An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

Several weeks ago I began sharing with you the adventures that my son and I have taken together over the years. We started our travel adventures when he was in the first grade by going to St. Louis, then later that same year we went to Mammoth Cave and Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site. Two weeks ago I continued with one of our bigger trips, all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Today’s blog recounts our first full day at the Canyon.

We woke up early that morning so we could get to the Grand Canyon’s supply store as soon as it opened so my father and his buddies could get the supplies they couldn’t keep in their luggage.  They wanted to get as early of a start as possible for their rim to rim to rim hike (south rim, down into and across the canyon, up the north rim, and then the return trip). We then took the group to the trail head and snapped a few pictures before they set off on their adventure.

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My dad with his gear

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The Crew

After wishing them luck, Gabriel, my mom, and I went off to the ranger station to get Gabriel’s workbook so that he could get his Junior Ranger badge and add it to his growing collection. Once we had the workbook, we were off to the rim to discover what the Grand Canyon was all about.

Several things … nearly everything, in fact… surprised me while we were at the Canyon. For one, I was not anticipating it to be so cold at the Grand Canyon. My midwestern mind knew we were in Arizona and Arizona is hot, right? I’d been to Phoenix several years before and it had gotten up to 124 degrees Fahrenheit one day. But at the rim of the Canyon (a much higher elevation than Phoenix) it was actually quite chilly, hovering closer to 30-40 degrees in the morning.

Another thing that surprised me is how much my fear of heights (acrophobia) would bother me while we were there. Now, I’m no dumby, I knew the Canyon was big and deep, I’d just assumed it would be more of a gentle sloping kind of height, or that there would be a guardrail at the least. Nope!

My fear kicked in pretty quickly as I tried to keep my fearless child from plummeting to his death every ten minutes! Of course I am exaggerating, but I had been completely clueless at how open the Grand Canyon would be for the more adventurous of humans (not me). And Gabriel was loving the views and was even transfixed with bugs (that we also have in Indiana), and keeping up with him and making sure he was in no way close to the edge was a full time job, it seemed.

I’d made a little formula for how close I could get to the edge and still feel safe (yes, that’s how crazy I can be when it comes to heights). I decided that I needed to be my height (a bit over 5 feet) and a few feet extra in order to be safe (just in case I rolled while I fell face first?). 

That didn’t last long with Gabriel, but luckily for me, we were also with my mom who seemed slightly more rational than I was about the proximity to the edge of the canyon. She would brave closer with Gabriel, while I turned away… because somehow that kept them safe (I don’t know, but it made sense in my mind).

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Mr. Adventure Man – always climbing on something. 

 

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One of our first views of the Grand Canyon

The other thing that surprised me about the Grand Canyon was the massiveness of it. Of course I knew the Grand Canyon was… well, grand! I just didn’t have any frame of reference for what that meant. I was continually frustrated that my camera could not capture how massive it was. Every picture I took was amazing, but the pictures are NOTHING in comparison to the reality of the Canyon. It was beyond anything I’d ever known before.

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In the pictures the colors are not nearly vivid enough, the scope not nearly broad enough. But I tried to capture what I could in my mind as we went around to some of the places we needed to see for Gabriel to be able to get his Junior Ranger badge work completed.

We learned many fascinating things about the Canyon, the habitats, and the wildlife surrounding it. One of the interesting facts that I still remember is that the only place that you can see the Grand Canyon all at once is from outer space! Even in an airplane, you can’t take the entire Canyon in at once… it’s too big! You have to be out of Earth’s atmosphere to see all of it at the same time. DUDE.

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Always ready for a picture

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Canyon selfie (at a safe distance from the edge)

Once we’d filled out the workbook for the Junior Ranger badge and completed the necessary tasks (like picking up trash that others rudely left behind), we went to a ranger station so that Gabriel could get sworn in. The Canyon (unlike the other parks we’d been to) swears in several kids all at once just due to the volume of kids getting the badges, but it was still a very cool experience, and again, one that Gabriel almost felt he wasn’t “good enough” for.

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Gabriel feeling very intimidated by the “old” kids.

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Signing his name to his certificate

The Grand Canyon has several restaurants in the park ranging from relatively cheap cafeteria style to very fancy sit-down places that have incredibly expensive food. Since the Canyon isn’t near any large cities, the park has everything you could need for an extended stay. There’s even a Catholic church in case you need a little Jesus with your nature.

Our lodge was outside of the main village (with several hotels, stores, and restaurants), but was just a quick walk away from the rim and a few convenience-type stores. In the evening we went and got some coffee (not Gabriel) and watched the sun set over the Canyon. There were tons of places to sit around outside and Gabriel especially liked the carvings in the stones of several different local birds.

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Showing off his own wingspan 

Our Grand Canyon adventure will last a few more weeks. Next week, join us as we drive around the park and see a few very cool places on the south rim!

The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

As I take these adventures down memory lane of the travels I’ve made with my son over the years, I can’t help but have some of the fondest memories of our time in the Grand Canyon. For one, this was never a trip that I thought I would be able to go on with my son. For one, just getting there was something I didn’t think I would be able to afford.

In Europe, I’ve found travel to be amazingly cheap. A girl that I met in the Dublin hostel  I stayed in in 2016 flew from Milan to Dublin for €30 (approx. $35). That’s almost 900 miles. But for me to fly to Chicago (less than 200 miles by air) is $150 (approx. €135). Travel within the US is for some reason MUCH more expensive. In fact, I went to Dublin in 2016 because it was less than half as expensive as it would have been to go to Key West, which had been my original plan.

So, understandably I didn’t think it would be possible for me as a single mother to fly my son and I to Arizona, rent a car, get a hotel, and feed ourselves for the multiple days it would take to do the Canyon justice. I estimated it would likely cost us well over $2000… which, as an educator, would take a long time to save.

In stepped my parents. From my childhood, my parents understood the importance of traveling. We went on several trips as I was growing up: England, Florida, New England, and several states out west, as well as multiple trips to the Smokey Mountains and Chicago. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that my parents would suggest that instead of the traditional Christmas presents, they would like to take Gabriel and I on trips instead.

One thing that I feel I truly understand about parenting is this:

Experiences last much longer in the memory and create more true joy than any gift.

My father is an avid hiker – he has summited Mt. Rainer and Kilimanjaro, and in 2013 he wanted to do the Rim to Rim to Rim hike (starting at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, hiking to the northern rim, and then back again). And my mom thought it would be fun while he was off hiking, if we (she, Gabriel, and I) could explore the Grand Canyon and a few other national parks near(ish) there.

So, off we went in March of 2013!

It was much less expensive to fly to Las Vegas rather than Pheonix, so we did that. It is a much longer drive, but it seemed worth the money that would be saved. So we got our gear together and headed off to Vegas!

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Gabriel and my dad at the Indianapolis International Airport – two buddies!

The only real issue that we had at the airport is that the ticket counter workers wouldn’t let my dad’s friend bring the MREs they had packed for the hiking trip (I think) because of the heat tabs inside that they use for cooking. And that was their plan for food the entire hike. That was a big problem for them. We were going to arrive at the Canyon in the middle of the night and they were going to start their hike at first light (before stores would open).

But, there wasn’t anything that could be done. If I remember correctly, they kept the food and just relinquished the heat tabs. The plan was to stop at a camping supply store somewhere between Vegas and the Canyon and get what they needed.

The flight there was Gabriel’s first time in an airplane (he was 8 years old), and he didn’t seem to mind it. I think he was a little unnerved by the ear popping, but I armed him with chewing gum and showed him the joys of excessive yawning.

Walking off the plane in Vegas was hilarious for me. Literally– immediately after we got out of the passage from the plane to the airport we were greeted by this:

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slot machines at the airport????

I had never seen slot machines in real life before – just the movies – and it was fascinating! The music, the flashing lights… all very intriguing. I have nothing against gambling other than it seems like a big time and money suck, but I did find it a little disheartening to see so many people make a bee line for the slot machines straight out of the gate.  I can’t stop putting a puzzle together once I’ve started, so I figured that gambling would probably be a bad idea for me, so we kept on going to pick-up our luggage.

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Outside at the airport

 

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Lake Mead as we were leaving Las Vegas

Once we got our rental van, all six of us (my parents, my dad’s two friends, and Gabriel and I) packed in and headed toward the Grand Canyon. Since we were going to the south rim of the Canyon, that was a five-hour drive. That is until you figure in stopping at every. single. store. in between the two locations that might have camping gear. And that is exactly what we had to do. Apparently there had been a run on camping gear or something, because EVERY place we stopped was out.

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Gabriel keeping himself occupied during the drive

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The only stops we made were in towns, but I tried as best as I could to capture some of the rugged beauty of Arizona as we drove.

When we finally made it to the lodge where we were staying near the rim of the Canyon, it was late. Late, late. Like way past the middle of the night late, and our bodies (especially that of an eight-year-old) were still on Eastern Time. But we made it!

And as frustrating and long as the trip was, when we stepped out of the van, the night sky made me gasp. Out in the deserts of Arizona, there isn’t much light pollution at all– for HUNDREDS of miles. I’d been camping before out in the “wilds” of Indiana and Illinois and seen the “unpolluted skies” before… or so I’d thought.

Looking up from the parking lot, I saw more stars than sky! It was absolutely unreal, and I wish that my camera had done it justice so that I could share it with you. Alas, you will just have to find a way to experience it for yourself.

Every night for the entire trip I would go outside after dark and marvel at the sky.

The world has so many wonders for us. And just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful thing that I could ever see, the world surprises me and gives me something new. And the beauty is so diverse! The desert is a completely different beauty from the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, which is a totally different from the beauty of the rugged cliffs of Meteora, Greece, which is completely different from the magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome… and I could go on and on.

I honestly can’t pick which is the “most” beautiful… because each of their beauty is incomparable!

And that night, the sky above the lodge in the Grand Canyon expressed perfectly that phenomenal beauty that the world can give us.

Next week I’ll talk about our first day at the Canyon and the wonderful sights we saw!


If you are new to the blog – start here, at the beginning of the blog series about my travels with my son:

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?