What a privilege to be able to experience one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, first hand, in the flesh, with my own eyes, The Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States of America.
Made all the more special by the fact that it happened on the day of our youngest daughter’s 24th birthday!
Our early morning birthday surprise drew quiet gasps and words whispered in wonder and awe, not only from ourselves, but also from the few other equally awed tourists. It struck me, in that moment of virtual speechlessness that, despite all the trappings and advancements of modern technology and 21st century living, we human beings are still able to be totally and utterly amazed and humbled by the wonders of God’s incredible creation. In that quiet, cool moment, gazing into the depths of this incredible sight, we could all only whisper our amazement.
Fitting that our 24 year old decided that we would all hike down into the Canyon as part of her birthday celebration. Let me hasten to inform you of the fact that I am not a natural hiker/walker, being more inclined to run and get the job done a little quicker – I am learning to appreciate a good walk, now that I am in my 50’s…
We kitted up by purchasing a small camel pack backpack, filled the bladder with 1,5 liters of water, stored our snacks and lunch wraps, donned headgear, buffs, trainers and running shorts and we were rearing to descend on the Bright Angel trailhead, all suitably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Conditions were favourable in that spring temps have not yet soared into the desert heat of the summer 40’s (celcius), it was not windy, rainy nor coldly cloudy. The trail was mildly busy but not obstructively so. We were full of cheerful encouragement to those on the ascent, smugly thinking that we would be nailing this on our return as we felt and looked a little younger and fitter than many who were on the incline – arrogance and assumption are nasty levellers!
Back to the awe of this magesticly eroded and carved piece of landscape. The rock formations, colour, strata, gravity defying balancing boulders and every geological phenomenon were on glorious display.
Vegetation is sparse, scrubby and as desert-like as one would imagine. Cacti, aloes and all things spikey, along with a few desert flowers, mostly dust covered.
Animal life was limited to lizards, with the longest tails that I’ve ever seen, squirrels, chipmunks, crows and the odd buzzard. Thankfully no sign of any snakes!
We made it to the 3mile rest stop, which was indicated as “moderate”, where Darling and I opted to rest, bang the dust out of our shoes and socks and get to know some of our fellow travellers. The youngest member of our family took on the next 1,5miles to the “Indian Garden”, and back, at breakneck speed – the joys of being that young, fit and strong! An early lunch stop to lighten the pack and refuel our energy levels and we were ready to take on the return to the rim.
What took us an hour and a half to descend,admittedly with some caution as slipping on dry sand and stone was not appealing (especially after my last slip on rocks, resulting in a fractured wrist!), took us virtually two hours to return. This is pretty impressive considering the heat that climbs with the arc of the sun, and the associated dryness of the desert climate.
Having said that, I admit to letting myself down somewhat when I allowed the heat, the dryness and the emotion of the moment, get to me, resulting in a bit of a slump. Thankfully Darling was on hand to encourage and support me to the brim.
This moment brought back a flood of memory so strong that I was a tad overwhelmed.
Being a runner, I have had the occasion of taking on a number of standard marathons and even the senselessness of a few ultra marathons. This history led me to believe that I still had it in my legs, head and heart to ascend the Canyon at a decent pace – muscle memory failed me.
The privilege of motherhood produced another sort of marathon and the process of natural birthing was one that I equated to running my first ultra marathon: once it starts, you have to push through (pun intended) to the end, there is NO turning back! The end goal is the finish line, for the road marathon, and the miracle of a new life, in the case of birthing, neither of which is possible without the support and encouragement of a partner and a team – Darling, in both cases for me, including my latest Canyon debacle.
All these memories and analogies came rushing back to me as I trudged through the dust and the steps and stones of the Bright Angel Trailhead ascent – I descended a “bright angel” and emerged a “broken angel”, checked the bucket list moment and thoroughly convinced that hiking is really not my thing!
Neither would the other “Wander” be truly my thing. This place was our two night stop for our Grand Canyon experience.
All American universities have now graduated and many of the schools too, so the Grand Canyon National Park was a little busier than we had anticipated. Not a single bed, nor restaurant booking available in the park on our arrival!
Our modus operandi on this road trip has been to “wing it” – drive, arrive and then find a place for the night, unless it has been a planned stop over with our generous and hospitable friends along the way.
“Wander Camp” was what popped up on our google search and a wonder it was: described as a “glamping experience”, we signed up for two nights… Our first drive along an American dust road, had us feeling like we were back home in South Africa, led us to a teepeed and tented campsite, nestled amidst desert stunted cypress trees, scrubby salt bushes and tufts of tundra.
“Reception” was located under two such trees, between which a hammock was strung for the hapless fellow on camp duty, on hand to check guests in and sell them a solar powered light and heater for the chilly desert nights.
Suffice to say that not only am I not a natural hiker, neither am I a natural camper. Glamping is great as the tent was clean, beds were king sized, soft mattresses, crisp sheets, decent pillows, warm duvets and the ground sheet floor was covered with a heavy sisal mat, all making it feel rather “luxurious”. Check.
The ablution facilities were sufficient, eco friendly, smelly, water was hot, but enough for all campers. Shared ablutions are not something unfamiliar, having been a boarding school child and hockey team player for all of my younger years, but in the case of camping, these tented amenities are usually a distance from one’s sleeping tent, meaning dust and dirt, before, during and after use – dirty not being my most favourite feeling – however the upside is that should one need to use the ablution tent in the middle of the night, the unparalleled splendour of the starlight sky above is only matched by the mighty Canyon below.
Of the varied accommodation that we have experienced on our American road trip adventure, it would be fair to say that the thin walls of budget hotels and thinner walls of roadside motels, the canvas walls of a tent leave nothing to the imagination nor to the peaceful serenity of sleep – no whispering in Wander!
A true lesson in SURRENDERING TO THE ADVENTURE – I’m beyond grateful, thankful and privileged to experience!