I went to the Grand Canyon expecting a blizzard but found two idiots instead. The weather forecast was terrible -- snow, wind gusts, and well-below freezing temperatures -- a great time to visit the canyon, I thought. Because travel is what it is, my plane from the east coast was canceled because of maintenance and USAirways spent the rest of the day trying to get displaced passengers booked on flights to Phoenix. I would get there the same day, but at dusk with a four-hour drive ahead of me on dark roads with snow, ice, blowing snow and ice, and the possibility of big animals trying to commit suicide by car.
Because I sat between two truckers on the flight from Charlotte who both said, "Don't do it -- don't drive into the storm," I didn't, and spent the night in Phoenix, heading up to the canyon at crack o' dawn the next morning.
All evidence of a blizzard at the canyon was pushed aside by the deep blue sky and crisp air at the rim. As I went from shuttle bus stop to shuttle bus stop I thought about how canyon visits are so different from when I was a kid. Although I was grateful for the ride, it seemed all too easy -- too accessible. I yearned for the unfenced dirt path along the rim that made you feel like you were going to plunge headfirst into the canyon.
Then I saw them. Two idiots who decided to go over the edge at Mather Point. Like Heckle and Jeckle they egged each other on as they climbed down the steep cliff face. Small rocks broke loose making boink boink boink sounds as they tumbled into the canyon. Most of the people at the point were oblivious to the drama below. They were too busy taking selfies with their iPhones and pictures of each other in front of the maw of the canyon as the sun started to set, lighting up the northern wall in hues of red, purple, and gold.
A small group of us kept watching the men climb deeper into the canyon. One young woman clearly knew them and when I asked her what they thought they were doing she said, "You can't stop a grown man from doing what he wants to do." She thought it was funny.
And we stood and we watched and watched. The shadows were deepening and the temperature dropped below freezing as the sun began to slip beneath the horizon behind us. And still we watched and listened as the idiots disappeared around the front of the point, out of view. I felt sick waiting for the scream and the sound of something falling, falling, falling. I took periodic break from idiot-watch and looked up, hoping to catch a glimpse of an endangered California Condor soaring across as the shadows deepened on the northern wall but saw only ravens taking advantage of updrafts.
The men reappeared and slowly made their way back up the cliff. And part of me was pissed that they were making it out. Something inside me wanted them to be punished for being idiots, for making a group of us worry about their boneheaded choice. Where was a park ranger when you needed one? I wanted them to be fined thousands of dollars for making me worry. Then I almost laughed. Here I was at the canyon originally wishing I was visiting during a blizzard because it would be more dangerous and therefore more exciting. Then I spent my day riding the bus from photo stop to photo stop with women in heels and toddlers in strollers yet wishing all the time I still had to hike along the edge, like in the old days. So after I voyeuristically watched these men scramble and slip and stumble their way down a canyon wall -- half-way expecting them to make a mistake and fall -- and then was mad when they made it out, I thought what is wrong with me? Why can't I just enjoy the geologic wonder in front of me? Why am I searching for excitement, danger, and thrills?
I'd blame it on television but I don't have one. Maybe I've read too many adventure stories or have been suckered into somehow believing that if an experience isn't extreme it doesn't count. I walked back to the canyon bus as the moon was rising, clapping my hands together in the cold night air to get the feeling back in my fingers, and boarded the bus with a dad carrying a pink-cheeked baby. I closed my eyes and listened to the baby babble and giggle as we rode back to Grand Canyon Village in the dark.
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