Travelogue: The Grand Canyon

Last week my niece earned a masters degree, so The Fabulous Wife and I flew to Arizona to attend her graduation. We were honored to be there. Her two-year program gave her marketable skills, but more importantly, it completed her transformation into an adult. That word — adult — is often considered a pejorative by Millennials, but my niece has embraced it. She’s dedicated her professional life to helping people with disabilities. She’s developed a monster work ethic. And she’s learned what excellence means and continually strives for it. We’re proud and happy for her.

This was the first trip out of state The Fabulous Wife and I have taken in nearly three years. (Thanks, Covid!) We didn’t want to make it just a quick weekend, so we agreed to tack on a few sight-seeing days. But where to go? We’ve seen much of southern Arizona together (Chiricahua and Organ Pipe National Monuments are favorites). We’ve been to Phoenix and Tucson multiple times. But northern Arizona? I saw the Grand Canyon as an 18 year-old with Lou during our cross-country trip. I thought the Canyon magnificent, especially from Lipan Point, but after a short car tour Lou and I left for Flagstaff and points east. The Fabulous Wife also saw Grand Canyon as a teen, during a family vacation so miserable her younger brother walked away from the rest of them and was gone long enough for TFW’s father to report him missing (he was promptly found strolling happily along the South Rim Trail). Nearly fifty years later, it felt right to go back to Grand Canyon together and do it justice.

We had a blast.

View of the Grand Canyon.
Getting a photo that captures the breadth of the Canyon is almost as difficult as getting a photo that captures the height of redwood trees. Alas, this was the best I could do with my limited photography skills.

We didn’t hike into the Canyon — our knees are too temperamental for that. We also remembered that thirty years ago, after arriving from sea level, we hiked three miles around Tenaya Lake at Yosemite National Park (altitude 8,000+ feet) and were exhausted. We feared that at this advanced age we wouldn’t last more than a hundred yards hiking the South Rim Trail (altitude 6800+ feet). Nonetheless, we set out from Mather Point and kept going. And going. And we managed a five-mile hike despite a blustery wind. Nor did it exhaust us: we had enough energy to go out again at sunset and watch the sky and rock change colors. Dare I imagine we’re in better shape than we were in our thirties? If true, how pathetic we were back then.

The Grand Canyon at sunset.
Sunset from Pipe Creek Vista Point.

Although there were plenty of people on the South Rim Trail, we had several stretches to ourselves, and during the sunset hike the only other walker we encountered was a mule deer. (They’re huge!) That’s why we love traveling in May: the days are long, the weather’s mild, and kids are still in school so we don’t run into crowds.

In my twenties I seriously considered becoming a National Park ranger. I even talked to several rangers about it. In the end I decided against it, not because the pay was abysmal and steady work nearly unattainable, but because I couldn’t have tolerated the day-to-day destruction of the environment wrought by millions of disrespectful visitors. (On one part of the South Rim Trail the Park Service displays heavy samples of rock from each level of the Canyon. The Fabulous Wife and I joked that her amateur gemologist parents would have tried to steal them.) My niece has more courage than me. Her career choice obligates her to deal with misfortune, pain, and frustration daily. But she’s ready, even eager, to get started. May she never lose that enthusiasm — and remain a stellar example, even to us old folks, of how to be an adult.

The Colorado River at the bottom of Grand Canyon.
The Colorado River snakes along the floor of the Grand Canyon. (Photo by The Fabulous Wife.)

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Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

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Andy Goldblatt

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.