Welcome to Day # 227 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.
Good thing we've been touring the parks virtually, since we cannot physically visit them now because of the federal government shutdown. Through some act of divine providence, Carolyn Hartfield, one of my best friends, completed a long-planned tour of the Grand Canyon National Park just last week with 14 of her closest friends to celebrate her 65th birthday, The founder of Hartfields Hikers, Carolyn's travel group, "Older People with Active Lifestyles" (OPALS) includes many people in their 60s and a 75-year-old.
Carolyn (in tree) said the trip was "Indescribably awesome. . . ,this was the best trip I ever took. . .Everyone had the time of their life. . . Ahough I've been hiking Georgia's state parks for many years, I never would have thought of going to the Grand Canyon if you hadn't encouraged me." Ian Welch Photo, www.IanWelchPhotography.com.
Carolyn hired a guide from the Grand Canyon Field Institute who turned out to be a 65-year old woman who has hiked more than 40 times to the bottom of the canyon. She led them to multiple different areas of the canyon and gave them a full appreciation of the history of the canyon. She also led their bike tour of the canyon and the group rode over to the Hualapai Sky Walk and toured a Hualapai Village. Wow!
Her group includes a professional photographer who documented the trip, and one of the photographs Carolyn sent me of the group on their bikes near the rim of Grand Canyon is so achingly beautiful and poignant that I expect it to be sought after by every outdoors outfit in the country. Shrewdly, the photographer is offering it at a price and I was unable to negotiate for it in time for today's tour.
Imagine this...a natural wonder of the world, the Grand Canyon is in driving distance from our backyards. QTLuong Photo, www.terragalleria.com
But the "bonus" from this trip as Carolyn describes it, was completely serendipitous and its potential effects blow my mind. Here's what happened:
Just before Carolyn and her group left for Grand Canyon, I got a response about our tour on Day #194, Capitol Reef, from Victoria in the Grand Canyon.
"I love Capitol Reef! It is a true gem. Be sure to visit during fruit-season. Spend a night in Escalante, Boulder, Torrey, or under the stars. Also, a long-time Grand Canyon volunteer front desk and photographer friend of mine will be volunteering at Capitol Reef next year! Please tell Gary Burnett that Victoria . . .says hi!"
I wrote back promptly and told her Carolyn was coming to visit soon, and she sad she wouldn't be in the park that week, and gave her colleague Deidra as Carolyn's contact. It turns out that Deidra who is also African American, is working with TV host Steve Harvey and former New England Patriot Darryl Haley to promote the national parks to communities of color.
Our friend Emily Spears was speechless at the Grand Canyon on her visit last summer. Emily is the mother of our beloved 'son' Alan Spears, a specialist in Government Affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association.
"She was as impressed with us as we were with her," Carolyn laughs "She interviewed us, took photos and video, so we're going to be included in that national promotion showing people of color in the national park s and encouraging others to come This was the best birthday celebration of my entire life!"
And just like that, the message we've been trying to disseminate for 18 years was perfectly validated: Let the American people know about the parks, invite them to visit, and when they visit, there should be people who look like them among the workforce.
Thank you Carolyn! Thank you, Victoria! Thank you, Deidra! Your interactions PERFECTLY demonstrate the caliber of our federal and Park Service employees who are currently out of work due to the shutdown, and the soul of the public that's eager to connect with our public lands.
"I was in Las Vegas for training and thought, 'Audrey would never forgive me for being so close to Grand Canyon and not visiting," wrote my friend Mary when she sent this photo taken at the canyon with her colleagues a few years ago.
The shutdown has focused media attention on the national parks in a way I haven't seen since the1995-96 shutdown orchestrated by Newt Gingrich's "Contract On America" (OK, it was officially Contract With America but it felt like the other) which closed the parks just as Frank and I were coming back from our round-the -country trip with stars in our eyes. Besides the incredible disappointment for tourists whose plans for visiting the parks included seminal events such as a wedding (one couple planned to wed at the Grand Canyon only to find that the park was closed) the media ocus is on the huge amounts of revenue being lost by people in gateway communities around the parks in tourism related jobs.
So though we can't visit the Grand Canyon physically today. on Day #207, treat yourself to Carolyn's description of her tour here. You will love it. Please forgive me that I couldn't stop laughing while she spoke. There are several seconds of disturbance on the connection but they soon fade away.
Everyone has a view all to themself...our friend James Mills, founder of the Joy Trip Project sent me this photo pf himself in the Grand Canyon to include in Our True Nature.
Here's how I described our first sight of Grand Canyon in the third issue of our newsletter, Pickup & GO! early in 1996:
"Grand Canyon - feast for the soul
"Do nothing to mar its grandeur. . .Keep it for your children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see. . ." President Theodore Roosevelt, after seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time in 1903.
"No matter how much you've heard about the Grand Canyon, no matter how impressed you may be with what you've read, only when you see it for yourself can you truly appreciate the impact. What the canyon does for human beings is impossible o capture with words, as the reverence and awe mainline directly to our souls.
"We reached the North Rim after six weeks on our trip around the country. By then we had become a little blasť, the edge of anticipation dulled by the sheer number of astonishingly beautiful places we had seen.
"Approaching from the Utah border, we left concrete madness far behind and drove through miles of lush forest along State Road 67. To our delight, we came upon families of mule deer browsing alongside the road, flocks of wild turkey, hawks and even a lone coyote foraging for dinner. The road ends at the canyon rim, and with it ends any remaining arrogance that as human beings, we have developed "control" over nature. Our first sight of the canyon at Bright Angel Point, around sunset, overwhelmed our senses and rendered us speechless. The impact is both visual and visceral.
What a great spot to hang out and contemplate how miniscule we are in comparison to the greatness all around us, and yet what an essential part we are of the whole. NPS Photo.
"First off, it's a mile straight down, except that there is no ;straight.' A jagged vista of glowing rock towers and valleys a vast panorama of rainbow colors, from the most vivid to the most muted, extend 227 miles and as much as 18 miles across in some places, a perpetually changing canvas of light and shadow. The canyon is a gigantic physical marvel that remains a mystery to man despite our most lofty efforts to describe it and our best scientific tools to analyze it..."
Frank wrote: "Of all the natural wonders in America, if you can visit just one, you owe it to yourself to visit the Grand Canyon. At 1,208,375 acres, the national park is bigger than you can even conceive. The two central visitor areas are the North and South Rim and although they're only 10 miles apart as the crow flies, it's a 200-mile trip by car from one rim to the other.
"The canyon and the park are endlessly fascinating. Standing atop the lookout jutting out over the abyss, I met a woman who told me she had been visiting every year for 25 years.
"At the North Rim, we opted to stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge. At $50 per night, it was a lot more than we would have spent at the nearby campground, but it was worth it. Having dinner that night in the historic Grand Dining Room, we felt as if we were perched on the edge of the world. Beyond the dining room, there's nowhere to go but down.
"Whatever else you do, don't cheat yourself and your family of the priceless opportunity to experience this unique place in all the world.. . ."
So that's the kind of experience that 310 million Americans and countless foreign visitors are unable to have today, multiplied by 401 units of the National Park System, hundreds of forests and hundreds of wildlife preserves. All because of the folly of a few. What are you going to do about it? Click NPCA.org to send a message to Congress.