Alan and I in the canyon.
As all vacations go, our trip to Arizona has gone by in an absolute flash. I imagined finding the time to blog along the way, but no such thing. After spending the day a *little* tense about making our flight today, Alan and I got a call from Southwest Airlines as we were on the shuttle from the rental car dropoff to the airport that our flight status has been "updated!" The d-word* was never dropped in the phone message, but here we are with two extra hours to hang out at the Phoenix airport...so bloggy blog time it is!
The flight down to Phoenix was lovely...good company (my first time not flying solo in quite some time!), good reading along the way, and fantastic scenery to boot:
We counted volcanoes as we flew over them: Rainier, Adams, Saint Helens, Hood, and Shasta.
We got into Flagstaff on Wednesday evening via, literally, planes, trains, & automobiles (light rail to Sea-Tac, flight to Phoenix, van shuttle from there to Flagstaff), fueled up with some fantastic brats at an Irish pub in town, and slept well that evening. Woke up at the crack of dawn to pile in for the drive to the Grand Canyon. We had reservations to bunk at Phantom Ranch at the very bottom of the canyon - reservations that have to be made at midnight 365 days in advance, and come with tasty steak dinners, temperately cool cabins to sleep in, and a stunning landscape accessible only by foot, raft, or mule.
BEFORE Photo: The crew!
We hiked down from the South Rim on the South Kaibab trail - the steeper, lesser traveled trail than the Bright Angel Trail on which we hiked out the following day. The hike down was nice, albeit a bit rough on the joints, even for the young'uns (ages of hikers ranged from 22 to 62, with some of us in every decade in between!) We mostly stayed together, told stories, laughed often, and generally took our time getting down the 7.5ish-mile trail to Phantom Ranch.
The other youthful hiking companions: Shelly (my...3rd?...cousin) and her husband Jay
We went from 79 degrees at the rim to 104 in the bottom.
The squirrels were really friendly.
Photo credits to Alan on this one.
We got down by early afternoon and spent the rest of the day soaking blissfully in the Colorado River...
Check out my rockin blister.
He might have looked on the verge of death, but my dad was just relishing the moment of total relaxation.
...Here's the proof that he was, in fact, having one of the best moments of his life.
With celebratory beers and steak sitting cozily in our bellies, Alan and I dashed off a couple postcards to be delivered out of the canyon by mule, and with the rest of the crew, made it through a couple rounds of Rook and a ranger program on the geology of the Canyon before all passing out in our bunks. Wake up was 4:45 a.m. the following morning for a hearty breakfast and the 9.5 mile hike back out...doesn't sound too brutal, but throw in 4500 feet of elevation climb (mostly concentrated in the relentlessly steep second half of the hike, and often in soft, deep, red sand...hello calves!) and 105-degree temperatures and miles and miles of exposed desert hiking in the sun...
Well, needless to say, it was a bit of an adjustment from my usual, deeply forested, cool hikes in Washington. Let's just say there was a lot of nuun and trail mix involved. And a hat which Alan diplomatically described as being "well...functional, at least!"
Also, we got milkshakes at the top.
AFTER Photo: The whole crew
The rest of the reunion went by far too quickly, in a flurry of good food, conversations to make up for lost time, storytelling and copious amounts of laughter, exploring Flagstaff, rough-housing with adorable kids, guzzling Grand Canyon pilsner, staying up late to share memories, and trying to figure out what the heck a second cousin twice removed really is.
I'm learning that outside of Seattle, it's near impossible for me to be "home" in any sense of the word without feeling a pretty strong storm of emotions. By "home", I mean either literal places from my past, or figurative ones...that is, in the midst of people who've been with me in my life longer than the year now that I've been in the Northwest. I know I'm incredibly fortunate to have the family - both immediate and extended - that I do, and to be able to come together like this to share good times, mix generations, pass on stories, feel that powerful sense of roots, despite the fact that we are spread out all over the country - and, in some cases, world. Nevertheless, all the shared stories and laughter and snacks on the trail couldn't keep a seemingly inevitable barrage of tears from pouring out at some point. Bah. Just struggling still, I suppose, to process that ever-simmering sense of growing up and letting go of the comforts of childhood and home and all that jazz. But such is life.
In the words of Ani Difranco...
By which I mean
I am indebted joyfully
To all the people throughout its history
Who have fought the government to make right
Where so many cunning sons and daughters
Our foremothers and forefathers
Came singing through slaughter
Came through hell and high water
So that we could stand here
And behold breathlessly the sight
How a raging river of tears
Is cutting a grand canyon of light