In the summer of 1992, a family trip took my aunt, uncle, two cousins and me to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stayed in a canyon-view room in Thunderbird Lodge. Fanny packs strapped securely around our waists, we strolled the rim looking at the vistas. Drama was provided by an escaped convict who fled into the park causing the closure of a large section of the eastern part of the South Rim, as well as road blocks on the highways in and out of the park.
Thirteen years old, about to start high school in September, I was enthralled by everything.
I had been primed for the park. I’d read every book about the Grand Canyon in my Catholic elementary school’s library. Picture books about the canyon from the 1960s with vividly washed-out photographs of Ponderosa Pines and squirrels with funny little tufted ears, I’d read them all. In particular, I’d read Marguerite Henry’s 1953 historical novel about a semi-wild burro, Brighty of the Grand Canyon.
I even had a model of Brighty, the plucky hero, that I took with me on the trip and photographed on the lip of the canyon.
I remember taking that photo, being concerned about setting the model Brighty on that rock, and wanting to do it quickly before the other tourists saw.
No matter how many descriptions one reads, it remains hard to capture the effect of the world dropping away experienced by an approach to the Grand Canyon from the south. And so it was with us. The great, flat, lightly wooded plateau gives way at the first parking lot, after the fleetest glimpse of the canyon through some trees. Eighteen years later, I still remember gasping.
That’s my cousin, Jenny, with me in the photo. And that’s me. I chose to wear a Phantom of the Opera t-shirt to the Grand Canyon. That was me.
By the next day, my wardrobe would be influenced by the surroundings.
Not too far removed in spirit, I think, from Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting outfits…
Like most weekend tourists to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, we spent most of our time wandering along the rim trails looking out and taking photos of the famous scenery.
That last shot is of my ever-fashionable cousin, Amy.
It’s funny in looking back at the photos, there were clearly tons of other tourists. It was, after all, a weekend in the middle of summer. But I don’t remember them. I guess I was too busy gaping.
While I was scanning the photos for this post, Sean and I did notice, however, the fabulous couple behind Uncle Tom and Jenny in this photo. So late eighties…so tan…so…
The impulse for the trip had been my Aunt Judy’s wish to take my her mother to the Grand Canyon, which she’d always wanted to see. But that year, Grandma had beaten breast cancer back in Michigan, and wasn’t recovered enough from surgery to take the flight out to Los Angeles and then the drive to Arizona.
I remember standing on the rim of the Canyon, not far from our hotel room, with Aunt Judy and looking out into the darkness and the vast silence at the distant, faint lights of Grand Canyon Lodge and the other bits of civilization on the North Rim, and remarking that the lights were like the glimmering lights of freighters in the freighter channel of Lake Huron, which we could see at night from the landing near Grandma’s cottage.
In retrospect is was a brief trip. With three kids in tow, we didn’t venture beneath the canyon’s rim. But this trip would be the beginning of a youthful obsession with the National Parks, and the fascination would only be increased a year later by Yosemite.