Sunday, May 14, 2017

Grand Canyon National Park

     Seeing the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for a very long time, since I was a teenager.  I had figured I'd likely see it during a raft trip, and that it was going to be preserved and around for a long time, so no rush.....not like the endangered species I am always trying to see before they are gone.  It's also one of the places I could see when I am older, no longer able to take more difficult trips, so it was pretty far down my priority list.
     However, I wanted to do something special for the 20th anniversary of losing my dad this March.  At his request, there was no funeral or memorial service, and I had been very consumed with practical things after his death.  He died in my house, in hospice, and it was both my first experience with the death of someone close to me, and the loss of the most important person in my life.  In caring for him at the end of his life, which was still the beginning of my adult life, he talked a lot about all the things he hadn't done.  I did not want to reach the end of my life and be in the same position, which is part of why I began to push myself to travel.  It took me four years after his death to take my first international trip, to Europe, but I did begin to travel and to see the things I wanted to see, despite all the obstacles to doing so.
     The 20th anniversary of losing him was in March, which is a tough month to find something amazing to do, especially with the factors I wanted to consider.  Ideally I wanted to be with at least my dogs - the only species I can easily travel with.  It was luck that it fell over Spring Break, which meant that my husband could also join me.  However, a road trip in March is somewhat limiting due to weather.  A week is also a small period of time.  I considered international destinations, which would eliminate travel with the dogs, but if there was a special migration or other wildlife event in that part of March, it might be worth doing despite the time constraints.  After looking for options, trying to find something special to do, ultimately I settled on a trip to the Grand Canyon.
     There are several nearby national parks, and it would also be possible to work in a visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which was another thing I had been meaning to do for years.  All in all, it would be possible in the span of less than a week to visit a number of interesting places, with the dogs in tow.  It turned out to be a great trip, despite the fact I found out I had a broken foot the week before we left.  (I didn't let it get in the way).
     As the North Rim is closed in March, we had to make the long trek to the South Rim.  As landscapes always are, it is far more impressive in person than I can capture in photos. Both Maisey and Dylan were happy to pose for photos at various stops, which was fun.
      For the most part, the weather was perfect.  Some sun, some breeze, but not too hot or too cold.  Although there were plenty of people, for the most part we avoided crowds.  It was possible to find dog-friendly accommodations, and dogs are allowed on leash at the lookouts.  (Dylan was a huge hit - several tourists asked if they could have their photo taken with him.  Maisey, far more shy, had a few admirers but was happy to let Dylan have the majority of the attention).
      If you look at this photo in full frame, you can see there is a bird sailing in the Canyon.  It is not a California Condor, much as I would have liked to see one there.  It's a raven. 
      I wanted to do something on the actual day (anniversary) of his death and so I planned a hike to Shoshone Point.  Supposedly the view was awesome and the trail not commonly used (and not marked - no signage in the park).  It was a two mile hike on flat terrain, and not recommended with the broken foot...but I wore a CAM boot and decided to do it anyway.  I had a vision in my mind of a picnic on the edge of the Canyon, and I was not at all disappointed.  Above is the edge of our picnic table, with a raven sitting nearby, clearly familiar with the remnants of human picnics.  The hike was not at all difficult (the boot wasn't comfortable though).  Our timing was good; despite a number of cars at the trailhead we basically had the point to ourselves.
The dogs posing at our picnic overlook
      Since we didn't do any serious hiking, and part of the park is available only by shuttle (not possible with dogs), two days was adequate time to see all the overlooks.  The clouds and changing weather made each stop a little different.  Overall, it was gorgeous, and although there are a lot of places that were higher on my list, I am glad I had a chance to see it when I did - the seasonal timing worked out well.

  There are some stunning photos and films about the Grand Canyon, no question. Certainly it has been better captured than I.  In "Kaibab Elegy," filmmakers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinović visit Grand Canyon National Park and capture a rare weather event in which clouds form an inversion in the Canyon.  The video is pretty stunning:

     I don't know if my dad ever made it to the Grand Canyon or not.  I thought the best way to honor his memory was to be out, doing things I wanted to do, with my loved ones.  I am sure he would have been glad that I made it to the twenty year point - for awhile after his death I had no idea how I would make it to 20 hours, or 20 days, or 20 months.  I have a very different perspective on the world at 46 than I did at 26.   Much of that is due to travel, and probably, I could not have traveled (or would not have) if he had lived longer.  He would never, ever have wanted me to go off to Africa by myself, or India, or basically any of the places I have visited alone...not even anyplace in Europe.  He would have worried too much, and no doubt asked me not to go.  I would have worried about him, and likely, I would have postponed travel.  I never would have considered a Christmas in the South Pacific if he was still alive - I would have made sure to be with him on the holidays that were important to him.
     Certainly, given a choice, I would have had much longer with my dad than I did.  We did not have that option.  He had a goal to live long enough to see me graduate and start my adult life, and he lasted just a few months longer than that.  He did the best he could as a father, and although he wasn't perfect, he was vastly better than most fathers I have come across.  I am sure I would not be the person I am without his influence, even though the person I am has evolved a lot from the person he knew me as, decades ago.  Although I wish we could have had more time together, I am glad I have pursued the things I really want to do, and that I have not had to distress him in the process.
     At the Grand Canyon, I knew what he would say. "Be careful!  Don't stand so close to the edge!"  He only had 26 years to do it, but he managed to hard-wire in all his protectiveness, so I can still feel it.  It doesn't hold me back from doing what I want to do, but it reminds me that I was lucky to have someone who cared so much about me...even if I didn't have him as long as I would have liked.

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