Joshua has often said, “We need to get the children to the Grand Canyon.” An idea which I really didn’t understand. Notably, I had never been to the Grand Canyon and really did not get why it was necessary to make that particular trip a special priority. We are a family of mountain and water vacations. We focus on hiking in lush forests or playing on Florida beaches, and Arizona is definitely neither of those.
But, frankly, I do like planning trips, and since Oscar is almost done with high school and the younger children are fully middle school aged, this seemed like as good a time as any to look seriously at a trip to the Southwest. We planned a five-day trip focused on hiking the south rim of the Canyon with a short jaunt up to Page to visit Antelope Canyon (the beautiful slot canyon made famous on the cover of National Geographic).
Since neither Josh nor I was particularly familiar with the geography of Arizona, but very aware of the potential pitfalls of extensive hiking in unknown territory, we did a lot of research to prepare ourselves. Our primary lesson was that, even though we hike regularly, to undertake something as long and arduous as the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon we needed to get the children out to do a lot more walking and we all needed to kick our hydration habits up several notches.
Fast forward to our trip…
I am now a total convert to the “everyone has to visit the Grand Canyon” state of mind. There is simply nothing like it. And to attempt to explain it cannot do it justice. It has the capacity to impact a person on a number of levels, human and spiritual.
Humanly, it is just SO extensive and so unforgiving. The wildness of the Canyon forces you to know your limitations, and to attend to them carefully. Spiritually, it is utterly transcendent. Nature and wide open spaces have this ability to make us think about the grandeur of God. But truly, I do not know that the word “grand” is appropriately applied to anything on earth besides this Canyon. All other manifestations of grand-ness pale in comparison.
There were a number of highlights to our trip: such as seeing the Canyon for the first time with the children, walking along the rim at sunset, and enjoying quiet mornings outside. But the two experiences that I will carry with me most will be our big hike down Bright Angel and back, and stargazing.
We had prepared the children and ourselves very carefully for our big hike. We had water, snacks, layers of hiking clothing, daypacks, bandanas — all the externals were accounted for. What we couldn’t completely prepare for was how the children were going to handle this 9+ mile hike mentally, especially when the entire second half was uphill.
Not surprisingly, the very strenuous physical nature of this endeavor did highlight elements of each person’s character. Beautifully though, we learned our children have some pretty good character. Simon, it turns out, has a reservoir of focus and energy when it comes time to “turn to the barn” and make the trip home (I assure you no one saw that coming). Lucy is a bottomless trove of conversation and game creating to pass time and distract us from physical difficulty. Oscar has a well of patience and prudence that serve him and those with him when things are hardest. Josh uses his sense of humor and silliness to everyone’s benefit. And when the end is in sight but still out of reach, it turns out I’m the motivator to see us across the finish line in one piece.
The night after our hike was a clear one and Lucy asked if we could go out to look at the stars. With no ambient light around the Canyon, the visibility of stars is pretty unparalleled, so we all bundled up and headed out to find a spot away from the buildings. It turns out that the prime location away from buildings is the Canyon edge. The problem with this is that at night you can’t see the Canyon edge, it is all just darkness. So we found a spot with a large white rock in the middle and made a rule that everyone had to be touching the rock at all times. Then we looked around.
The sky was truly something. We saw the Milky Way and spent more than an hour identifying all of the constellations we could using phone apps and a sky map. It was so silent, and so dark, and we were all so focused on the same task, sharing our discoveries with each other, and helping one another to see what we could see. The sky was beautiful, but that family interaction was the most unforgettable and precious memory from that night.
Before leaving we bought a print of a vibrant night sky over the Canyon as a family souvenir. The print is now framed and hangs in our living room. We also framed two photos of us at the Bright Angel Trailhead — one taken before and one after our trip down. These are also displayed prominently in our dining room.
Bright Angel was a family bonding experience through shared struggle. Stargazing was a family bonding experience through shared wonder. I think that is what families and Christians do at our best — we share struggle and we share wonder, and in the process we come closer to one another and closer to God.