison . . . super interesting how languages relate . . . hope you’re getting out hiking in all this wet weather 🙂

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