Mind the Cliff


Grand Canyon

Michael and I try to celebrate our anniversary (5/22) every year. Some years, it’s just dinner and a movie. Others, it’s a trip somewhere special without the kids. This year, we decided to jazz things up and take the boys with us. At first, I thought this was the greatest idea ever. We had decided on the Grand Canyon, and I knew both of my boys to be budding geologists (read: like to play with rocks and run around in nature). In retrospect, the “run” part should have been my first clue as to how this adventure was going to turn out.

I spent weeks planning this nature excursion. I had not seen the Grand Canyon since I was a teenager, and I was itching for cooler weather. Mike and the boys like trains, so I agreed to do the Grand Canyon Railroad excursion. We booked a night’s stay at the Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams and then hopped on the train the next morning. If you know me well enough, you know that I suffer from a mysterious ailment called motion sickness. Trains, planes, boats, and automobiles are my mortal enemies.

Tristan and the Train

We were all excited. The boys were sticky with juice and muffins. All in all, we were handling the trip up to the rim well. Then, the train stopped. We had made it to the depot near the rim. I was naïve enough to think that I would have a moment to breathe in the slightly purer northern air and ease the tension headache that not even ginger pills could relieve. As soon as we stepped off of the train, dragging our bags and an umbrella stroller, we were herded into another, smaller pen. All around the tracks, drivers, conductors, and tourists bleated, trying to find each other’s designated spot. We were signed up for a motor coach tour, which meant that we were shoved into a large bus and whisked away to view some of the major points on the rim of the canyon. My backside was sore and I wanted nothing more than to stretch, but I was looking at the bright side as my boys and I stared out the massive windows onto the canyon. I took pictures every chance I was given, and we explored the paths for as long as the bus driver gave us permission to be out. The trip was around an hour, but it went by quickly. The bus driver dropped us off and we made our way to Bright Angel Lodge for lunch. The kids were understandably grouchy and Mike and I were well past the point of hungry. It seemed to take forever to get our food (the place was packed), but the waiter was a saint and the food was amazing.

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Afterward, we grabbed a shuttle bus to our hotel, apparently arriving 10 minutes earlier than check-in was allowed. I actually was glad for this moment where nothing was supposed to happen. The kids were not. They became bored very easily. The lobby of the Maswik Lodge was not exactly visually stimulating (for children, I was fine with the rustic look), so I did what any good nature-loving mommy would do. I took them back outside. Michael stayed inside to wait on the room, most likely grateful not to hear “Daddy hold me” or “Daddy I’m tired/hungry” for the umpteenth time!

My little men and I sat on the edge of a planter box away from the hotel doors and took in the scenery. We couldn’t see the canyon from our spot, of course, but we could certainly see and hear a ton of birds. Tristan decided to use this space and the music of the forest to start an interpretive dance number. Marcus spent most of his time giggling at Tristan as he danced. For the first time in hours, I relaxed and aimed my camera at every tree, hoping to catch an elusive songster. Toddler giggles must be inviting to sparrows. One flew over my head and landed in the pine tree just above us. I aimed my camera and practically giggled myself as the bubbly little feather duster hopped around. At this point, I was feeling optimistic and refreshed again.

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Michael reemerged from the lodge lobby to be our guide on the next adventure. We marched to the farthest end of the hotel property to find our assigned nook. The room was bigger than the one at Grand Canyon Hotel and the air conditioning worked, which was a great relief. We were right up against the train tracks, but it was an out-of-the way section where wildlife was not only abundant, but daring. The boys immediately turned on the television and vegged out for a bit. We didn’t argue with them. I sat outside and watched the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks scurry over the boulders and trees. I was anticipating the two things I had wanted to do most the entire trip: see a sunset over the rim and have a chance to see the Milky Way. The first time I had seen the Milky Way was August of 2007 when we went out for my birthday with friends to see Startdust and then to a little spot out in the desert. I still cannot shake the amazing power that strip of celestial glitter had on me. The second time I got those goose bumps was at Sequoia National Park. That was seriously the best bathroom trip ever. I’ve always hoped to see the Milky Way again and I figured that the Grand Canyon would surely have a perfect dark sky setting. I knew it was possible. Google Images had told me so.

As sunset approached, we gathered the kids and took a shuttle bus to Mohave Point. I walked along the rim path trying to find a perfect location to take it all in. I settled on a spot not obstructed by trees with a good view of the north rim to the West.

Suddenly, people! Lots of people! If we had been holding hands in a chain, we probably could have skirted at least half of the canyon. For me, it detracted from the magic having to hear chatter in a wide array of languages. If we were there for culture, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But, I was there for nature, darn it all and these other tourists were incredibly distracting! I guess that’ll teach us for getting married near Memorial Day! One Swedish(?) couple actually pushed me out of the way for a snapshot while I was standing on a rocky section jutting away from the path. It shouldn’t take a doctorate in linguistics to know politeness, in any language. 😦 After narrowly escaping death (I’m exaggerating, but hey), I tried to maintain all my little womanly powers of focus on the tangerine sun setting across the north rim. There was a spattering of clouds, and the view was lovely.

Of course, Tristan and Marcus found my obsession with the glowing sun ridiculous. To Tristan, several giggly girls and a “queen ant” were far more exciting. In fact, he told me about the “queen ant” so much that I actually gritted my teeth and remarked, “Yes, dear. I know. I heard you the first time!” I received several stares from individuals who pretended not to speak English. At least I was not the only one suffering distraction. In reconsideration, the “queen ant” was far more enjoyable than constantly turning back to see him in another rendition of interpretive dance. For every time I told him to stop dancing and turned back to the canyon, I think I had three mental images of him plummeting over the edge. Yeah, being a mom will give you a mental breakdown.

I regained some composure as several California condors flew by. And then, that was it. The sunset fizzled out of existence. As a resident of Phoenix, where spectacular sunsets are a subject of much pride, I was a little put off by the abrupt end. I stood there for a moment and waited for the rest of the crowd to bleat their way back to the shuttle. Michael actually had to talk me out of standing there, I was so disappointed, but he reminded me there was still the night sky to look forward to.

Condor at Sunset

We ate dinner at the cafeteria in Maswik and then ushered the kids into bed. As soon as they were good and asleep, Michael and I tiptoed outside to the back porch. The night air was amazing. It was cold, but pure. I could clearly make out the Big Dipper and a few other stars which seemed brighter than I had ever remembered them. I knew the Milky Way would have been low to the horizon at this time, more toward the rim, so I thought about making the brief trek with my flashlight and camera and leaving Michael behind to watch the kids. Just as I was about to make the suggestion, Michael came up next to me with his arms wrapped around him for protection from the cold. “So, you ready to go in now?” We had been out for only 3 minutes! I don’t know why I just gave up. I was incredibly heartbroken. It was like I was 3 years old and someone had just snatched an ice cream cone out of my hand on a hot day. Perhaps it was the fact that trekking out alone could have been dangerous, or perhaps it was the look of pure exhaustion in his eyes. He was right. We needed sleep and it would be foolish of me to take a hike to the Trailview Overlook alone, even if it was only 5 minutes away.

I went to bed feeling really dejected and miserable with myself. The next morning I found my therapy again in the critters of the canyon.

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After a few hours of watching the kids play near the boulder, more like the squirrels than they will ever know, and packing away our luggage, we decided to take the shuttle bus to a few more attractions before we had to leave. I liked the Kolb brother’s old photography studio. They were definitely braver than I was! The geology museum was intriguing, but Tristan’s autism got the better of him. There were some loud kids playing roughly inside and he really couldn’t handle it.

We had until 3 p.m. to board the train back to Williams, so we figured we had plenty of time to meander about and hike the trails. On the trails, Marcus practiced flirting with several young Asian women. My little monster already has cute down to a science. I’m not sure, but he might even be betrothed.

At about 2 p.m. we realized we had made one grave error, deciding on lunch. Most of the places for lunch were closed. If we wanted to eat anything besides a snack bag of pretzels, we were going to have to settle for a bar. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We weren’t the only family with little ones in the bar, and the appetizers were fabulous (Parmesan fries anyone!). Of course, Marcus also scored some free cherries for his cuteness efforts.

The trip back on the train was mercifully uneventful and unmercifully bumpy. I spent my time watching the boys snack and looking through my photographs. I was happy to be towing my brood back to civilization, but I was still longing for more of that peace and tranquility we got so little of while we were at the canyon.

There will be a next time. Michael and I have already decided we will be returning, sans offspring (at least until they’re old enough to annoy us in other fashions). And we will be staying only at the Maswik Lodge, which was the sight of some of our best experiences at the canyon. We will also not be returning during a holiday. Although having the time off was convenient, the demands placed on us by just being around other people is exhausting. Thankfully, the people will come and go. The canyon and the brilliant night sky aren’t going anywhere.

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