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An epic journey to inspire the spirit

The famed Grand Canyon attracts more than five million visitors a year. Photo by Deborah Stone

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Cacti in spring bloom add their colors to the canyon. Photo by Deborah Stone

As our group passed from one layer of rock to another, I noted the contrasts, particularly between the Coconino Sandstone, a pale almost white strip of rock, and the Hermit Shale, a bright red/brown layer beneath it. And then there are the purple quartzite boulders that stick up from out of the Redwall Limestone. The array of colors in the layers is sublime, due mainly to trace amounts of various minerals which impart the numerous hues to the canyon walls. What surprised me the most, however, was the number of trees in existence, as I never expected to see much green in the canyon. Further enhancing this palette were the wildflowers and cacti in spring bloom.

I marveled at how far our group had hiked in a fairly short time and when I could see the Colorado River getting closer, I thought the end to this relentless staircase was near. Distances, however, are deceiving in the canyon and those in-the-know will tell you to focus on what you’ve done as opposed to what you still need to do. It’s all about putting one foot in front of another. But, as our guide Dillon told us, “It’s not a race. Life is fast. Slow down. Take the time to be in the moment and marvel at this special place.”

Dillon was the consummate guide, knowledgeable and attentive, with a passion for the Grand Canyon that was ever present. It was clear he loved his job for many reasons: the physical activity, meeting people from all around the world, sharing the beauty of this place with others and having an “office with incomparable views.” He regaled us with facts about all things Grand Canyon, including its history, geology, flora and fauna, pointing out the surprising diversity of plants and other living things that make their home in the canyon, as well as the different fossils embedded in the sandstone. He reminded us that the canyon is the story of life enduring through desolation, drought and other harsh challenges. And he made us laugh with his delightful sense of humor, which served as a welcome distraction during times of fatigue. Most importantly, he was the bearer of our food, providing us with delicious picnic lunches and snacks galore to sustain us on our trek. He carried a forty-pound backpack, full of sustenance, first aid supplies, extra water, books and more, while nimbly navigating the trail. We merely toted our daypacks, as the mules had taken our overnight bags down to Phantom Ranch earlier in the day.

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Cargo mules do Herculean work on the trail. Photo by Deborah Stone

At times, it was only our group on the trail and we felt like we were the only inhabitants in this magical world. Then, we would encounter others making their way up or down. The ones who were descending like us were talkative and friendly; whereas, those ascending were intensely focused on the uphill challenge. I knew I would be in their shoes soon enough, as I recalled the famous rule of the Grand Canyon: “Going down is optional; going up is not.” We also shared the trail with pack mules and mule riders, marveling at these creatures’ strength, stamina and ability to navigate steep switchbacks with agility.

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