We sat on the edge of the canyon, blissfully enjoying the ever-narrowing slice of shade. Sunshine was by my side, understanding that a slightly overweight mom in her later years, though fit, might have a tough time scaling the Grand Canyon in the heat of the day. Maverick and Goose would soon leave us to run to the top and would be full of jeers when we finally got there. We really should have started earlier, but we were lucky to get a reservation in the park, and we wanted to enjoy the cozy, comfortable hotel just a little bit longer.
We were passing through on a mission. Sunshine was starting college next week in the Lone Star State. The boys and I were taking her there, making a road trip of it, seeing some of the desert southwest in the heat of summer, because who doesn’t want to do that? We had arrived at Grand Canyon National Park the day before, and I had set our agenda for the day. We would hike down into the canyon early, and then travel to our hotel in Flagstaff.
The cool morning beckoned us down the trail. We were loaded up with water bottles and plenty of M&Ms, but without a plan. Free for the day, we would just hike as far as we wanted before turning around and coming back up. The wide trail invited us to walk and take pictures. The rest stops along the way sheltered us and offered water. The squirrels and birds cheered our progress.
From one vantage point, we could see the three mile house. We were getting tired, but wanted a definite destination, so we set our sights on that. Here we would stop and dig into our fuel source, the M&Ms. The day was gorgeous, sunny, with a few high clouds. The tricky thing about the canyon, however, is that the closer you get to the bottom, the hotter it becomes. A day that had started out for us in the 70s was rising with every step down into the 90s, which is not terrible if you are hiking down, but we still had to make our way back up, and now it was getting close to noon. The warning signs along the way did not give me comfort.
We refilled our water bottles and shooed the squirrels away from the candy as we rested, the boys impatient to get moving. At some point, Sunshine dropped a couple of M&Ms on the ground and a flurry of squirrel warfare ensued, causing us to jump onto the ledge and earning us the ire of the more orderly hikers on the trail. After all, the brochure said definitively not to feed the wildlife. Now we knew why.
We looked up the trail. What had been so pleasant coming down now looked daunting. I had my personal list of killer trails: Vernal Falls in Yosemite, Mount Constitution on Orcas Island, and Iron Mountain closer to home, but none came close to this one, with an elevation change of over 2,000 feet in just three miles. I steeled myself and started putting one foot in front of the other. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Sunshine was by my side the whole way.
Which brings me to where I started this story, almost at the top and having a clear picture of which child I could count on in life. As we made our way the last few bends and turns in the trail, the temperature shed its austere cloak and became more welcoming. We found ourselves encouraging other hikers who were finding the path equally difficult. We passed people coming down in all manner of dress, but none of them looked like experienced hikers, and passed a ranger who seemed to be at a loss, questioning them and turning some back, while at the same time inquiring about the welfare of the people coming up. Not a job I would want to have. As expected, Maverick and Goose were at the top, jeering at us and begging for ice cream.
We made it. We had hiked the canyon. (Well, part of it, but I’m counting it.) We paused for a quick victory photo and headed to the car. Ravenous, we didn’t look for a picnic spot. We unloaded the cooler and sat by the road on a downed tree, scarfing down the most delicious impromptu salami and french bread sandwiches. It was quite possibly the best food I’ve ever eaten. Hunger will do that to you.
We did finally make it to the hotel in Flagstaff, and judging from the red ring around the hot tub, were not the only people to have made this trek. For months after, I would put on my socks that retained the red smudge of the trail dust and remember our road trip. The canyon itself made an indelible mark on my heart, and I can’t wait to return, hopefully not in the heat of summer, to hike it again.