Friday Five

My step sister is planning to take her family to the Grand Canyon for the first time this October. Knowing that I went a few years ago, she asked if I had any suggestions. I was combing my memory, which we all know is spotty, for specifics, so I went through some of my photos and thought you might enjoy seeing a few.

1. Below is the Colorado River snaking through the canyon. It really is that green. The rocks at the rim were formed about 270 million years ago, and the ones at the river bed about 1.7 billion years ago.

The Colorado River

2. The Grand Canyon is one of those places that you feel like you already know. You’ve seen thousands of images of its deep crevasses, winding river and reddish brown strata. It’s ingrained in your memory even if you’ve never been there. It was quite a shock to realize that none of those images do it justice. There is no one angle or season or time of day that accurately captures it. In fact, it was hard even picking the photos you see here because none of them match the real splendor and magnificence.

Along the same lines, probably thousands of words have been written describing the Grand Canyon, many of them by some of the world’s greatest authors – Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey. I’m sure I couldn’t improve on their prose. Besides that, it feels like the canyon defies description.

Each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon – Carl Sandburg.

Grand Canyon at dusk

3.  The South Rim is 6,860 feet above sea level. Temperatures can easily rise 20 – 30F from the rim to the canyon floor. That, coupled with the fact that the harder part of the trek is at the end (unlike in mountain hiking), when your strength is flagging, means that  about 250 people have to be rescued from the canyon each year.

Inside the canyon looking at the South Rim

4. Aside from hiking, mules are the only other option to get from the rim to the river. Mules are still indispensable for bringing gear and food to the lodge on the canyon floor. We decided to let mules be our escorts into the canyon. If it was good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, it was good enough for me. “Nose to tail, that’s the way we walk the trail,” was the mantra drilled into us by our guides. Apparently gaps in the single-file line give the mules the opportunity to get distracted. You don’t want your mule to get distracted. When your mule realizes he’s lagging behind, he will run to catch up. Oh, he will run. On a rocky ledge. About four-feet wide. Looking over a sheer drop to the canyon floor.

A gentleman in our group was having a hard time keeping his mule close. He complained for a good bit about the mule being stubborn. Of course it is. Mules are hybrids whose mother is a horse and father is a donkey. (There is a great joke in there somewhere about men, stubbornness and asses. I’ll leave you to insert your own punch line.)

Our sure-footed, amiable rides

5. For the Havasupai Indians, or People of the Blue-Green Water, the Grand Canyon has always been a sacred place. The Havasupai are descendants of the anasazi, or ancient ones, and hunter-gatherers known as Cerbats, who came to the area in the mid-1300s. We have the scientific explanation of how the canyon was created by the river and the wind, but the Havasupai have their own account. It goes like this:

The Havasupai have two gods, Tochopa and Hokomata, who quarreled. Hokomota threatened to drown the world. So Tochopa built a boat for his daughter, Pukeheh, in the event of a flood. Soon mighty waters the size of 1000 rivers roared across the land. But inside her log boat, Pukeheh was safe. As the waters receded they rushed like a tide back toward the sea, carving a great chasm in the earth. It was here that her boat came to rest. All of the people had been swept away. Then she noticed the rising sun in the east which brought her hope. The sun and the waterfall brought her children which is how the People of the Blue-Green Water came to live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Strata of rock

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? What was your fondest memory? 

Have a great weekend everyone!

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21 comments

  1. Gosh, I always forget how beautiful the Grand Canyon is until I look at a photo of it. I’ve been there a few times, and it’s one of the only places I’ve ever been that makes my whole insides ache with its beauty. It’s like a swelling I can’t describe takes over inside, my heart pounds, and it feels like the air inside my lungs is pressing against my ribs and my throat and my stomach. It’s an amazing feeling.

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    1. I felt the same way, too! People have a physical reaction to the canyon. Maybe it’s because standing there we realize how small we really are.

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  2. Yes, yes – I took a trip to the Grand Canyon during my week long visit to Flagstaff, AZ. I was alone the entire week. The only time I felt alone was while standing on the edge of the Canyon … I wanted to turn to my friend/partner/family member and say, “Isn’t this gorgeous?” But there was no one with whom to share the wonder. Still, it is by far one of the greatest journeys I have taken.

    Pictures do not do justice. There is no way to capture the size and vastness of the Canyon in a 4X6 print. The Canyon has no boundaries — pictures limit the beauty.

    Lovely post, Jacquelin. I am sure your step sister will have a wonderful time in October.

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    1. Maybe being there alone is even better because you don’t muddy the experience with words. Because it really is indescribable, which is tough for someone who fancies herself a writer. 😛
      I love that – pictures limit the beauty. So true.

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  3. I’ve been to Arizona at least four times, but never made it to the Grand Canyon. Next time, I’m going, no matter what.
    Your description of the mule trail ride made my heart stop. I’ll be hiking on my own two feet, thank you. 🙂

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    1. I hope you do get to the canyon, Carole. It’s an unforgettable moment the first time you see it.
      From someone who doesn’t ride horses very often, I can tell you that my butt hurt for days afterward! 🙂

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  4. I’ve never been there but I would love to go. I have always been fascinated by the Anasazi. I read one of Tony Hillerman’s crime novels not long ago. He captured the culture quite nicely.
    The mule ride does sound a tad scary.

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    1. In that case, you might enjoy going to the western rim of the canyon where the Hualapai Nation are settled. They also run the Skywalk which is this glass bridge that’s cantilevered dozens of feet over the rim. We didn’t get there because it was quite a drive from the south rim. I don’t know if I would have had the stomach to go out on the ledge, but it does look pretty cool.

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  5. Great post, Jacquelin and fantastic pics! I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon since I was a kid, but I have plans to take my kiddos there when they are big enough to appreciate it’s beauty and safe enough not to fall to their death.
    Have you ever been to Sedona? I was there a couple of years ago for the first time and found it to be the most magical, mystical place ever.

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    1. Thanks so much! I did get to Sedona on the same trip in fact. We went there first and I remember wondering if, after seeing the beauty of Sedona, the Grand Canyon might not seem as grand. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

      I can’t wait to read Jay, Anna and Will’s comments about the Grand Canyon someday. That will be a hoot!

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  6. Hi Jacqueline! I’ve been to the Grand Canyon three times. In 1996 my husband and I hiked through the canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim. We spent two nights in the canyon – I think the whole trip is about 22 miles. It was incredible, but pretty strenuous, and I was sore for days afterward! We got up super-early on the last day to try to make it most of the way out of the canyon before the mules started coming down. I’m jealous that you did a mule ride!

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    1. Wow! That must have been an amazing experience, Carla. Did you camp both nights or stay at Phantom Ranch?
      I don’t blame you for wanting to get out of the mules’ way. They are some celebrities in the canyon. People stopped us a few times and took photos – of the mules, not us!

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  7. Wonderful post – I took my family on a visit several years ago. I decided I wanted to go back at sunset to get some pictures from the rim and my then 12 yr old asked to go along. We left from our hotel, parked and took a bus to the area where I wanted to get pictures. Great pictures, then the sun set fully and we walked down the trail a little – I soon realized we were in the dark, no one around and that we didn’t know where the trail we were on led. Everything worked out fine, though – we managed to pop out on the other end of the trail without running into any scary nighttime wildlife and just in time to stop the last bus from leaving without us (by me wildly running and screaming and waving my arms – but I never admitted that!)

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    1. That was a close call! I can tell you that I’d rather be alone in a dark alley in NYC than lost in the Grand Canyon at night. Sooo dark. Your secret of how you caught the last bus will be safe with me. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much. I don’t doubt for a moment that once you see it with your own eyes, you’ll realize how much these photo pale in comparison. I hope you get to go someday soon.

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