Holy Grand Canyon! This Place Is Amazing

You guys, the Grand Canyon! You guys! It’s so beautiful.

I am so glad I took the risk and drove myself all the way over here rather than staying on the coast. Today I hiked my buns off and now have dinner at the Grand Lodge to look forward to.

I really liked this view from the Transept Trail.
I really liked this view of the Canyon from the Transept Trail.

Navajo Reservation

Not too far out of Flagstaff, I noticed a sign announcing that I had arrived at the Navajo Reservation. I was thrilled! I felt so honored to be there and curious about what I would see. The landscape was beautiful and I could just imagine men riding horses across the arid land, feeling free.

Then, the next thing in my line of sight was a fence. I actually felt a pain in my chest as I recognized reality. The reservation is a place with lots for borders, fences, and electrical lines. It’s much smaller than the space the Navajo once inhabited. It’s far away from any main town with jobs. I felt sad looking at it from that perspective.

But, the landscape is gorgeous. As I left the reservation, I went across the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge and then saw the Vermillion Cliffs. They’re so red.

Here are the red, beautiful Vermillion Cliffs.
Here are the red, beautiful Vermillion Cliffs.

There’s something about cliffs rising out of the ground that’s both humbling and comforting. They’re powerful and remind me that I’m a tiny speck and that humans haven’t necessarily made the coolest stuff on earth.

Jacob Lake Inn

I arrived at Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles from the North Rim, just before sunset. I stayed in a cutey-cute cabin on the property and ate dinner at the counter in their diner. That’s when the traveling-alone fun began.

My car and my cabin at Jacob Lake Inn.
My car and my cabin at Jacob Lake Inn.

Have you ever noticed that you meet a lot of people when you’re traveling alone? I sure do.

I sat down at the counter and was just starting to read some brochures when an Australian couple sat down next to me. They’d just been to Zion and Bryce Canyon, my next two stops, and made great recommendations – like taking a horse ride into Bryce. I’m in!

Then, I chatted with a long-haul truck driver named David on his way back from the southeast. He takes a load of cattle or sheep down to the somewhere past Louisiana from Utah every week – twice. He drives 7,000 miles a week. People, that’s an average of 1,000 miles a day.

David the Trucker grabbing dinner. He was going to watch a movie in his truck and go to sleep.
David the Trucker grabbing dinner. He was going to watch a movie in his truck and go to sleep.

I asked him about 100 questions but here are some highlights. He doesn’t sleep much at all, except on Thursday nights, on his way home. He has a wife and kids back in Utah. He doesn’t like how often he had to “tarp a load” in California in the summer with the risk of rain was less that 10%. He thinks that two days without truckers working and America would crumble.

I could go on and on. He was very opinionated and chatty. I wish him the best.

Then, lucky me, on Thursday nights the gentleman who trades with the Navajo tribe to get art for the Jacob Lake Inn gift shop, John Rich Jr., was giving a talk about his 60+ years of trading with the Navajo.

John Rich Jr. and one of his blankets.
John Rich Jr. and one of his blankets.

Specifically, he explained the cultural significance of blanket weaving for them (staying in hozho – a state of inner peace and harmony), their history of takeover by settlers, their beliefs about their sacred land, and how hard it is to make a living on the Rez.

Hozho is was Navajo call "being in the zone" / "at peace."
Hozho is Navajo for “being in the zone” / “at peace.”

He passed around blankets and told us about the many weavers, some as old as 93, still producing blankets for sale. He was a great storyteller and had such reverence for the Navajo people. I really enjoyed listening to him.

The North Rim

The next morning, I popped into the Kaibab (kai-bob) Visitors Center and a volunteer named Pat, originally from Bellevue, Washington, got me sorted on my hiking options. He was cool. He made me want to be a volunteer one day.

Pat the volunteer. He set me straight on where to hike on the North Rim.
Pat the volunteer set me straight on where to hike on the North Rim.

I arrived at the Grand Canyon, after a beautiful drive through golden aspen and ponderosa trees, and managed to nab a spot at the campground thanks to someone’s cancellation, then went to find breakfast.

My first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
My first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

The Roughrider Saloon, in honor of Teddy Roosevelt, had $2.50 breakfast burritos. I thought of so many of my friends who would have understood my joy (Jon Lanman). What a deal! I bought two and they were delicious. Real, hand-sliced potato inside.

The saloon was due to re-open at 11 a.m. to serve drinks. Go, Grand Canyon!

Then, I happened upon the “Flashback” talk with Ranger Rachel in the lodge. She’s a geology nut. She’s so passionate about it. I was the only person at her talk until a 12-year old kid showed up near the end. But, Rachel enthusiastically told just me about every layer of the Grand Canyon, starting 1.8 billion years ago.

Here's Rachel the Ranger!
Here’s Rachel the Ranger. She made sure to hold a fossil for the picture.

She’s looking for a winter gig and says that many ranger jobs are going to veterans who get first dibs. She couldn’t quite hide her frustration with that. Seeing how much she loves geology, I felt for her.

Kaibab Trail

Next, I made it to the Kaibab trail, after first spotting some mules waiting to go to work.

There's a lot of mule poop on the trails of the Grand Canyon.
There’s a lot of mule poop on the trails of the Grand Canyon.

The trail goes down steeply right away. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’ll need to climb back up all of this.” There are really no flat parts.

I met some folks who were finishing a hike from the South Rim that they began at 5 a.m. It’s about 21 miles away.

Encountering horses on the Kaibab Trail.
Encountering mules on the Kaibab Trail.

I also met some park volunteers just before “The Tunnel.” This is the gig, folks. You get to do all kinds of fun things – work on trails, at interpretive centers, on emergency medical duty, in the gift shop – and you get to live at a National Park for free. Volunteering at a National Park is now on my bucket list.

Evening at the Canyon

On my way back to the Lodge on the Transept Trail (right along the rim edge and beeeautiful), I ran into the Australians I’d chatted with at dinner the night before. Small world.

I ate a decadent and delicious dinner at the Lodge, including a brownie a la mode for dessert. My waiter was from Iowa and never wants to go back to the “same-o, same-o.” I said that some people really like the same-o, same-o. “I hate it,” he said. He’s an adventurer at heart, like a lot of the staff I’ve talked to here.

The view from the Grand Canyon dining room at the Lodge.
The view from the Grand Canyon dining room at the Lodge.

I then went outside to watch the sunset. Some people cut me off just as I was arriving at a really good seat so I took a “backseat” only to end up having the current Artist in Residence at the Grand Canyon plop down next to me. Perfect seat!

Her name is Daren and she is dyeing fabrics to colors inspired by the layers of the canyon wall for an art installation back in her native Indiana. People will walk between the “walls” she creates out of silk and cotton.

I had just read about the Artist in Residence gigs all around the country at National Parks and here I was hearing about it first hand.

Daren the Artist in Residence.
Daren the Artist in Residence.

Not only that, she heard I was going to sleep in my car at a campsite and insisted I take her tent and offered me snacks, blankets, peanut butter – anything I needed. I made a new friend!

The most amazing thing is that while I was on the Kaibab Trail, I had thought, “Geez, someone could do a line of textiles inspired by the many stripes, swirls, and blocks of color throughout the canyon.” I thought of my designer friend Domenica from L.A. who dyes silk with tea.

Some of Daren's fabric drying in the sun.
Some of Daren’s fabric drying in the sun.

Now I know someone who is doing that exact thing. I’m going to introduce Daren to Domenica. Daren would be honored to have Domenica use her fabric. What a lovely connection.

Bryce Canyon on Horseback

Tomorrow, I’m getting up early to watch the sunset at Cape Royal then I’ll drive to Bryce Canyon to hop on a horse at 1 pm and do a loop. The trip is supposed to take us to, pretty much, every great site at the park. I’m SO excited.


(Written on Friday, Oct. 2nd.)

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