Do it now

20 07 2010

Grand Canyon National Park. It’s been there since time memorial, but chances to visit the Park don’t always come easy. I look around at many of my friends and realize how lucky I am to still have a living parent; a healthy, active, unconstrained parent. Early in the visit, she mentioned a desire to come for a longer stay next time in order to see the Grand Canyon. “I’ve always wanted to see it.”

A couple of days later, we were driving to Tucson to see a former neighbor from back in Park Forest, Illinois, where I grew up. During the two hour drive, we were talking about others from the neighborhood. There was Mildred, who has serious hearing and memory challenges and is rehabbing from a broken femur. She may never live independently again, and she is younger than my mom. There’s Nan, who seems to be in early stages of Alzheimer. Another friend has a debilitating illness, a second is in early stages of dementia. My aunt is bedridden and may never be able to get out of bed again. Even our former neighbor has her issues. All of these women are anywhere from a couple of years to more than ten years younger than my mom. This doesn’t count the deaths among my mother’s friends.

After listening to this litany, I looked at my mom and said, “Can you handle a long day in the car?”

“Sure. Why?”

“Want to go see the Grand Canyon tomorrow?”

“Isn’t that a long day driving for you?”

“I can manage.”

And so, Friday morning we set off early towards the Grand Canyon (and a 25-degree drop in temperature from Scottsdale). I took her in through the east entrance, Desert View, and working our way towards Grand Canyon Village, we stopped at every other overlook. My mom was just thrilled with the views. Nature cooperated and gave us a couple of thunderstorms on the North Rim and a downpour while we were ensconced in a restaurant for lunch. The monsoon ended just as we finished lunch, and we drove back to the Valley of the Sun.

My mom got to see the Canyon, and I will never have the regret that “I wish I had taken mom to the Canyon when it was possible.”

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The North Rim: Less visited, more heartfelt

5 10 2009
The setting sun paints the north rim of the Grand Canyon at Crazy Jug Point

The setting sun paints the north rim of the Grand Canyon at Crazy Jug Point

Gazing from the camping chair in the shade of a scrappy pine tree at the scene before us, it was agreed upon that this was the finest campsite view any of us had ever seen in our lives—and that coverered more than 30 years each camping all over this place we call “America.” Skeptics say that the Grand Canyon is a “tourist trap,” “too crowded,” or muse that it’s best seen in pictures. How wrong. How sad.

For many years, I felt the same way—if everyone went there, it was a good place to avoid. After years of trapsing on and around the Colorado Plateau, I made a visit to the Canyon and was transformed.

A newspaper, cup of coffee, and a viewIt was August 2001, and we were returning from a pilgrimage to Chaco Culture National Park. There was no hurry to return to California, and at the last minute, a decision was made to go to the Grand Canyon as Flagstaff was approaching on I-40. From the moment of arrival, it was a transformative moment. Have you ever seen something so amazing that there are no words, so large it cannot be seen with one glance. Welcome to the Grand Canyon.

Without a doubt, the South Rim is crowded in the summer with hundreds of thousands of visitors tromping the scenic overlooks. Thousands working their way down the main trails crowd the south at Grand Canyon Village. Few take the hours necessary to go to the North Rim, more than 200 miles away. Although the Canyon is only about 18 miles wide, to get to the North Rim requires driving east to pick up US 89, then shifting to US 89A before Page. At Jacobs Lake, Arizona 67 is the Grand Canyon Highway. It’s a good two hour drive; more if you sightsee.
Sunset, Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunset, Friday, September 25, 2009

Fewer than 25% of the Canyon’s visitors go to the North Rim. However, for campers, there is something that is a greater draw. Around Crazy Jug and Monument Points, the National Park boundaries only come to the edge of the rim. The Kaibab National Forest manages the land on the plateaus. This means that unemcumbered dispersed camping is permitted. Dispersed means to bring in everything you need—and pack it out. Some waste, however, is buried.

Dispersed camping is not for everyone, but on the North Rim, those who love camping need to suck it up at least once to camp at one of these locales. The sunset alone is worth any inconvenience.