Today's guest blogger and Connection Messenger* Esther Miller shares from her travelogue about return visits to the Grand Canyon. If you haven't yet read the post that launched our series celebrating the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park System, go to “The National Park System: 100 Years of Nature, History, and America's Stories.” I hope the series will get you pulling up a map and finding a new national park to explore and share with your family and friends. Each is a national treasure. Each will feed your soul.
After the boyfriend with the VW became my husband and eventually the daddy of our two children, we took many more trips, including two more to the Grand Canyon. Each trip showed us much we had missed before.
On August 17, 1985 our travel journal records we came through Pipe Spring NM in Northern Arizona, “where they've restored an old fort built to protect the Mormons from the Indians. There was lots of water there, two ponds with ducks and geese, and gardens and fruit trees. I sure wouldn't mind having the gardener's job there!
“The scenery from there on was beautiful. Red soil, colorful mesas, asters and sunflowers blooming, and thunderclouds washing across the sky. We're camped tonight about twenty miles from the North Rim, twenty miles of evergreen and aspen forest with broad, flower-strewn meadows. We got rained on on the way out to Bright Angel Point to view the Canyon. Scott about froze! Sleeping bags will feel good tonight!”
The next day I continued in the same vein, “We spent the whole day exploring back roads and canyon overlooks. Visibility was at least 100 miles in each direction. There are flowers everywhere. Larry found several clumps of lilies or orchids or whatever that weren't blooming so we can't tell what they are. They were in a grove of old aspens at Marble View.” After years of identifying flowers out of bloom, I'm sure they were orchids.
The north rim of Grand Canyon is not on the way to anywhere else, but worth the effort if you prefer nature to hordes of tourists taking pictures of each other and ignoring the grandeur of the canyon.
It was 1998 before we got back to the Canyon, one of several stops for old time's sake on our retirement trip. We left home two days after Larry retired, driving a BIG pickup and towing a 30′ 5th wheel RV. In the VW in the 70s, we looked down on the “Winnebago types” with their gas-guzzling motorhomes. By the late 90s, we appreciated comfort and were delighted to be able to take our time exploring. Wherever we went, whatever we did, we had our own bed and bathroom at the end of the day.
Our travel journal was by this time kept on the computer, so here is an excerpt from our exploration of the South Rim in early October: “We got off the shuttle bus at Maricopa Point and poked around. ‘Poking around' lasted 45 minutes! First we were fascinated with the remains of the Orphan Mine. A tall rusting headframe stands on the rim, with the ruins of cables, towers, and other paraphernalia all the way down to a huge open shaft which looks vertical but turned out to be mostly horizontal, we later learned.
“Then someone said there were hikers down on some rocks. The “hikers” turned out to be critters, grayish with white rumps. There were four or five, maybe more all together, with at least one very small one. Finally, through the binoculars (which was really the only way to see them) I got a good look at one and saw the large, curled horns. What a shock! Then EVERYBODY had to see them. Some folks without binoculars were sure we were pulling their legs, but lots of people saw them and for the next couple of stops we heard people pointing out our bighorn sheep to other skeptics.
“We finally started hiking to the next stop and spent a lot of time looking at the fenced-in area of the mine, complete with radiation signs. Later we learned that not only had uranium been discovered in the old copper mine, but during the 60s, it was the best producing uranium mine in the country! It was closed down in 1969. Much of this we learned later from an interpretive sign we found, and then from a book which will take a while to get through.”
So when we visited the rim the first time, the mine had been shut down only recently and we completely missed it. Or more likely, we saw it, didn't really pay attention, and thus missed one of the most important mines in the country. We've learned a bit since those days!
Note from Elizabeth: What do YOU remember about a trip to a National Park? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below. My husband and I have enjoyed many trips (including armchair travels) from two wonderful books: the National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways and the National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States.
Esther has worked professionally in special education and mental health and has had a variety of volunteer jobs. Gardening, cooking, and ham radio are among her many interests. She married and raised her family in California, then lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for nearly 14 years. She recently returned to California to be near family.