I left my children with a great friend and headed out with the Navigator's group from base to the Grand Canyon, Arizona for a weekend of camping and hiking.
It was amazing. Refreshing. Revealing. Inspiring. Wonderful. Restful.
When I came back one of the first things that kids said to me was "Mom, you look happy!" (That right there told me a whole lot about what's being gone on and how I've been handling the crappy situation in my life at the time.)
The retreat was actually Mike's idea. He said there was a singles retreat that couples were also invited to and he wanted to go. He also said if we couldn't find childcare, I should go by myself and get away for a few days. I was pretty shocked by his generosity. Needless to say I agreed.
In the week leading up to the retreat, things were pretty iffy about going at all. I had a very painful chest cold with lots of coughing and it was looking like we couldn't find a friend who would be able to watch the kids. After I had gotten a round of "no", I pretty much said to the Lord, "If You want both Mike and I to go, then You have to arrange all the details." And I quit trying to do everything possible for us to go together.
Then my great friend Liz called me up and said, "I'll watch all the kids for you. I think I can do it." I was a bit hesitant, but in the end I agreed.
Friday morning dawned cool and the Sandia mountains were flanked by gray fluffy clouds. I dropped Little Man off at my friend Whitney's house for the day, took Flower to Liz's house and dropped Butterfly off at school. Mike was already at the Chapel with our bags waiting; I walked over to the chapel from the school.
The van was loaded up and then we were off. There were nine of us all together from Kirtland - some people I knew, others I hadn't met before. It was a seven hour trip, which made a great time for reading.
We arrived without problem at Grand Canyon National Park and went right to our campsite where we would be joined by people from Holloman AFB, Luke AFB, Davis-Motham AFB, Nellis AFB and Miramar Marine Station - a total of about 80 people. Luke AFB was providing all of the camping equipment. Turned out we arrived first, so we got back into the van and drove the fairly short distance to the Bright Angel Trailhead.
My first view of the Grand Canyon.
It's hard to describe in words. The canyon is immense, colorful and humbling. The beauty is incredible. The nine of us leaned against the rail and gazed into the cut of earth far below us. It's hard to believe that just one river did all that gauging into the rock.
After a few pictures were taken, we decided to hike down a little ways. Leaving the top of the trailhead and descending down into the canyon itself was not how I pictured it would be. Gradually the tan stone walls of the cliff rose up on one side of us as we walked down. There were quite a few people the trail - many more than I expected.
(Actually, I didn't really know what to expect about any of the whole trip, except that what was in reality did not match up with what was in my mind.)
We didn't trek too far down before deciding to head back up and back to the campsite to help set up tents. On the way back to the van, we saw a small herd of deer in the parking lot, just hanging out. There were a few does with their fawns. They had no fear - it was incredible. They looked at us blinking in the sunlight and went back to lapping up water from the recent rain.
Back at the campsite, Luke AFB had arrived and the work began. 80 people needed tents to sleep in, and guess who got to help set up all those tents? Yep - us. And the few Luke AFB people. I had never set up a tent before (shocking, I know), but it was fairly easy. After the tents were set up, each had to have sleeping bags and cots or mats put in.
In the midst of the organized chaos a huge male elk strolled right through our camp. Our campsite was in a forest of pines (not what I pictured) and this elk just walked right through, stopping for a snack and bellowing this deep elk-roar, if that is how an elk call can be described. I had never heard anything like it before. He was loud, he was impressive and he was definitely all male.
After the campsite was organized we were free to leave for dinner. Everyone was on their own for dinner Friday night, as not everyone had arrived yet. Our group headed over to one of the lodge restaurants that had a plethora of choices. I had chili and a baked potato - the food was very good.
When we emerged from the lodge, the sun had fully set to reveal the brightest and most numerous starry night I have seen in a very long time. By very long time, I would say sixteen or more years. It was incredible!
We just stood there, paused in mid-stride, head tilted up oohing and aahing over the night sky. It was so beautiful and such an unexpected treat. I wish my camera had been able to get a good picture. Eventually we made it to the van without walking into anything. Once we reached the van, we all stood around for a few minutes gazing in wonder at the stars. (If you have only seen the stars from the city, take a drive into the middle of nowhere one night and turn off the car lights and star gaze.)
Enter the funniest conversation that became an inside joke:
"Look at the stars!"
"Get in the van!" - Seth, in a very parental, tired voice.
"But look at the stars!"
"Get in the van!" slightly louder this time.
"Will the sky be the same at the campsite?" - Gerry, completely innocent and filled with child-like wonder.
"Get in the van!" - a little more louder and definitely more exasperated.
So we climbed into the van and I burst out laughing like I haven't laughed in a really long time. For once I wasn't the parent saying "Get in the van!" and there was childlike wonder of the sky in all of us (except for maybe Seth, who did all the driving that day and was obviously pretty tired). The rest of the weekend someone from our group (I admit, usually me) would say "Get in the van!" and we would all start laughing. It was great and very freeing.
I went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back. I was tired. I also felt rather queasy - I don't know if it was the altitude, or I was dehydrated, or what, but it wasn't fun. I didn't sleep the best that night as I was quite cold. We were over 7,000 feet and it got down into the 50's at least at night.
I woke the following morning to the sound of one of the leaders telling everyone to circle up for prayer before breakfast. I had a feeling if I didn't get up right then, I would miss breakfast and I really didn't want to do that. So I stumbled out of bed, last one up, in my pink penguin fluffy pajama pants and joined the group, still rather bleary eyed. I didn't miss breakfast though!
After breakfast, we packed our brown bag lunches and prepared to leave for the days' hike in to, and out of, the canyon. I still wasn't feeling the best, but I decided that I didn't care and I wasn't going to miss what was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon (without having to worry about the safety of my offspring!).
The entire group bussed over to another trail head (not Bright Angel) and we all got out. In typical military fashion, everything was very hurry, hurry, hurry, rush, rush, rush and then we all stood around waiting (not sure for what) when we got to the trail head. There was a short safety briefing (again, this is the military), some group pictures, and then we were off!
The initial descent was a series of steep switchbacks hugging the tan canyon cliff walls. Eventually the trail smoothed out some, although still very much descending, and the rock changed to a dry, dusty red which soon layered us in a fine Mars-red dust. We stopped about a mile down at a scenic overlook which offered an especially breathtaking view of the canyon. Really, there was a view the entire time - all one had to do was look to the left and the sheer drop off a few inches off the trail, but when the view opened up to a panoramic 180 degree view in front of us - it was just incredible. Miles and miles of canyons criss-crossing, layers of striated rocks rising up from the floor to meet the azure sky, and somewhere, far below, the Colorado River rushing through.
Another half mile and we reached the half way point of the trail our group was doing - a total of six miles - three miles down, three miles up. There were some bathrooms at this rest point, but no source of water. (We were carrying all the water we would use that day in camel backs and back packs).
For some of us, myself included, this was the half way point. One and a half miles in, one and a half miles out. By the time we had reached this point, my legs were shaking whenever we stopped to rest and I really didn't want to become on the statistics that has to be plucked out of the canyon because of inadequate preparation or pushing myself too hard. I know my limits and I didn't want to push them.
A bulk of the group, Mike included, continued on with the rest of the hike. Those of us who were heading back up ate lunch, explored a rock outcropping jetting out above the canyon floor, took pictures and then began the ascent back up. I found going up to be much easier than going down. One of the ladies who was on the hike was 29 weeks pregnant, so we stopped quite a bit so she could rest - which I was completely okay with. It took maybe twice as long to reach the top of the canyon as it took to get back down.
|No one was in danger of falling in this picture.|
When we arrived at the top, we had been resting for a few minutes when the first of the guys from the other group arrived - apparently they had run the entire three miles up and out of the canyon (very hard core - and so young - definitely military warriors. I was impressed.) Anyway . . . they rested and some of set out to do some exploring around the rim of the canyon.
We vanned back to one of the main, historic lodges. I explored the small museum there, which paid tribute to the architect of the lodge. Then it was on to the gift shop (oh the temptations!) and finally I got a really great hot dog at the little café. I found the rest of the group and we sat on a rock wall on the edge of the canyon, ate our snacks, tried to keep the squirrels from stealing our food right out of our hands, and admired the view.
Then it was back to the campsite to hit the showers. The showers were indoors and you paid a few dollars to get eight minutes of hot water - it was heavenly after the hike! It felt so good and my body was tired. When everyone was sparkling clean, we made our way over to the little grocery store and looked around.
|There were elk everywhere!|
Dinner was a wonderful treat - BBQ chicken and typical BBQ sides - all the food was catered by Luke AFB (except the previous night's dinner). After dinner, during which point it had started raining, and the male bull elk strolled through camp again, we made our way over to "auditorium" - a collection of logs facing a central area, where the speaker from the Navigator's gave a message. Two guys, including one of the Chaplain's that had come on the trip, shared their testimonies. We had some really great praise and worship time as well.
By the time we had finished, the rain had ceased, and the camp fire was roaring. (Apparently the camp fire was going the night before too, but I had missed it). Mike and I enjoyed standing around the fire, making s'mores and new friends. It was a really wonderful evening.
The following morning, our last day at the canyon, I woke up while it was still dark (still surprised I did this!) and prepared to go see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. We departed around 5:30 and vanned over to a spot which was apparently idea of sunrise watching and hiked out a little ways to a rock outcropping. The light was gray and cast shiftless shadows over the top of the canyon and the canyon itself.
The few of us that went (Mike opted to sleep in) sat or stood on the rock outcropping watching the light over the east canyon wall shift from pale pink, to oranges and vibrant, hot pinks, with streaks of purples. Finally the metallic sun peaked out over the ridge of the canyon before disappearing into the overcast skies. It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful - the start of a brand new day.
Every day the sun does this, but I have always missed it. A sun rise is a sight well worth seeing, especially in such a magnificent and humbling place.
Then it was back to the campsite for tear down, then a fabulous and yummy breakfast, and then the morning's sermon under the pine trees as a slight breeze whistled through the tree tops overhead. It was a wonderful end to an amazing weekend.
The van ride back was pretty fun too - there was lots of laughing and talking (and a little reading). At one point, just before hitting the New Mexico border, we drove through an amazing "field of rainbows". There were double rainbows on either side of the van, shifting as the rains completed their journey to the earth and the winds shifted. Sometimes the rainbow was over the highway in an incredible arch, sometimes it was on the right, or the left. We actually stopped on the side of the road so that we could all get out and take pictures - it was absolutely incredible. An amazing and wondrous way to end the weekend.
The kids were, of course, super excited to see us, and then it was back to life as usual for our little family. I am so thankful for the opportunity to get away and enjoy being out in the Lord's absolutely magnificent creation - the Grand Canyon is absolutely stunning - definitely a must see for everyone, at least once in their life. And if you can hike into it, even better - the views are more stunning from the inside out, then from the top. So glad Mike and I could go.