The Grand Canyon is a huge attraction. Literally and - of course - figuratively. It makes various lists of seven wonders of the world. No wonder almost 5 million people a year fulfill a desire to visit.
We were in the area and could not resist its pull. The only question was what’s the best way to experience it. The scale is overwhelming, playing tricks with one’s depth perception. Maybe we should fly over in a helicopter? Catch a glimpse from a commercial jet? From space? Alas, tourists are not allowed on space shuttle and won’t be as American space program is drawing to an end. Plus you really need to work on the approach angle to truly appreciate its depth.
Maybe up close and personal is the way to go? The idea of hiking down the canyon and back up the opposite side is alluring. If only our truck could magically cover 220 miles trek between the rims. Sadly Google’s self-driving car project is still in its infancy.
Rafting is another option but, if attempted without a guide, it requires luck. Not just to brave the elements, but mostly to win a lottery. Only 503 permits are awarded a year for non-commercial trips. The lottery was instituted after National Park Service realized that waiting list extends for well over 15 years. There are also commercial trips as long as I’m cool with sharing it with 30 other people.
As this was my second trip to the Grand Canyon I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. Last time we went to the North Rim, which does not open until mid-May. This time of year our only option was the South Rim. Unfortunately 10 times more people go south than north. If April truly is the low season, then my imagination fails utterly at the prospect of bedlam during summer.
In the end we did what most visitors do: checked out recommended viewpoints, gazed down from the rim and got a taste of the real thing on a short hike down to the nearest overlook. Fresh spring air made it quite enjoyable, despite scores of people shod in sneakers and sandals huffing, puffing and cursing on their way back up. Canyons are devious this way: easy to underestimate when you start from the rim, exacting merciless revenge during ascent.
According to NPS 250 people a year are rescued in Grand Canyon. About 12 people a year die here: car accidents, suicides, incidental falls and heat exhaustion are to blame. Given the number of that’s not many.
Nonetheless the park management attempts to dissuade the would-be victims. Trailheads are plastered with warnings about dangers of hiking in desert environment. Most places prominently feature a story of one Margaret Bradley, who ran Boston marathon only to perish of heat and dehydration on an ill conceived day hike. Too bad that, in their zeal to remake the tragedy into a cautionary tale, NPS omits and distorts facts: the most important being that Margaret’s death was as much the result of her lack of sufficient planning as the neglect of others who didn’t start the search for her until 2 days after she disappeared. So the moral of the story is plan ahead, carry plenty of water and don’t rely on others. I am not surprised NPS is not eager to emphasize the last part.