After saying a sad goodbye to Yosemite National Park, the family truckster started rolling back East through the desert and red sandstone. For some reason, the desert southwest setting always makes me feel like I am in a very old place. I could imagine dinosaurs peeking around the corner. Perhaps it was all the ranger camp stories about the geology of the area. Most of that area was an ancient inland sea, that had later been lifted up to a relatively high altitude.
Our destination / next thing to conquer was the Grand Canyon.
We had been to the Grand canyon some years before when I was about 5 years old. Most of the family hiked down to the bottom at that time, but I was too young. I did not like being left behind. I did not like it, not one little bit. This time, I was ready and rarin’ to go!
Now you would think that doing epic treks and running into a wee bit of trouble when we did would teach us some lessons on how to do it next time. You would think. We were learning, just a little, but very slowly.
After our recent experience in Yosemite, this time we armed ourselves with expensive, high tech gear. To keep from getting sunburn on our faces, dad provided us with special sunhats. These consisted of pointy, triangle shaped contraptions that dad folded out of newspaper. He seemed proud of this skill and sold it well. He gave the impression that this was an old skill handed down from the Incas, one that contributed to their success. I didn’t ask myself where the Incas got copies of the New York Times. Our one, shared backpack was a tiny canvas thing with a Grand Canyon print on it, purchased at the gift shop. Food was a can of Campbell’s soup for each person and a can opener, no pots, no stove. We were well supplied!
Off we went in our cut off jeans and silly newspaper hats. The expedition consisted of Dad, Steve, Mark, Chris, the new wife Linda and myself. Despite the sales job of how good our hats were, I don’t remember any of them making it more than halfway through the trek.
I was having a fine adventure. I was finally putting a face on all the stories that I had heard in my childhood (of course, at 12, I was no longer in my childhood). I thought that the canyon became much more interesting and exciting after passing Indian Gardens and descending into the smaller, slot canyons.
After reaching the Colorado River, my brother Mark, having achieved his goal, turned back up to do a down and back in a single day. The rest of us crossed the long suspension bridge across the river to Phantom Ranch. We checked the place out, but did not have a place to stay there for the night. We opened our cans and ate our cold vegetable soup. Now this might sound disgusting, but that can of soup might have been the most delicious meal of my life. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until then. How do I get more?
We started back across the river in the late afternoon, looking for a place along the trail to lay down and spend the night. We found a sandbar above the Colorado River that looked comfy. While playing in the sand in the evening (we could make a game out of anything), Linda decided to bury Dad’s tobacco pipe. This did not go over very well. Dad’s pipe was a permanent appendage. A battle of wills ensued.
Finally, the sun went down and we tried to sleep, no tent, no sleeping bags, “not a single luxury”. Just laying in the sand.
Now something that many people know, but we did not, was that despite being hot during the day, the canyon can get pretty darn cold at night. I tried to snuggle with my dad the best I could to get some warmth. Not much sleep was had. Despite being somewhat miserable, I never thought for a second that I wished I had not gone. I was glad to be there. Half asleep, the moonlight on the far canyon wall painted a picture that looked just like a T Rex.
The next morning, dad jokingly complained that snuggling David for warmth was about as effective as snuggling a grasshopper.
40 years after this story, I did this trek and continued all the way up to the North rim with my soon to be wife, I could easily recognize the sandbar that we spent the night at. Not only had it not changed much, it was incredible that a bunch of brain cells growing synapses with experiences could remember the look of a location so well and accurately.
After reaching the rim, home, Mom never seemed too worried about how things went. I think that was a good thing. She seemed content.
Next stop, Arches National Park.
Arches, like the Grand Canyon, is a place that I have visited a number of times throughout my life. To this point, they have been just as wonderful the last time I went as the first.
The geology of Arches fascinates me. As I mentioned before, this area was a large inland sea 60 million years ago. The sandstone is the layers of sediment on the bottom of this sea that was washed down from areas to the North. At Arches, the red sandstone was deposited over the top of a massive salt deposit from an earlier evaporation pool that existed 300 million years ago. More recently, (let’s just say a huge assed number of years ago) the salt welled up into an uprising dome. I don’t know why salt does this. I guess it’s a salt thing. Anyway, as the salt dome pushed up, it broke the overlying sandstone into long, parallel cracks. Water and wind later eroded and widened these cracks, making long, narrow rock fins that were designed specifically for climbing by children and childlike adults.
Spending a couple of days camping in Arches is like living in a playground maze. Any time you feel like, you can just walk off from your campsite and explore. The sense of exploration is constant as you hike and crawl along the cracks between the parallel stone slabs.
On an earlier visit, when I was about 5, I remember that when I was stopped at a difficult place, each brother would hang on to the rock in a line, letting me crawl up their backs to get past.
Sometimes family members know exactly where the buttons are and how to push them. I got to witness a masterful work of art in button pushing on a later trip to Arches. While climbing up a narrow crevice with the brothers, the oldest, Steve, ran into a vertical tight spot that he could not get past. Wanting to continue on as a group, my brother Chris yelled down to him “That’s OK if you can’t make it Steve, we won’t think any less of you”. Then Chris muttered quietly to me “that aught to do it”. I have never seen somebody rally and climb so fast. It was like Popeye eating a can of spinach.