When Lemon begged to go to the Grand Canyon I was apprehensive and more than a little grumpy. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s kind of the Disneyland of National Parks and I thought that the kids aren’t really a good age for hiking. Also I was terrified of Memorial day weekend. We were able to stay in Flagstaff which is 80 min away and I made everyone get up incredibly early to roll out to beat the lines. We did end up in a line but it was only 25 minutes! We decided to head straight to visitor’s center to get the Junior Ranger book. Even being pretty early in the morning, it took about 30 minutes on line to get them, so I was glad we started there. We did watch the geological movie located in the South Rim Visitor’s center which has a countdown to the next showing which you could see from the line! There is also a great mini-movie about forest management and forest fires both were definitely worth the stop and I think the forest details stuck with the kids far better than the geological insight of the full movie.
After looking at the map, we decided to do the rim walkway and then explore the larger park, on the bus tours that depart from the rim. Unfortunately as we walked to the first look out, Wild Thing fell deeply and profoundly asleep in the stroller. So we walked along the rim and took turns taking Lemon and Ranger further down while Wild Thing slept. The canyon walkway was enormously crowded and filled with tourists. It really was like a theme park with people of all kinds and all walks of life milling around taking selfies and some blasting music from ipod speakers. The kids decided to do their books while Wild Thing slept, so that we could turn them in and head out on a driving tour. One of the funny things that happened on the rim was this squirrel that kept bothering people, if you rustled some paper it would come right up and jump in your lap until it was sure there was no food. Lemon was quite enamored with him and concerned that he was starving. But we assured her any squirrel who would calmly crawl into a person’s lap wasn’t hurting for food. The book wasn’t particularly hard and the kids were able to complete it with about an hour spent on the rim. We quickly headed back inside and the kids stood in line to be sworn in, eager to see MORE PARK. But not before everyone needed a snack and we sampled bison and jackalope sausages from the food truck outside! Lemon stuck to a plain dog with ketchup and Ranger incongruously ordered a Chicago Dog.
Once we got out of the main visitors center area, things lightened up significantly. We decided to follow the road out towards the other exit and stop where ever we felt like it. We saw elk and hawks, so many amazing views and even though it was more crowded than the average park, we managed to be alone in a lot of places. This would be an ideal camping vacation when the kids are older. Even they were captivated by the terrain.
Everywhere we stopped there were just more and more beautiful views and small trails to follow. It was hard to distinguish between hiking path and well worn game trails, so we had a few false starts so we decided to stop at one of the larger ones pull offs and do a hike which takes you to the canyon’s edge. It is just such a magnificent process, erosion, inch by inch to make this immense chasm. Switchback trails winding their way through subtly colored brush, brimming with quiet life. You can see the same tree in both pictures below, we hiked a bit to it and the kids enjoyed skittering towards it even with fear of the “edge.”
Visiting the Grand Canyon really emphasizes how minuscule we are in the grand scheme of geological time and how fleeting we really are. The ruins of Paleo Indians from 10,000 years ago is a mere moment before us in the greater timeline of the Canyon. One of the last stops we made was at the Tusayan Museum and Ruins. It’s a short stop and an excellent loop that shows some of the crumbling pueblos and artifacts that have been recovered. There is a lookout where on clear days you can see the San Francisco peaks, a truly epic vista.
The thing that strikes me as I am writing this, is the story of how the Grand Canyon was preserved. This site which is so important for geology, history, art and inspiration, was saved by Presidential order under the Antiquities Act. Intended to protect small sites like Mesa Verde which was legally looted because we had no legislation to protect it, the Antiquities Act was passed giving the President the power to designate sites as essential to our culture and history and be preserved. The Grand Canyon was already falling prey to local looting, with miners and tour guides, talks of damming and blasting and lots of private development. The idea that this wonder was a resource to be consumed already had lobbyists in Washington defeating the every bill brought to make it a National Park. Arizona politicians did not support it being Nationalized, as it contained so many resources that could enrich the territory and that would help as a as they made their way towards statehood. After Teddy Roosevelt announced he would not run again, he entered his lame duck phase and on January 11, 1908 he declared 800,000 acres as a National Monument. A bold move that cut Congress out, and an over extension of Presidential power, definitely not in keeping with the spirit of the legislation. I feel this schism like a grand canyon in my soul, as we sit in our current time with our government locked and entrenched against itself. I wonder if it is possible to set aside power and wealth and to do something bold and decisive, something that serves the greater good rather than individuals or self. We watch as executive orders and demands roll out to divide us, putting the most at risk more at risk, pushing the middle towards the bottom and we watch these monuments and parks abandoned, like the American People. With certainty, we will not be saved like the canyon, in a heroic sweep of the pen with a single name for history to hang it on. In this moment, as our democracy is thinned like a stretched balloon and we wonder if this is the end; the Colorado flows, scraping away, making the Grand Canyon deeper, the depth of a single sheet of paper each year. And I hope that the ideals of “America’s Best Idea” lead us onward, and we move away from the problematic colonialism we started the parks and our country with, and that the greatest ideas aren’t a thing of the past.