There are two paths to take down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The first is the shorter and steeper South Trail. The second time I hiked the Canyon this is the path we took down and then back up her weather-carved walls.
But that first time, my Dad, sister, Uncle, and cousins took a different path of descent. The Old North Trail winds over fourteen miles downward, encompassing a hike that started at the top in freezing thirty degree weather and ended hours later in another world of blazing heat and life-altering lessons.
I was eighteen when we took this first adventure, and the lessons began before I’d even caught sight of her burnt earthen colors that seemed to change with each minute that the earth’s rotation shifted the sun in the Southwestern sky.
We flew into Vegas and rented a camper, encountering our first slot machine in the airport hallways. That day was spent exploring sin city’s neon lighted palaces – gambling halls with a strict twenty one and over floor policy.
This policy didn’t deter my Dad from dragging my underage behind from slot machine to craps table to blackjack dealer on a tour to show me what the place was all about. I didn’t gamble, but simply listened to him ramble on about all the different entertainment options. Just when we were winding down our forbidden jaunt through one of the city’s finest establishments, security caught up with us.
The big buff and tough casino cop wasn’t buying my Dad’s laughing pleas to let us finish checking the place out. He chased us out into the lobby and told us in no uncertain terms to get lost. As my Dad continued to try to convince him, we laughed our way back out onto the street and continued on with the day’s adventures.
Day one of the hike, and we’d bundled in layers per the advice of the rangers at the top. Our backpacks were full of trail mix, our canteens filled with cold water, and our hiking boots laced up snug.
We began the slow and steady trek with warnings ringing in our ears to pace ourselves. As we descended, we saw a lone and humble white house on a brown-earthen plateau far below. We remembered the story told while exploring the North Canyon Rim the previous day:
Native Americans once roamed freely throughout this geographic wonder, but now just one family remained on private land that they had fought to keep. We were to respect their privacy.
In the moment that the single house came into view, a profound understanding took hold that bridged the gap between tourist story and stark reality.
As a somber and reflective mood overtook me, the ancient history that I was walking through began to seep into my bones. We walked on in silence for a little while, making sure to take sips from our canteens to stay hydrated. Soon we began to encounter parties of people making their way up on donkeys. On the canyon highways, these animals have the right of way, and we pressed ourselves against the cool rocks to allow them to pass.
When lunchtime came, we happily made our way into a picnic area setup by park officials and began unpacking our vittles. As most of my family went to heed the call of mother nature, I sat eating and enjoying the rest after hours of hiking. The other hikers were pleasantly talking, munching, and curiously eyeballing a couple of wild turkeys that were hanging out on the perimeter.
The peace was soon broken when one of the turkeys suddenly charged a man who was downing the last bites of his sandwich. The turkey’s friend took up the chase as well, and primal moans of sheer terror began rising up from the two grown men who were the turkeys’ main targets. They forgot the ranger’s strict warnings not to feed the wild animals. Survival instinct kicked in: trail mix, bread crusts, and even whole oranges were chucked into the common area to try to appease the angry birds.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The turkeys began strutting away. As things calmed down, there was nervous laughter and a few beak-induced welts, but other than that everyone was fine. Still, we all decided it was best to finish our meals sooner rather than later, and get back onto the path that we had all come here to walk.
To be continued….
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Featured Image Courtesy of Derrick Palecek at FreeImages.com.