Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The trip of trains and canyons

For years and years, we’ve been talking about making a trip to the Southwestern US to see the Grand Canyon. Partly because Tessa loves the region and partly because I’d never been. So, we decided it was high time we made good on this particular item on the Someday List. We bought train tickets (because what’s an adventure without trains?), booked a package via the Grand Canyon Railway, and took off.

Neither of us has traveled extensively by train in the US, so this was an incredible way to spend 4 and a half days. The trip ended up being as much about the train as it was about the canyon. Let me just break it down by hours because I suspect it will be impressive.

Hours spent on the Southwestern Chief (to/from Williams, AZ): 52
Hours spent on the Grand Canyon Railway (to/from the park): 5
Hours in the park, doing parkly things: 28
Hours in Williams (mostly sleeping and watching outlaw re-enactors): 21
Total trip hours: 106

My take-away? Train travel is beautiful and slow. Perfect for two writers searching for inspiration, but maybe not for obsessive clock-watchers.

We had perfect weather and even though I had my laptop handy, I had a very difficult time prying my eyes away from the changing landscape. We went from the plains, to mountains, to desert – gold to green to rust red.

As a bonus, my bed came with a handy harness that strapped into the ceiling to keep Natalie from falling to the ground in a graceless splat. I felt like an astronaut.

And then there was the canyon. Whoa, that canyon! It wasn’t what I was expecting. I think in my mind, the Grand Canyon was in a barren landscape like Tatooine, with a vicious, toothy maw in the bottom.

But, it is not.

In fact, there was an entire forest around the Southern Rim and shrubs grow all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. Pines that smell like vanilla, and shrubs that look like they’ll cut you if you stray too close.

In any case, the canyon brought out one of the key differences between Tessa and me, and it has something to do with self-preservation.

Bonus points if you can tell me which of the women in this picture is representative of me. HINT: I’m the Sagittarius.

I really wanted to hike down into the canyon and if I’d planned more time and packed better hiking clothes, I’d have hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch to stay the night all the way down at the bottom. As it was, though, we had time to hike down the 1.5 mile trail and back up again. 

This is the point at which the Grand Canyon pulls one over on those of us used to mountains and hills and other things that go up. The canyon trails suck you in. They look easy. They look fun. You’re cruising downhill and looking at the world rising up around you. You’re excited to see what’s ahead, what’s through that next nifty looking tunnel, what’s around that next switchback.

It’s all exciting and wonderful and EASY.

But then, it’s time to go back up. And that’s when things get painful. Not only is the uphill climb interminable and hard, but you’ve already seen the view from the top. THERE IS NOTHING NEW AHEAD OF YOU. It’s not like a mountain hike, where you’ve got the view AND the downhill trek to look forward to. No. It’s all pain and sweat just to get back to the vantage point you’ve already seen. It’s insult to injury, I tell ya, and it’s only by the sheer desire to survive that you reach the top again. 

The Grand Canyon has a dark sense of humor.

But I don’t regret making the hike. What’s a victory without a little pain?

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