Comprising one-seventh of the world’s greatest wonders, the Grand Canyon offers tourists grandiose views, blistering temperatures, and precipitous drops. For years, my mother’s desire was to visit this humongous hole, and the summer of 2006 summoned. Obsessively, my mother forced us, the non Grand Canyon enthusiasts, to read guidebooks and train with book bags laden with weights.
While our preparations appeared (mostly) normal, this situation was abnormal. For the first time in years, we would embark on a ‘family vacation,’ something that had ceased to exist for us. Usually, my parents would lovingly dispatch my sister and me to trot the globe — “Australia, Spain, Poland, and France — “while they slaved away at work.
This time, we traveled together. At 4:30 A.M. on June 25th, the four of us stood dauntlessly at the mouth of South Kaibab, a narrow 5.5 mile dirt path that sharply submerged into the depths of the canyon.
For the next five hours, we trekked into the earth’s bowels, willingly exposing ourselves to the possibility of dehydration, exhaustion, death, or any combination thereof. Our pace, while faster than the mules, slowed as the scorching sun rose higher. Sinking deeper, we only had our strength, determination, and recommended five liters of water.
Why were we willing to endure Mother Nature’s wrath? While other families delicately peered over the railing before heading back to their air-conditioned hotels, my crazy family baked and accumulated lactic acid. Fifteen miles of unforgiving terrain, an impossibility for some, was an average workout for us. And we chose to capture this outdoor adventure on film.
The pictures we took of the Grand Canyon are stunning, but they also reveal something more important than the natural wonder: us, as a family. My mom snapped embarrassing pictures of my sister and me sleeping in the car, leaning back, mouths open, drool dribbling down our chins. Until last year (her last in high school), she and I were constant outdoor companions.
This year she will leave for college. Although this will alter our relationship, the power of the canyon made us realize the power of our own relationship: love. Of course we fought in the car, but the open trail reminded us of our back yard.
The stakes were much higher here. The solitariness of the wilderness distressed me. Never had I been so afraid of dying: the granite walls caved inward, the Colorado River invited drowning, and the heat pounded mercilessly.
But I was not alone. The responsibility that had characterized our past relationship reclaimed itself. The most poignant photograph is of my parents, relaxed after the strenuous descent. They are in Bright Angel Creek, reclining on rocks as the cool water rushes past. Working twelve hour days and sleeping five hour nights, my parents rarely have the opportunity, much less the strength, to sink onto our leather couch at home. They would never, but here they did. Despite the monotony of sun-baked rocks and sand, the Grand Canyon inspires. Reluctant visitors, such as myself, discover the enchantment of the old hole in the ground. This ancient depression has magical potential: a family reunited, parents rejuvenated, and siblings reconnected. My mother already yearns to return to the Grand Canyon, a distinct possibility. The only difference is that this time the entire family will be excited.
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