Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wide Angle

I took 45 photos in the Grand Canyon, all pretty much of the same thing. I won’t give you the traditional guess as to which one thing, because that would insult your intelligence, of course. But that’s the thing about Grand Canyon National Park…it’s essentially a one-man show.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s stunning. And as I’ve lived on this planet (in the Western U.S. no less) for 32 years and have never see this wonder of the world, I was excited to lay eyes on it. But I ask you: once you’ve viewed it, and then walked the Rim Trail to get lots of good angles of it, and then climbed an observatory tower or two to get additional shots of it, what do you do then?

If you’ve planned ahead over a year, you book a mule ride into the canyon, of course. We, however, did not. Or if you have kids who do not insist on running and leaping down narrow canyon trails that hug an endless abyss, scaring you silly, you walk a few miles of the Bright Angel Trail, then return sensibly to the rim. Or if you enter a lottery years ahead and have extensive whitewater knowledge and/or a death wish, you book a river rafting expedition down the Colorado River.

We did none of these things…which left us at a bit of a loss as to what to do with ourselves.

We’re used to visiting national parks with a whole assortment of sites vying for our attention, so we kept scouring our visitor’s guide, wondering what we were missing. We checked out the ranger station and a museum, but truly…Grand Canyon Village is like a mini Disneyland. People everywhere, trams everywhere, gift shops, ice cream stands, hotels…everywhere. It felt more like a tourist attraction than a natural resource. I didn’t like it much, I have to say, amazing geological wonder notwithstanding. Even the beautiful El Tovar hotel was crowded by a sea of lesser accommodations.

We had a cabin just a quarter mile from the South Rim at the Maswik Lodge (which I’ll be reviewing at Pitstops for Kids), so we settled in there after gawking at the canyon for an appropriate amount of time, then walked the Rim Trail about a mile in each direction. Before we left, my grandmother had warned us of the danger of the rim, worried that Toby would just run right off. “Pffft, Grandma,” I'd dismissed. “They have railings you know.”

Guess what? Not so much. I mean, sometimes they do. Like here (you can see I'm trying to look casual as I lean against it):

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Or here (that's Nate, Cal, and my dad waaaaaaay off on the point):

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But then sometimes they don’t. And you can never safely predict when the railing will be suddenly absent. More than once, we’d find ourselves happily walking along with a solid rock wall between the dancing, leaping children and the dizzying drop-off inches away just to find it abruptly gone, usually just as someone spotted a squirrel they wanted to chase due south.

Another time, Toby decided to stomp off in a fit of righteous indignation over some slight just as the trail detoured due to erosion. No railing here…just several feet of crumbling rock and one sulking four-year-old at, quite literally, the end of the road. I had to stop trying to reason with him and just grab him already. We could chat later. It was unnerving, to say the least.

But the canyon is amazing, and you’ve got to see it at least once in a lifetime, don’t you?

And then you’ve got to force your kids to pose in front of it 45 times. (Here's one of my favorites):

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