Thanksgiving by the Grand Canyon —by Jinny Batterson
This Thanksgiving season, parts of our extended family gathered in the Arizona upland town of Flagstaff, near the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. We came by car and/or by plane, converging over the course of two days at a vacation rental house we’d booked a couple of months ahead.
For Thanksgiving Day, our daughters-in-law cooked up several yummy vegetarian offerings. As a sop for the meat-eaters, Grandpa and I supplied a grocery chain rotisserie chicken. After we’d all eaten our fill and stowed the leftovers, we swapped stories and iPhone photos, walked around town in the fading November light, then eventually retired to sleeping quarters in our spacious rental. We spent “Black Friday” mostly indoors, but not shopping—continuing to adjust our internal clocks, nasal passages, and digestive systems to different time zones, altitudes, and local bacteria. By Saturday, all of us were feeling somewhat perkier.
After breakfast, we loaded our crew of nine into one minivan and one rental car and headed for the Grand Canyon, with a grandparent in the back seat of each vehicle to flash our “Senior Passes” for free entry to an area of the national park along the south rim. The weather was brisk. For most of our ride, the sky was clear, with a few fluffy clouds flicking shadows across the dry, partly wooded landscape. As we approached the canyon, the clouds thickened. By our entry to the park, we were under overcast skies. Snow flurries drifted down.
Older son had mapped out a route for his daily training jog along one of the rim trails. We dropped him at his entry point. The rest of us then walked a much shorter distance toward the Kaibab trailhead. The grandkids pawed in the snow that lined parts of the path (too dry for good snowballs). As we neared the trailhead, the air acquired an animal smell. The grandkids encountered their first mules, stabled close by. Encouraged by the middle generation, they eventually petted the mules’ heads and offered small bunches of grass gleaned from just outside the paddocks.
We heard a variety of human languages other than English, saw people in various layers of outdoor wear and varying stages of fitness. After a few minutes of watching hardier hikers descend and ascend the trail’s upper reaches, we walked back to our cars, then drove to one of the visitor center areas for lunch. Runner son reappeared as we finished eating and restocked his metabolism with pizza and fruit juice. Later, all of us took a park bus to a stop near the further end of his jog, with a couple of overlooks viewing the canyon and the river at its base. This was my third Grand Canyon visit—the first as a teen with my parents, the second at river level with spouse and teen children, and now as a granny whose grandchildren in turn will likely take a canyon river rafting trip once they’re old enough.
The canyon has always amazed me. The play of light and shadow are constantly changing the look of this “big ditch,” nearly 18 miles wide at its widest, a mile in depth at its deepest, with multiple layers of multi-hued rock from rim to river. The Grand Canyon was established as one of our earliest national parks in 1919. Parkland now covers over a million acres and includes over 270 miles of river. In 2013, the park hosted over 4 and a half million visitors, employed about 500 permanent and seasonal employees, and registered 8 fatalities.
While vacationing, we rarely paid attention to media news. Once the lot of us had returned to our primary residences, we learned of another U.S. mass shooting—this time in San Bernardino, California, a town I’d previously known only as a stop further westward from Flagstaff along historic auto Route 66, the one that “winds from Chicago to L.A.” Increasing frequency and media attention to mass shootings gives all of us pause. We hope it’s not an enduring trend.
In retrospect, having spent part of my holiday at a site with a much longer time scale seems an even greater blessing. It helps, I think, to avoid getting overwhelmed by the tragedies of the moment to have a touchstone like the canyon. The Grand Canyon’s human history dates back nearly 12,000 years; its geological history is reckoned in eons. Its flowing waters, sometimes almost imperceptibly, have over long periods of time worn away even the hardest rock.