Posts Tagged With: heights

Pay Attention to the Signs: or My Grand Grand Adventure

Grand doesn't begin to describe it.

Grand doesn’t begin to describe it.

It’s Gratituesday! I found out that you CAN go home again, after a fashion, and I’m thankful for that.

At thirteen years old I experienced the grandeur that is Grand Canyon. At the time I had two less siblings than I do now. So Mom and Dad only had five of us to keep track of. It’s a good thing back then that my Momfear genes hadn’t kicked in gear yet or I’d have been a total wreck.

We visited the North Rim, the less traveled and higher side. Ponderosa Pines line the roads all the way in to the edge. I love, love, loved my experiences there. Sunrise and sunset at the canyon invites heavenly choirs and every other supernal hyperbole one can imagine.

And then I never went back.

Why? Fear of heights kicked in for one thing. And living on the other side of the country presented obstacles for a while. But for the past eighteen years, living a mere three or four-hour drive away, I had no good excuse. Except I didn’t think I could survive having my children standing on a precipice with a mile drop off. Nope. I’m pretty sure I’d have died of a heart attack or anxiety attack or both.

Dad and Mom, spring chickens on an adventure.

Dad and Mom, spring chickens on an adventure.

During Dad and Mom’s visit here in November they decided they wanted to take me to the Grand Canyon. “Of course!” I said. “What am I thinking? I must be nuts!” I thought to myself. I can’t say no to my parents. (Oddly, it wasn’t a problem when I was a kid.)

I found it a bit ironic that the first time I visited the Grand Canyon and the only other time I visited a few decades later involved my parents taking me there. I am a grownup, after all.

I didn’t feel so very grownup next to the edge of that massive, gaping fissure in the earth. Even with fences and railings my legs turned to jelly and my stomach did this rollercoaster thingy. That’s a perfectly legitimate guttural response to danger.

Do you see this sign?

Important sign.

Important sign.

Here, look closer!

Important sign.

Very Important sign.

Yes. This sign. It’s in multiple languages! For good reason! This is an important sign. (Oddly it’s only about twelve inches wide and sits low to the ground. You’d think it’d be the size of a billboard with flashing lights at eye level. Government operating at it’s best there, folks.)

And yet millions of visitors go hang out on the edge every single year. Why? Because this place defies AMAZING! And logic seems to vacate brains in the face of such wonders.

White-knuckling it even with a fence and railing to keep me safe.

White-knuckling it even with a fence and railing to keep me safe.

A couple of people there had brought their dogs on a leash, and the dogs, bless their little palpitating hearts, did not want to go anywhere near the edge of the canyon. Smart animals!

One of my coping mechanisms of dealing with the terror I felt involved noticing the people around me. I can’t tell you how many different languages I heard spoken. And this wasn’t even during tourist season. We’re talking a Monday in November! And still the place teamed with humans from all over the planet. This made me feel really silly for not taking advantage of this stunning world wonder in my backyard. People fly from Tibet and Russia and Argentina and literally everywhere across the globe to my little desert state to visit this hole in the ground.

Layers and colors galore.

Layers and colors galore.

It’s a bit more than a hole. It’s epic. It’s Grand. It’s stunning.

The Grand Canyon defies description. I know people have tried. I’ve read some of the attempts. The place boggles my brain. How did something like this come to be? Was it really some gradual etching away by a tiny river? I have a hard time believing that. Seems like some massive flood of an interior sea had to have carved out such intensity. Or perhaps a cataclysmic earthquake pulling and pushing from the very center of the earth birthed such a wonder and then, rain and wind and erosion worked its slow magic on the fissure.

Crayola has nothing on the color spectrum that Grand Canyon provides. Every hue of red, orange, tan, green, gray, brown, gold, black, white and yes, even blue and purple began its life there. I could spend a week or more in that place and not get saturated with all it offers in color, sight, sound and smell.

Look close and you can see the virga.

Look close and you can see the virga.

While we were there a thin veil of clouds hovered at eye level between the south side, where we were, and the north side. The cloud released raindrops that evaporated before falling very far. Meteorologists call that virga, I call it art. An hour later the temperatures had dropped enough that the virga turned to tiny pellets of snow dusting the heads of visitors while the sun shone bright through the thin clouds. It felt like a moment of magic.

That's MSH in the bright orange sweatshirt on the edge, no railing whatsoever.

That’s MSH in the bright orange sweatshirt on the edge, no railing whatsoever.

Then, breaking the spell, MSH wandered out past the danger sign on to a ledge with a few other foolish souls. I told him I’d kill him if he fell. He had previously been saying how jealous he was of the birds who could fly out over the edge, swooping around, riding the columns of air. So I was more than your average nervous at this point. I couldn’t breathe while he stood out there, no fence to stop him or others from oopsing off the edge.

Getting me a bit sidetracked, Dad took up a conversation with a small group who spoke something Spanish sounding. Nope, he doesn’t speak Spanish, but they managed to communicate nonetheless. One of them pointed to herself and said, “Machu Pichu.” We understood that to mean she’s from Peru! Dad also overheard someone talking in a Russian dialect and yes, he does know a little Russian, so he chatted briefly with them. Boy were they surprised that an American could do that!

Finally after what felt like hours, MSH wandered back from the edge of death-by-falling-four-thousand-feet and I could start breathing again. He joked that it wasn’t the fall that kills you, but the landing that does you in. Not funny in the least.

Elk are big animals.

Elk are big animals.

We almost literally ran into a herd of elk. I, of course, jumped out of the car and ran across the road to take a closer picture. Those critters stand really, really tall, and foolish me stood only ten feet away. I’m sure they had a conversation among themselves that involved the words, stupid, human, squash and extinct. But I don’t speak Elk so I didn’t worry too much. I did get some great photos of these magnificent creatures.

In my younger years a part of me wanted to hike the canyon to give me a different perspective. I had set what seemed like a reasonable goal date, which has sadly come and gone. Part of me knew I was crazy and being unrealistic. Part of me still wants the experience. Visiting there renewed that desire.

I plan on going back again soon and staying longer, exploring more. Wouldn’t a Colorado River trip give The Canyon a whole different feel? Sounds fun to me. No potential falls involved.

Thank you Dad and Mom for helping me experience the Grand Canyon, both times. I loved sharing something so spectacular with two of my favorite people!


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“The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.” ~ John Wesley Powell



Categories: Family, Gratitude, Gratituesday, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Acrophobia Anyone?

High places terrify me. Having an overly active imagination I envisioned myself plummeting down a cliff face in an out of control car countless numbers of times. I’m not sure this is normal. Probably isn’t.

As a child we often took the mountain pass from our side of the valley over the mountains to camp, canoe, fish, ride motorbikes and go sledding. Every trip up from our side of the mountain we had to take the lane on the outside edge of the mountain.  I swear I held my breath for the entire ride up and all the way down until there were scrub oak thick enough to catch our car should it suddenly veer to the right off the side of the mountain.

The ride back home wasn’t as breathless since we were on the inside lane hugging the mountain.  It felt safer, although still plenty scary.

The other option to get to the fun side of the mountain was a narrow winding river road with both sides of the canyon closing in on top of us and cars racing toward us as if in a time trial.  After surviving that gauntlet we’d then have to drive along the tiny razor edge of the dam and the winding roads along side the reservoir.

Either road left me exhausted before we ever got to the “having fun” part of the day.


Dead Horse Point and the Colorado River – NARA – 545787 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my teenage years we went as a family to visit the Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands.  You’d think the Grand Canyon with its precipitous drop-offs would have given me palpitations.  The truth is I was so captivated with the beauty and magnificence of the place I forgot my fears, for the most part.

Fear came later. Total, paralyzing, utter terror.

We took a shortcut off one dirt road to another dirt road while towing the camping trailer in Canyonlands.

Can I just warn you now, in case you ever think you’re smarter than a map, that there is NO SUCH THING AS A SHORTCUT in Southern Utah or Northern Arizona.  What looks like a little quarter-mile jog off the side of the road is, in actuality, a cliff face, or an impassable road, or a road cut into the side of a mountain shored up by a few railroad ties.

Which is what we found ourselves on.

By time we realized there was no pass that cut through the mountain, but instead only switchbacks up the side of the cliff for an eternity, it was impossible to turn around, especially with a trailer in tow.  Our only option was forward, or rather, upward.

Each hairpin turn required a two steps forward, one step back movement, repeated endlessly. Dad would ease the truck and trailer through the hairpin as far as he could go, then back up while cranking the steering wheel, then forward a few inches, then back up a bit, then forward a few inches, until he negotiated the turn.  Fifty yards of straight dirt road or so later, he would repeat the process.

A couple of times Mom had to get out and direct Dad, letting him know how close the trailer wheels were to the edge.  Meanwhile, us kids were in the back of the pickup under a camper shell, huddled in blankets, chewing our nails, trying not to watch and praying our little hearts out.

I was sure we were all going to die out there in the middle of nowhere.  I had already replayed the scene in my mind countless times before we were even halfway up the cliff.  If and when park rangers ever found us, we’d be an unrecognizable heap of burnt metal and glass and broken bodies flung all over the red sandstone cliff.  There wouldn’t even be a funeral.

After two eternities and a stint in Hades, we reached the blessedly flat top of the cliff.  If Dad would have let me, I’d have gotten out and kissed the ground.

Our destination was Dead Horse Point, which is itself a dizzying narrow-necked mesa.  After what we’d been through to get there, it was easy to gaze out over the edge of nothing to the tiny river below.

I can look back now and say, “What an adventure!” I’m glad I lived to tell the tale. But, no thank you to any more high rise exploits in my future.

Categories: Family, Memory Lane, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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