My uncle, mom, and I pull up to the entrance booth to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park just before sunset. I enquire about the price difference between a single-use and annual pass. The ranger asks whether we’ll be visiting one or multiple parks. I reply that we’re here only for the Grand Canyon on this trip, but that I’m curious about the variance in cost. She pauses before slowly repeating the question, deliberately enunciating each syllable, “One, or multiple parks?”
I choose the annual pass and hand her my credit card. As the payment is processing, she continues:
“They [tourists] always get me started on the day pass, only to switch to the annual halfway through the transaction. Then, they just sit and stare at the pass, pretending to read the fine print, when all they need to do is sign the bottom of the card.” She pauses before repeating, “Sign the bottom of the card.” I sign it and return the clipboard before she has the chance to remind me a third time.
I’m a little surprised at her open banter though her chipper, light mockery is more thought-provoking than it is offensive. Sitting in a booth all day, straddled between two worlds, I can understand why she would feel blasé–same questions, same brief, shallow interactions. A lunch break in the village of Tusayan offers a marginally better experience than a truck stop off the highway. Venture into the park and the tourists she’s been ferrying through all day crowd the rim for selfies to check the canyon off the bucket list.
I wanted to tell her that we’re here to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday by running rim-to-rim-to-rim in the morning, but we’re already off accelerating toward the lookout point to get our own visual stamp of our presence in the canyon. At the rim, we catch the last rays of light shining down into the abyss before its depths are filled with shadows. I wonder, if this were our only experience of the canyon if we’d leave feeling a little let down, sharing a similar indifference to the ranger at the entrance. After all, the grand earthly spectacle had been outdone by the fiery sky and we could catch a pretty sunset anywhere on earth.
But, we felt neither indifferent, nor cynical. We had not come just to see the Grand Canyon, we’d come to feel it, to immerse all of our senses in its splendor.
We start running at 5 a.m. the next morning to avoid getting stuck behind a mule train, the long chains of animals used to shuttle people and their baggage into and out of the canyon. The trail is littered with their droppings and their frozen tracks make for awkward footing. We run for an hour in dark before the immensity of the place begins to gradually reveal itself. The canyon is lush at this time of year. Bright green and yellow flora sparks from the copper-toned rock. The thick, brown swirl of the Colorado River contrasts with dark clouds interspersed with blue sky above. Our conversation is pleasant and lighthearted, punctuated with “oohs” and “aahs” at every bend in the trail.
As the miles begin to add up and the climb up the North Rim steepens, the chatter becomes more infrequent. We are traveling and sharing this experience together, but the place commands a certain need to internalize and words often fail to do it justice. The challenges brought forth by the rigors of the run gradually break us down to a place of humility, of observance of our own frailty in a place that is as unforgiving as it is beautiful.
A kid comes bounding down the trail, snapping us out of our introspective progress. “This is my first time in the canyon!” he exclaims. “And, it’s the best day of my life!!”
I can’t help but contrast his youthful enthusiasm with the ranger’s cynicism from the previous night. Sometimes the day-to-day madness and busyness can numb us to just how special life is. Let us not forget that we’re only ever one run or hike away from reigniting the fire.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you ever catch yourself getting wound up by day-to-day madness such that you stop recognizing the beauty of your life or the natural world around you?
- When that happens, how do you, as Joe says, reignite the fire inside of you and remind yourself of the great things about our world?