"Nature it's all over me, get it off." ~ Melman from Madagascar
After I graduated from high school in 1995 my dad took me and my twin sister to the Grand Canyon. I don't remember being overly impressed with it, though I was a teenager who was on a vacation with her dad, so that is not really much of a surprise. It wasn't until we jumped out of an airplane and skydived, that I began to understand the vastness of that area -- it would be twenty years until I returned and began to understood its awe-inspiring beauty.
My family and I entered the mighty Colorado River on a 7-day wilderness rafting adventure that would have me more out of my element than anything I could have ever imagined (and I had imagined a great many things). I am a city kid, born and raised (...on the playground is where I spent most of my days...); the only time I had every gone camping was when I volunteered at a camp for kids with HIV/AIDS when I was in my late teens. The other camp counselors knew how out of my element I really was and would play "sounds of the city" over the loud speaker at night so that I would feel more at ease. So, it is no surprise that on the first night on the river, I could not fall asleep until I heard the sound of a singular airplane, miles overhead, roar by (ah, sounds of city...and I was fast asleep).
My family jokes that I wouldn't last but a few hours on those reality shows "Man vs. Wild" or "Naked And Afraid", and they are probably right. I have many food allergies, so putting me into a wilderness environment sans hospital or cellular service without a quick and easy escape route, is a big anxiety trigger for me. I am also a healthcare provider and I like to know my closest route to medical care if needed. So being trapped in a place that you cannot get out of, unless an emergency does occurs -- which we were assured would only take about 3 hours by helicopter -- is actually less than reassuring! Couple that with my irrational fear of all things creepy and crawly and you will understand why I was not looking forward to this isolation. My motto for most of my adult life, however, has been feel the fear and do it anyway! And so, I did. Just a note: on day 5 of our trip a scorpion visited us in our camp, and on day 6 I am certain a rattlesnake joined me at the OSCAR (that is what our guides called our human waste bucket). Not so irrational after all!
This trip exposed me to beauty and adventure that words nor pictures can describe. The Grand Canyon covers over a million acres of land with 270 miles cut through by the Colorado River. The walls of the canyon are hundreds of millions of years old, geological master pieces that formed over billion of years. I heart science and so the geological history that is, and lies within, the Grand Canyon, along with the night sky, the mere memory of which still takes my breath away, was worth every second of my city-kid anxiety. At night, we would set up our cots and sleep with the sounds of the mighty Colorado River rushing by, lulling us to sleep, covered by a blanket of stars that were so vivid and close that you could have covered yourself up with them. The inter-sanctum of the canyon itself, can't be explained or described by mere words on a page, it is just not possible. We would hike through the canyon and emerge into these oasis' that only exist in movies, or so I thought-- picture Land Before Time's Great Valley scene but in high-definition. The water was a color blue only seen in digitally enhanced photos that I didn't think actually possible in real life, and had I not seen it with my own eyes, I may have denied its existence all together.
The beauty is still so vibrant due in part to how few people are actually allowed to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon each year. We were told that because the number of rafting tours is limited, we were only a small percentage of people who get to experience it in this way (about 10,000 a year). This helps to keep the Grand Canyon preserved for generations to come -- our duty as occupants of this fine earth and all its natural wonders!
This was not a vacation for the faint of heart, this was a vacation of extremes -- extreme temperatures as the Colorado River, starting just below the Glen Canyon dam was a chilly 46 degrees F. The water at that point is pulled from the bottom of the dam and never sees the warmth of the sun. Therefore, when we rafted through one of the biggest rapids of the trip on day one (the 2nd and 9th largest degree of difficulty rapids in the US lie within the stretch of the Colorado River from mile 0 to mile 188), it was no surprise that we were literally left speechless, for as soon as we were hit with that mighty Colorado rapid, the wind was knocked out of us. Not to worry though, the outside temperature ranged anywhere between 108-118 degrees F, and we were quickly dried out, warmed up and begging for some relief from the sun. All of this made for a very sound sleep on night #1 (after the airplane flew by, of course).
When we were not rafting on the river, we were hiking up the canyon and over ledges no wider than a foot in certain sections, with the canyon wall jutting out at us and nowhere to go but down. At one point we could have literally plummeted to our deaths had any of us made one small error in judgment! Keep in mind also that my 9 year old daughter was on this trip...my parental anxiety, it was through the roof on those days. You have to feel the fear if you are to reap the best rewards, and experiencing the Grand Canyon that intimately was one of the best rewards I could have ever reaped.
The US National Parks and other canyons like Antelope Canyon on Navaho land, are this country's best kept natural wonders, and everyone should take in their majestic beauty and immerse themselves in their mind-blowing vastness. Because, "we must take adventures to know where we truly belong." For me, the realization of how much one can push themselves outside of their comfort zone, in combination with the hypnotic power of being out in the best this country has to offer, has changed me. Nature was all over me, and I did not want to get it off. If given the chance, it could be all over you too!