GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Last summer I volunteered in Kenya, Africa and one of the first questions I was asked was, "Where are you from?" followed by inquiries into whether or not I had hiked the Grand Canyon. The answer was no.
I'm from northern Arizona and I have never hiked the Grand Canyon. As much as I love the outdoors and hiking, I had never been the whole way to the bottom.
Last month I decided it was time to remedy that situation.
I bought a backcountry permit, enlisted a few people to go with me and prepared to hike to Phantom Ranch.
My oldest brother was supposed to hike with me, but found out he was deploying to South Korea in February. So his wife and my older sister joined me.
We visited the military surplus store for MRE's (meals ready to eat) and packed our backpacks.
We decided we would hike down the South Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel, one of the most popular hikes at the Canyon.
It was a perfect day - the clouds rolled across the sky lazily, creating dark shadows on the cliffs. We stepped aside for mule trains, laden with tourists and packs and took time to chat with breathless hikers trudging up the trail.
The places I had heard about all my life slowly came into focus - Skeleton Point, Tonto Platform, the black mule bridge on the Colorado River and finally the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.
The campground and Phantom Ranch were not what I was expecting - they were more. Nestled into clusters of trees and Bright Angel Creek winding through, the area was an oasis.
We found a campsite and set up camp, chatting with the volunteer who came by to check our permit.
Later we joined other campers and Phantom Ranch lodgers at the little amphitheater to listen to the evening ranger program.
The interpretive ranger, Mandi Toy, enchanted us all with the story of Bill Beer and John Daggett - the first two men to swim 277 miles of the Colorado River in 1955. We held our breath waiting to see if they would come out the other side of the Canyon alive.
After the program we walked over to the Canteen, where visitors purchase snacks, drinks, souvenirs and postcards that are taken, by mule, to the rim to be mailed.
Finally we wandered back to our tent and lay soaking in the 50-degree night air.
That night I lay in my sleeping bag, listening to the Bright Angel Creek gurgling outside and wondered about this wild and beautiful place.
The next morning we broke camp, ate some breakfast bars and headed for the bridge.
I lagged behind - snapping pictures, waiting for the sunrise to flood the Canyon walls with rays of gold and hues of pink and red. I looked up just in time and inhaled deeply - taken aback by the beauty I was witness to.
Going up, the journey held as many surprises as the hike in had.
Who knew there were waterfalls and spiraling, dizzying rock formations with tufts of green shrubbery and grass clinging to the sides? I stared in awe at the greenery in the Canyon. Having grown up in Arizona, I had not expected such lushness.
We pressed on, stopping occasionally to adjust our packs and take in the view.
Playing tag along the trail with fellow hikers -each in turn stepping to the side, and inquiring about one another's trip.
At the top we asked a passing tourist to snap our picture.
"Where are you from? Did you hike to the bottom?" he asked.
"Yes, I hiked the Grand Canyon," I said.
The Grand Canyon News strives to cover all kinds of sports and recreation in the Grand Canyon/Tusayan area.
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