Monday, June 11, 2012

Thoughts from the Grand Canyon


A naive Easterner on a visit to Arizona’s domesticated wilderness.

"Naive" is not the word I would use. Read on.

So I set off on a hike — the Rim Trail, which skirts the edge for several miles, offering breathtaking vistas and a chance to rub shoulders with wildlife. There are places where you can get out to the very edge and gaze into the immeasurable depths of this great wonder of the world.

It might sound like an adventure, but it really isn’t. The canyon has been thoroughly tamed. The trail has benches at frequent intervals, along with rest rooms, telescopes, and explanatory plaques.

You can get an audio tour on your cell phone, or book a ranger to take you around. The paths are wheelchair accessible, and for the overambitious, a shuttle bus shadows the Rim Trail to pick up anyone defeated by the altitude or the distance. Drinking fountains dispense spring water from the canyon, and for the shoppers, there are numerous boutiques selling Native American crafts.

I could not be more protected if I were at a local Wal-Mart. “What on Earth have we done here?” I thought. But just a glance at the majestic rock face calmed my grumpiness. Sort of.

At the Bright Angel Lodge, the smell of coffee wafts tantalizingly through the clean, fresh air, marred by the acrid smoke from some tourist’s cigarette. Perhaps people should not be allowed here at all.

That's what people might think when they're at the most heavily populated and visited spot on the South Rim and have a whole hour and 45 minutes to "experience" the Grand Canyon.

Next time take a whole day, lady, and see if you come to the same conclusion. As long as you're at Bright Angel, look around for the Bright Angel Trail (description). Walk down it. You might have to step aside for mule trains once in a while. Don't take any water. Time your thirst for the Resthouses.

Hazards hikers can encounter along the Bright Angel Trail include dehydration, sudden rainstorms, flash flooding, loose footing, bootpacked ice, rockfall, encounters with wildlife, and extreme heat. At the Colorado River, additional hazards include hypothermia (due to the river's consistently cold temperatures), trauma (due to collisions with boulders in rapids), and drowning. Also, the trail is used by the mules to ride to the bottom of the canyon. These mules are highly trained [6] however the trail is not wide enough in some spots for a person and a mule; however, in many places there are areas for hikers and other travelers to seek temporary refuge from the mules. The trail also has many switchbacks, and a bad fall can result in serious injuries.[7] Also, according to the mule tour guides for Xanterra, squirrel bites at Plateau Point are the leading cause of infirmary visits by hikers and mule riders. Feeding the squirrels is strictly prohibited and highly discouraged.

Stop at the Colorado River. Now turn around and walk back up. The 7.7 miles may seem a bit longer.

Basing conclusions about the 277-mile-long canyon by walking a mile or so on the flat part is - how shall I say this without offending my smarter eastern friends - so terribly stereotypically eastern (to us westerners) - arrogant and small-minded and not very well informed.

It's like making a judgment about Mexican food based on one visit to Taco Bell. Heh.

Suggested reading about the Grand Canyon. Read it before you go so you won't be stupid about the place when you get there:

Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon

You can get it at the Bright Angel Gift Shop like I did. One of the main causes of fatalities at Bright Angel is standing on the wall taking pictures of your friends and stepping back to get a wider view. Heh. My favorite is getting run over by a pickup truck being washed down a gorge by a flash flood during monsoon season. That's adding insult to injury. Heh again.

The article then gets political. Shorter: there are greedy blanketasses too.


Oldfool said...

Excellent post!

Fixer said...

... so terribly stereotypically eastern (to us westerners) - arrogant and small-minded and not very well informed.

Word. Sounds like the writer spent too much time on the Upper East Side in NYC.

Gordon said...

Upper East Side

Different kind of canyons. :-)

Thanks, Oldfool.

Rez Dog said...

"Disneyland on the Rim," my hiking buddy Gary calls it. But get well back into the side canyons or up on the Esplanade where it's just you the Canyon and that infinite night sky and you see the Grand Canyon in all of its wonder.

Gordon said...