The Grand Canyon.

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The Johnsons (including Popeye Johnson) made it to the Grand Canyon.  And not to worry, we took a lot of pictures there, so if you want the unedited versions, GO HERE. (When I say “we”, I mean “me”, since upon arriving home I looked at my husband’s camera roll… nada. Who does that?!)

But I digress. As I ended the last post, we had arrived in Williams, AZ for a full night’s rest at our “Opstal”. The following morning (Wednesday) we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway for a 2.25 hour ride to the Grandest of Canyons. Our trip started with Dennis, our “PSA”, providing insights and instructions. He was delightful.

Clearly someone who has guided passengers on this route for years, he shared tidbits of history, gave heads-ups for interesting sights at mile markers, and even handed out “Delight Cards” that were simple 3×5 purple paper printouts saying how fortunate (delighted!) he was to ride with us.

At the end of the ride he handed out green printed bookmarks on simple paper with a 5-part reminder of why we passengers were just like the Grand Canyon: Unique, Awesome, Inspiring, Lovely and a Masterpiece of Beauty. Before handing them out he explained why for each one. It was quite sweet.

Here’s a picture of the girls’ faces on the train:

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Pretty sure they enjoyed every second of the ride. But before we boarded, we got to watch a scripted “shoot-out” cowboy performance, and afterwards the not-so-dead cowboys posed for pictures along with their horses, who were not at all spooked by the blanks. Amazing.

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The first time I ever saw the Grand Canyon I was on a cross-country trip with my sister and my friend, Joe, more than two decades ago. We traded off shifts of driving to make lighter work, but when we were on that last leg that would arrive at the canyon, I was determined to get there before nightfall. When that didn’t happen (the road from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon doesn’t LOOK very long but it takes much longer than you’d think), Joe, after seeing my disappointed face, drove straight through the darkness to make sure we’d get there.

As anyone with half a brain knows (that’s clearly not me), when you arrive at the Grand Canyon at NIGHT, there’s literally NOTHING. No lights (tons of stars!), no traffic, no people, nothing. I was certain if we got out of the car we’d fall right in… And so we slept in the car in a parking lot that was literally AT the edge of the canyon, and in the morning I awoke to beauty, as far as I could see, a vision I will never forget.

When I drove out to move to LA years later, I recreated the same “reveal” for my travel partner, who woke to the sight of the Grand Canyon as well. That feeling was almost as wonderful as seeing it for myself the first time. And so, I wanted the same for Zoe (let’s keep it real, Ella will not remember this…)

So I asked sweet Dennis how to make that “reveal” happen for her. Would he tell us before we could see it? Could I cover her eyes? He looked at me like I was nuts and said, “You only see a little bit from the train. Then you’ll need to hike up to see the view.” Not having ridden the train before, I had no idea what he meant.

That said, Zoe was game for the experience. So as soon as we started to approach what could have been her first view (it was terrible, by the way and very brief), we covered her eyes and waited until we boarded the bus that would take us to the actual view points. The following picture is the closest I can get to Zoe’s first view of the canyon because a) I was SO EXCITED and b) the actual first view was muddled by a throng of tourists at the Bright Angel Lodge bus stop.

Regardless, by the time we got to the photo below, she was sufficiently impressed:

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Our bus made two stops: Hopi Point and Mojave Point, a trip that took 1.5 hours including stop and walk around time from start to finish. As we approached the first stop our driver, Pat said, “There are 3 kinds of protection at the edge: Metal railings that are very safe, rock walls that are fairly safe, and the edge itself, which is not safe at all. So keep at least a body’s length from the edge.

Seriously. You can stand ON THE EDGE of the Grand Canyon. 

No one will stop you. No guards, no cameras, no danger signs, nothing. I don’t know why people don’t fall off every day?! In fact, “About 12 deaths happen each year at the Grand Canyon, including from natural causes, medical problems, suicide, heat, drowning and traffic crashes. On average, two to three deaths per year are from falls over the rim… [and the park] had 6,254,238 visitors in 2017.This article has additional interesting thoughts on the subject, which thankfully I did not read ahead of time.

Anyway, standing on the edge may sound cool to you. As a mother of two children, one of whom (barring a major distraction) will make great choices and the other who looks for edges in every aspect of life, I did not think “cool” for even one second. The night before, we had talked to the girls, specifically line-walking Ella, about how important it was to be careful at the Grand Canyon. At that time, Ella had told me she was afraid to go, so Bart and I both reassured her that we had been there before and would hold her hand, making sure nothing happened to her.

Guess what happened when we actually got to the Grand Canyon?

She wanted NOTHING to do with our hands… It was as though the word “danger” had never even come up. In fairness, she didn’t blatantly RUN towards the edge, but she tried to climb every metal railing (the “safe” ones that line the edge, HA!). Ironically, the stone walls were further from the edge, and the only danger I could see with those is if they crumbled and you slipped on their wreckage, cartoon style, into the canyon.

I had a death grip on both girls the entire time. Well, except for this time:

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Notice how scared they are. HA. But DO notice there’s not only a metal railing but also somewhat of a rock barrier beyond it. Safe? Anyway, they survived. And sweet Zoe said to me, “Mom, I get it. It’s got to be scary to have two little kids here.” Old soul.

In Ella’s defense, this was her view of the canyon (I had her take the picture):

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Honestly, I think that’s a plenty good view. But I guess I can see the interest in getting closer. I was in fact torn between the death grip on their hands and my desire to take pictures. I love natural beauty and there are few examples as jaw-dropping as this one. So in between saving their lives, I’d hand them off to Bart to get some photos.

As much as it wasn’t a relaxing, connect-with-the-Earth time for me, I did take a few deep breaths and appreciate the stunning wonders of nature. Note the white line in the river on the third picture below – it’s a class 10 rapid, the last category before “unnavigable”, yet from the distance, the water doesn’t even appear to be moving. Zoe was enamored by it and kept pointing it out, shocked that you can’t even see the water moving.

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After our bus journey, we ate lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge and boarded the train again for the trip home. As luck would have it, on the return trip the train got ROBBED!

Thankfully, we’re only out $1.90 and a unicorn bandaid. Phew.

The following day we headed out on yet another adventure in Williams: BEARIZONA! Yep, that’s a real thing. In Bearizona you can not only visit a smaller animal zoo-type area but you can also drive SAFARI STYLE through separate fenced off homes of bison and wolves and bears, oh my! (I had to)

Seriously, there are animals roaming freely within their designated section of the park, so free they can come right up to your car. There are signs everywhere to keep the windows closed, and in the bear and wolf areas the signs get SERIOUS and say “DO NOT STOP! Windows up, Doors locked, No exceptions!

Ironically, the bears we saw didn’t seem to care at all about us (maybe they were recently fed?) and were either wandering slowly or lying around napping:

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After driving through the safari, we headed to the zoo part to watch a bird show, where falcons and owls (they called them “low fliers”), flew very close to (or in between) the heads of the audience, and there were warnings not to stand up or roam around. Pretty cool, honestly.

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And the owls were fabulous. Especially George, who has been at the park a long time and was rescued as a baby owl, so he’s very human-centered and enjoyed the show.

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After the bird show, we headed straight over to feed the otters. I have to say, while they were super fun to watch (and swim a bit like Ella – or vice versa), the “feeding” was unexpectedly done by the audience. And less like a “show” than a lazy zoo staff trick.

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Though of course, the kids LOVED getting to feed otters:

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But by far the cutest animals in the park, hands down, were these:

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To wrap up the trip, we headed once more back to Las Vegas, where Grandma & Grandpa were to fly out the following day. That last night we enjoyed tastes of pretty much everything you can think of at Eataly (which, if you like Italian food, is fabulous and was in our hotel). There are separate food stations for pasta, meat, fish, cheeses, meats, pizza, gelato and more – and even a small marketplace where you can buy packaged Italian items right off the shelf. Y.U.M.

All in all, we had an incredibly memorable family trip – one I’m thankful to have gone on for so many reasons, not least of which was watching our children spend time with their grandparents. And I’m proud to say, though we spent over 13 hours either in a minivan or bus or on a train traveling (not to mention the hours we spent getting to/from Las Vegas with the kids), we did an outstanding job of being together.

There’s one last story of our trip from Vegas to Palm Springs, but I’ll save that for another post and wrap-up the Grandma & Grandpa portion with a HUGE THANK YOU to Ruth and Bernie. Wonder where we’ll go next year?

(Too soon?)

One thought on “The Grand Canyon.

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