CANYON DREAMS, PART 4
GRAND CANYON REVISITED
In October 2017, Gramma K (Klare), Grandpa Randy (Randy), and Grandson Eli (Eli), flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove first to Sedona. Had a good time hiking up Oak Creek Canyon, then on to Page, the city created by Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. Next day took a guided hike through Antelope Canyon, lead by a Hopi named Jerome, who was quite knowledgeable. Antelope Canyon is the one you see in pictures of the southwest –swirls of sandstone carved by wind and water over time ascending in fantastic shapes towards the sky. Spirits rising.
For a mere 80 bucks or so you can have 3 people join with several others in a production line that is a must see for everyone. Proceeds, I guess, to the tribe. Yes, they also have vendor booths selling jewelry and stuff. Don’t forget to tip the guide.
If there is a theme to this piece, maybe it is the contrast between the “free” appreciation of natural wonders, and the commercialization of them. Yin and yang.
Teddy Roosevelt on the Grand Canyon:
“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to marthe wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only marit.”
Since President Roosevelt dedicated the Grand Canyon, there have been hotels, cottages, and other buildings, roads, and “improvements”, especially on the South Rim, where most go to experience the canyon. Have these improvements marred the grandeur, the sublimity, the loneliness and beauty of the Canyon? The Grand Canyon today is still grand, sublime and beautiful. But not lonely, at least at the rim.
Roosevelt also said that it is a place that every American should see. Eli wanted to know how many Americans have seen it. I wasn’t sure, so I went on line to find out. Here is what I got from an Executive Summary of a survey taken in 2004-2005:
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world’s premier attractions, with the power to draw visitors from great distances. This survey documented visitors from all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, plus visitors from 41 foreign countries. Overall, 83% were domestic visitors residing in the United States; California (12.2%), Arizona (8.9%), Texas (4.8%), Florida (3.4%) and New York (3.2%) represented the top domestic markets. Seventeen percent of visitors were of foreign origins, and the top foreign markets were: the United Kingdom (3.8%), Canada (3.5%), Japan (2.1%), Germany (1.9%) and The Netherlands (1.2%).
GCNP visitors were highly educated. The vast majority of respondents (85.2%) had attended some college. Of these, one-fourth (24.8%) had completed a 4-year degree, while another 34.3% engaged in graduate study or earned graduate degrees.
The total annual economic impact (direct, indirect and induced) of Grand Canyon National Park visitors was $687 million of output into the regional economy, which supported 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the area.
Five million people visit the park each year. The park is built to accommodate a million. Good luck finding a parking place. So if there are about 325 million folks in the U.S., and 5 million visit the park each year, and 83% are Americans, then 4,150,000 are Americans, which represents about 1.3% of the population. If everyone lived to 78 (life expectancy of Americans), and every American visited the park in their lifetime, then indeed every American would see the Grand Canyon, and Roosevelt’s injunction would be satisfied. Of course, not everyone will live to 78, as nature tends to thin the herd. And some would prefer other destinations like Disney World or Las Vegas.
News flash: In today’s paper it was stated that six million people visit the park each year. The article was about how the Park Service is raising fees. While this fact screws up my math in the previous paragraph, I’m not going to do anything about it. You get the big picture: We continue to overload our national parks, and fees have to be raised to maintain them.
In sum: Most who visit the Grand Canyon are well educated Americans who spend money. From the survey referenced above they also thought there should be more roads, parking, and guard rails. Get on it.
People, like beavers, are dam builders. Case in point: Hoover dam in the 30s (pre-OSHA, some unfortunate worker deaths); Glen Canyon dam in the 60s (fewer deaths, I presume), and numerous other dam projects (double entendre intended) throughout the West to satisfy water and power needs of the ever growing population. In the 60s people beavers had a grand idea that it would be good to dam the Grand Canyon. David Brower and the Sierra club thought that was a bad idea. They organized a publicity campaign to stop the plan. They took out a full page ad in the New York Times and Washington Post asking the question:
“Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?”
The people rallied and the Canyon was preserved. Well, kind of. There are still dams on either end, the river has changed from a free range torrent of brown water silting up the canyon and preserving the ecosystem to a blue green managed flow of cold water that people like to ride on. Progress, I guess. And after the Sierra Club’s victory the IRS revoked it’s non-profit status. Take that.
At the Grandview Point trail head I walked up to a woman who was studying the map on the billboard.
Many years ago a group of friends and I backpacked down this trail, down the side of Horseshoe Mesa to Cottonwood Canyon, then over the Grapevine and back, I bragged.
That so? She said. Must have been rugged.
It was, but it was also magnificent, I replied. Humming birds, butterflies, frogs, clear pools to jump in and cool off and to lay on the rocks like a lizard and dry.
Hmmm, she said. Must have been nice.
Eli wants to know how many times I have backpacked in the Grand Canyon. If we count only the times in the national park, I believe four: twice down Grandview to Cottonwood and Grapevine; Once down Bright Angel over to Monument; and once down Hermit and back up Boucher. In addition, on the west end of the canyon on the Hualapai reservation, one trip down Meriwitica to Spencer and up Milkweed, and one down and back up Bridge canyon. So I guess that makes six backpack trips. I’ve also taken boat trips up Lake Mead and Lake Powell and hiked up side canyons. A few years ago Michael and I took a commercial raft trip down the full length of the canyon. Finally, several trips in Utah and Arizona national parks and wilderness areas. I get around. Or, more accurately, I used to get around. Not to mention a backpack in Alaska, or several Minnesota Boundary Waters trips, which I just did mention.
So, Eli, your Grandpa has been a few places, seen a few things, and done some things outdoors. That was in his younger, slimmer days. Now his joints are stiff and his muscles are sore and he has slowed down, which I’m sure you noticed on this trip as we walked along the rim trails.
Most of the canyon and southwest trips were with a group of friends called the Canyon Clan, or Canyonistas. There is a core group of eight or so, and over time a variety of others who have been on at least one trip. Over time we know what to expect from each other, and have perfected the art of trip planning and execution. Well, almost. There are conflicts, but most get resolved peacefully. Some like to process the process. Others, like me, get impatient with process. But it all works out in the end, and so far no one has died, been seriously injured, or murdered anyone. That’s progress. After all, to paraphrase Rodney King, we just all get along.
I find that a group of six to eight is ideal for a trip. Large enough to be a group, but small enough to be manageable. I believe that is the ideal size of an army platoon as well, but I won’t take that analogy too far. Anyway, whether talking about combat, wilderness trips, or therapy groups, six to eight seems to be an ideal number. On one canyon trip we had sixteen. Too big. It split off into factions, and we spent a lot of time just figuring out how to move this crowd through the wilderness. It also created some who was alpha issues, which was a distraction.
Which brings up another issue in group dynamics: Is it better to have a clear authoritarian hierarchy with a designated leader who calls the shots, or a more democratic set up where everyone participates and leadership is shared? The answer is yes. The answer is it depends. The answer is a paradox. The answer, my friend is blowing in the wind. The best I can say is that it is helpful to have a knowledgeable, competent, compassionate, thoughtful, brave, intelligent, experienced leader. If that perfect person is not around, then having know-how, competence, compassion, problem solving ability, bravery, and intelligence with individuals within the group is ideal. A sense of humor helps. And the ability to take ribbing from others, and give back in return is a positive. Another important trait is the ability to adapt to the environment, and to not get too wigged out about inconveniences, the need to change plans, or what’s happening back home. Positives: The ability to enjoy; the ability to reflect; the ability to have fun; the ability to just be.
What is this “just be” stuff? (He didn’t say stuff, but another “s” word), said the Type A to Michael. It was a blank day on the trip itinerary. Michael realized he would probably not get it, but said that it was just a day where you just were, and there was nothing else going on to compel a goal. It is hard for western driven types to comprehend. Oooommmm.
I could go on, but I won’t. My pals will undoubtedly remember other times, and may even edit my accounts. I have also mentioned some names and not others. I mean no disparagement in my omissions. Really.
Now back to 2017. You would think with all my experience with the Canyon I’d not be afraid of heights. You’d be wrong. In fact, as I’ve grown older, seems like I have a heightened degree of fear. It is not just about me. My anxiety raises to about a ten when I see children close to the edge. I remember hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Utah one year. The trail cuts through a rock wall and is about maybe ten feet wide, although it seems narrower because on the left side it drops off precipitously and there are no guard rails. When hoards of kids would zoom around me running right up on the left edge it freaked me out. During our canyon trip I was particularly anxious about Eli, and gave stern instructions to stay back from the ledges, and don’t be hanging on the guard rails. He was good about that, but I still got knots in my stomach when we approached an overlook. I wanted to enjoy the view, but panic set in, and I would often walk back and sit down somewhere safe.
At Maricopa Point I saw a guy about my age sitting on a rock on the walkway leading up to the point. I sat down next to him. I didn’t used to be afraid of heights, he said. But a while back I was on my roof and slipped. I came right to the edge before I stopped. Ever since I’ve been afraid. I get it, I said. His wife and daughter came back to him from the point and tried to get him to go out there. We’ll get your picture! He shook his head and refused. I empathized.
Speaking of fear, the Ranger who was giving a tour of the Ancient Pueblo ruins speculated about why about 700 years ago they abandoned the region. Years ago we called these people Anasazi, which translates to “ancient enemy”. The Hopi objected, saying that they didn’t disappear, they just moved. Besides, they weren’t enemy, they were us. Thus we now call them Ancient Puebloans. The Ranger asked why we thought they abandoned the area? Answers: Extended drought. Warfare. Disease. Religious directives. Starvation. Lack of game. Well, he said, these and other theories have been floated. He noted that the period when these people flourished in this environment were exceptionally wet years, which meant they could raise crops in abundance and were therefore able to live in peace with their neighbors. They also specialized and traded with neighbors. He noted that while there were some dry years during this time tree rings indicated no extended drought. However, he theorized that one or two dry years could have induced fear among the people, and they may have freaked out and decided they had to leave. Or, maybe decided they had to raid their neighbors to survive. Fear is a great motivator.
There are numerous great books about the Grand Canyon: Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time. John Wesley Powell, Down the Colorado. Also books about the grand old man of the canyon, Harvey Bouchart. During my trip I also read another I would recommend: Patricia C. McCairen, Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through Grand Canyon. It is a tale of her rowing solo her raft boat named Sunshine Lady through the entire length of the canyon. She had to face her own fear of flipping over and dying in a rapid, or numerous other dangers in such an adventure. But most of all she had to overcome some tapes from her childhood and her mother that enjoined against anything un-lady like that veered from the traditional female role. She also sought solitude, and fought loneliness, which were two sides of the same coin. As much a psychological as a physical journey, it was a compelling account of a soul in search of itself. Or, in another way, a rebellion against working in a cubicle as a secretary.
The other serendipitous read I had was the October 2017 edition of the National Geographic. In it there is an article entitled: Dubai’s Audacious Goal. The byline is: A decade ago the emirate capital had one of the largest ecological footprints of any city in the world. By 2050 it wants to have the smallest. Can it get there? Not long ago Dubai was a small impoverished Arab fishing village on the desert coast of the Persian Gulf. Now, with oil money, they have built a thriving metropolis that includes the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. They have also built an indoor ski resort, cooled by refrigeration generated by diesel. Think Las Vegas on steroids. But the emir is progressive. He is investing in renewables, e.g., solar, which is abundant. They are building sustainable housing with super insulation and shading which lowers the need for air conditioning. They are investing in mass transit. Projects in Dubai take less time due to the lack of red tape and regulations, and the availability of cheap labor from other countries. What’s not to like? They feel that there is no problem that technology can’t overcome. We’ll see. One concern: They get water from the sea, and have to invest great fossil fuel energy into de-salinization plants. They dump the residue back into the gulf, which makes the gulf saltier. Trade offs.
So what does this have to do with the Grand Canyon? I’m reflecting on how technology—for example, airplanes, cars, roads, hotels, water systems—have allowed access to wild areas out of the reach of many. Technology has created the ability for us to view the grandeur of the Canyon as another roadside attraction. The last time I was on a crowded shuttle bus was at Disney World. On the South rim, I am alternately glad they have banned private cars on the routes, and have crowded us into the shuttle, recognizing the mayhem that would ensue had they not. The irony is, the more convenient we make our visits to the Grand Canyon, the more crowded it becomes.
There are now three Grand Canyons: The Disney World of the South Rim. (I’ve not been to the North Rim, but imagine it to be less crazy). The thrill ride of the boat and raft trips down the Colorado, and the challenge and solitude of hiking the inner canyon trails. Less that one percent of people actually backpack in the Canyon. In exchange for the risk, the fear, and the strain they are rewarded with beauty, peace and solitude.
At Hermit’s Rest I saw a man with a backpack on. Are you hiking the Hermit Trail? I asked. Yeah. Have you ever done that before? No. You are in for a treat, but it is kind of rugged. You’ll remember the Cathedral Stairs. But at the bottom is a righteous pool with a waterfall that is Eden. Sounds like you’ve been there before. I have. Good luck. Pack plenty of water.
Gramma K and I try to limit Eli’s time on his iPad without much success. He didn’t object when we told him to leave it in his room while we were on the shuttle stopping at the various overlooks. But on the plane ride home he was hot and heavy into dispatching the monsters on his gaming app. I looked around on the plane and saw many others similarly engaged. Technology. A two edged sword. Technology has allowed me to write this on my computer instead of with a pencil and a pad. As Ronald Reagan used to say when he hosted the GE Theater: Progress is our most important product.
I wonder. Will Eli’s generation put down their technology and put a day on their calendar to “just be”? Will we?
I come away from our trip with mixed feelings. Of course I was once again enthralled by the grandeur. But being part of the crowds on the South Rim made me feel like a voyeur. However, being at the Canyon also reminded me of the grace of the inner side canyons: the streams, the pools, the frogs, the hummingbirds, the call of the canyon wrens, the squawk of the ravens, the cool late afternoon breeze flowing up canyon at sunset, the moon and the stars, the voices around campfires, the music, and all together the magic. Just being.