August 25th marked 100 years the National Park Service has been in existence. The first National Park was established in 1872 at Yellowstone. But, from that date until 1916, the parks were administered by a variety of agencies including the Department of the Interior, the War Department, and the Forestry Service. For many within these agencies, the parks were seen as a resource to be managed, and not necessarily preserved, which had an alarming effect on the native plant and animal life in the ensuing years. Fortunately, some inspired folks with a shared love of nature, saw the need to create a separate agency within the federal government to protect this nation’s natural wonders, and the park service was born.
Forty seven years after Yellowstone was set aside, Grand Canyon National Park came into existence. At 270 miles long, as much as 18 miles wide, and a mile deep, the Canyon, with its strikingly colorful and varied landforms, is known worldwide. It was first granted federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve and later as a National Monument, until its official designation as a National Park in 1919. For years, a number of individuals attempted to exploit the park’s resources for financial gain to varying degrees of success. Fortunately for us, and the millions who come to visit each year from around the world, the park survived, with its natural wonders more brilliant than ever.
And wonders they are. No doubt everyone that first comes upon this gigantic hole in the ground is at a loss for words. The vastness and scale of the place are not easily described. Words like majestic and awesome and impressive just don’t cut it. And it’s not as though it’s the first time we’ve seen the place. It’s appeared on countless tv shows and documentaries. But nothing prepares you for that first encounter.
We were fortunate enough to secure a spot in the campground for two nights. The park is easily worth two full days if all you do is stay on the South Rim Trail. Venturing down into the canyon for all but the hardiest among us, means spending the night at the bottom and then making the long and very challenging climb out of the canyon the next day, making sure to start early enough to avoid the worst of the day’s heat.
For me, it was warm enough at the Rim, and given my fear of heights and questionable physical condition, a trek to the river and back wasn’t an option on this visit. But, if you do nothing more than walk the South Rim Trail, you’re in for a spectacular time, with plenty of opportunities to test your mettle and see how close you can get to the edge — a practice not recommended by park staff. There is a section of the walk not too far from the El Tovar Lodge that ventures close to the edge. For me, it was almost too much, as I found myself clinging to the far side of the trail forcing any and all oncoming foot traffic to walk on the Canyon side. It’s a fear I’ve had to deal with my entire life that I can’t quite seem to master. It’s something I want to learn to manage better as I have had a strong attraction to mountainous terrain ever since working at a golf resort in the Canadian Rockies in my early twenties. Oddly enough, I don’t recall it being as much of a problem in those days. But then, I didn’t do a lot of back-country hiking either, spending the majority of my free time playing golf.
Our visit to the Grand Canyon was six summers ago, but it’s almost as fresh a memory today as it was back then. While there’s a good chance we won’t be visiting any parks this year, we have had the pleasure of visiting eight of them, and absolutely plan on getting to many more. Something happens to us when we are able to unplug from the day to day rat race and reconnect with our roots in nature. The National Parks are good for the soul as well as the heart.