Leave nothing but footprints.
Take nothing but pictures.
Kill nothing but time.
As I crested the hill to Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon NP, no small feat at 8,000 ft. elevation, a red trinket attached to the safety fence drew my attention away from the beauty below. It was a love lock, a small token of affection of a couple who came and left, but who were not content with the Instagram snapshot and the Facebook post. Instead, they wanted all those who came after to know they existed, that they mattered, that they found each other, and that they had made their way with a cheap, etched, made-in-China lock to this spot on earth that looks down on the million-years process of destruction, erosion, and weathering that is Bryce Canyon.
Another visitor watched me take this photo.
“They must think it’s Paris,” he said with the wry disdain of one who treasures our natural spaces. A kindred spirit. I nodded in agreement.
In the two days my husband and I spent exploring the park, we noted people climbing over barriers, sidling up to fragile canyon edges, and losing hats to the wind. (Thankfully retrieved, due to the ingenious use of two trekking poles.) We saw plastic water bottles down ravines, and even a disposable diaper that was wound tight and had somehow found its way over the edge and down a hill, yet not out of view of passing visitors. I was left to wonder how the park rangers deal with the detritus of a population who relishes the easy access to once remote places and who can’t seem to stay attached to their belongings. Keeping the place clean can’t be an easy job.
Visits to our national parks are up. It’s a great feeling to share in a common wonder and appreciation of earth’s processes or marvel at the way the sunlight glows between the spires and hoodoos of the canyon, yet it’s been said that our national parks are being loved to death. We can slow the impact of being one of thousands of visitors each year if we each start by having a little respect and by committing to leave no trace. Hold onto your hats, stash water bottles in a backpack or leave them in the car, and for goodness sake, save your love locks for Paris. Our children and grandchildren will thank you.
I grew up in the late 60s, early 70s. People were hitting the road. Gas was cheap, and cars must have been affordable, judging from the way my dad cycled through them. We were always on the go, taking memorable trips to Crater Lake, Vancouver B.C.and Disneyland. When I got older, my dad got a job that involved travel, and he arranged a partially sponsored three week road trip that took us through Yellowstone, down through Denver, San Antonio, Santa Fe, then L.A., before heading back home to Oregon. Looking back, that seems painfully ambitious. I was sixteen at the time, and probably not entirely pleasant to be around for short periods, let alone trapped for hours in a car with, yet I look back on that family vacation as one of the best. I can only hope my parents feel the same. I experienced so much of the country – geysers and bison in Yellowstone, great southwestern food and culture in San Antonio and Santa Fe, and always the mountains, plains, and deserts rolling by.
My husband and I made a point to take our kids on road trips as well. In our mind, it’s important for them to see the country, to know the expanse of the land in which we live, to develop a sense of place and geography, and to see what makes us different and, more importantly, similar. We have driven to Mexico City, through the Chihuahuan desert, a great expanse of nothingness where we came upon a group of people selling rattlesnake by the roadside. On our way back, we were able to make side trips to the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns. On a different trip to Disneyland, we swung by to check out Yosemite National Park and ended up staying and hiking up Vernal Falls. So many trips. So many memories.
Five years ago, I coaxed Maverick and Goose into going with me to take Sunshine to college in Texas. Mr. A was deep into his busy season and would fly down and meet us in Texas. It was just the kids and me, every nook and cranny of the little Kia Soul packed with Sunshine’s belongings and our bare-bones luggage.
Let me tell you, it’s a long road trip from Oregon to Texas. We had planned a stop in Arizona, where we took a couple of days to hike in the Grand Canyon and explore around Flagstaff, where we looked at the stars from Lowell Observatory and hiked through Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona.
We revisited Carlsbad Caverns on the way through New Mexico so my cave-dwelling sons could be impressed by the size and grandeur of the open areas we walk above. We finally reached San Antonio at the peak of summer in a drought year and made the best of the 108 degree heat with swims in the rooftop pool at our hotel. You’d never have known it at the time, but Maverick recently shocked me with his admission that this was his favorite road trip.
When the kids were young, we heard the same ‘are we there yet’ every other parent hears. We played all of the car games my parents played with us to keep us stimulated. The alphabet game had us searching for words that began with the last letter of the previous word. Someone was always excited to be the one to stump the group with a word ending with x, y, or z. We played a version of car bingo. We sang songs and listened to books on tape. During those times, we were a unit, a family, relishing our togetherness and sense of adventure. We got in each other’s space and lived through it. We had to learn to work together within the confines of the car and of the experience. We didn’t watch movies. We weren’t checking out on personal devices. We shared. We did this together.
You can keep your planes, trains and buses. Give me a car and the open road any day. Road trips offer a sense of adventure and exploration. On the open road I’m free to stop and wander, to veer from the path. I can travel on a budget or in high style, camping in the back of the car or having the valet park it for me at some ritzy hotel. I’m the captain of my ship (alright, it’s a shared job), and as long as we can avoid mutiny (says the parent of teens), there are wondrous adventures in store.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.”You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)
When I was young, I dreamed of travel. I read novels with exotic settings. I had a poster of Santorini, Greece on my wall, andI was one day headed to Australia, India, and Nepal.
But life happens, and travel costs money. I married and had a family. It wasn’t just me anymore. We were Mr. and Mrs. A. We decided to be a single income family so one of us could be home to raise our four kids. We made sacrifices, and the first thing on the chopping block was international travel. Wanderlust doesn’t die easily, though. Our concession was to travel extensively throughout our region, often returning to much loved family vacation spots. Still, the desire to explore the globe never went away.
The kids have now grown and are heading out on their own adventures. Two of them are wanderers, in college in other states, eager to strap on a backpack or grab a rolling bag and head down the terminal with their passport for adventure. The other two are more content to stick close to home, and it’s a struggle to take them anywhere these days. I chalk it up to the rubberband effect of friendships. Only time will tell.
That leaves us standing in our once bustling house, looking at each other again for what seems like the first time in twenty-five years of marriage. The reverberating echoes of school and band and dance and soccer, of fighting and laughing and vying for attention slowly dissipate, leaving us able to hear each other once more.
Twenty-five years. This was a big one. We talked of celebrating our anniversary in style. I suggested Hawaii. Tropical beaches, rugged landscape, and all of that ocean were calling. There were hills to climb. Maybe we would go mountain biking or snorkeling or take up surfing. We are not loungers, content to sit on the beach soaking in the sun, sipping Mai-Tais, not that there’s anything wrong with that. We prefer exploring, hiking, seeing the wildlife and the differences in environment and culture.
My husband was okay with Hawaii. Just okay. I knew he would make the trip for me. He does a lot of things for me. I wanted this to be for us, so when he came home talking about Costa Rica, my ears perked up. The thing with not traveling, though, is that it makes you nervous to take that first step. Isn’t that true of anything? We searched the internet. We contacted tour agencies. We got an estimate. Wow! It looked like Costa Rica might be cost prohibitive. The kids might be on their way out of the house, but they had left a trail of financial needs that we were still helping with. We put it all out of our minds and celebrated in a nice resort on the coast less than two hours from our house.
Still… Costa Rica was calling, whispering our names, jiggling us, asking us to consider the possibilities. Maybe if we planned our own trip…
So although our anniversary had passed, we were again looking at hotels and things to do in Costa Rica. We came across a little B&B in a remote mountain location called Monteverde that was not anywhere near the top of my list of places to see. The B&B was cute, and got high ratings on Tripadvisor, but was only available for one night within the small time frame we were looking at. We looked at each other. Should we? Nervously, we gave that ball a push, and soon it was rolling. With one reservation taken care of, we only needed a flight, my passport, and the whole rest of our ten day trip filled in. I had always dreamed of being a travel agent, and I got to work immediately. Soon we had the whole vacation lined up with hotels and tours and transportation. Before we knew it, we were on our way.
I’ll leave the rest of the trip for some other time. Suffice it to say that Monteverde was our favorite part an amazing trip, even though we only spent one night here. It’s green, cool, peaceful, and very focused on conservation. We took a tour with a local guide, Marcos, who led us immediately to a quetzal and talked excitedly about the natural history of the cloud forest. We stayed at our cozy but upscale B&B and interacted with our lovely host, Carlos, as well as tourists from France and other parts of Europe. We came back from a night tour to a beautiful and delicious plate of plantains and ice cream and enjoyed breakfast in the morning on the open air patio. We made a connection to this place, and it was very hard to leave the next day.
There’s a whole world to explore. I hope to see so many things and places still, yet I long to get back to Monteverde. I want to wake up early and wander through the cloud forest. I want to sip delicious Costa Rican coffee on an outdoor patio while watching the birds. I want fresh pineapple with gallo pinto in the morning and passionfruit smoothies in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll even zip through the canopy.
Monteverde is calling me back.
If you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to plan.
If you would like a young, hip version of a foray into Costa Rica, head here to read my daughter’s blog. (Shameless promotion, I know.) 🙂
We sat on the edge of the canyon, blissfully enjoying the ever-narrowing slice of shade. Sunshine was by my side, understanding that a slightly overweight mom in her later years, though fit, might have a tough time scaling the Grand Canyon in the heat of the day. Maverick and Goose would soon leave us to run to the top and would be full of jeers when we finally got there. We really should have started earlier, but we were lucky to get a reservation in the park, and we wanted to enjoy the cozy, comfortable hotel just a little bit longer.
We were passing through on a mission. Sunshine was starting college next week in the Lone Star State. The boys and I were taking her there, making a road trip of it, seeing some of the desert southwest in the heat of summer, because who doesn’t want to do that? We had arrived at Grand Canyon National Park the day before, and I had set our agenda for the day. We would hike down into the canyon early, and then travel to our hotel in Flagstaff.
The cool morning beckoned us down the trail. We were loaded up with water bottles and plenty of M&Ms, but without a plan. Free for the day, we would just hike as far as we wanted before turning around and coming back up. The wide trail invited us to walk and take pictures. The rest stops along the way sheltered us and offered water. The squirrels and birds cheered our progress.
From one vantage point, we could see the three mile house. We were getting tired, but wanted a definite destination, so we set our sights on that. Here we would stop and dig into our fuel source, the M&Ms. The day was gorgeous, sunny, with a few high clouds. The tricky thing about the canyon, however, is that the closer you get to the bottom, the hotter it becomes. A day that had started out for us in the 70s was rising with every step down into the 90s, which is not terrible if you are hiking down, but we still had to make our way back up, and now it was getting close to noon. The warning signs along the way did not give me comfort.
We refilled our water bottles and shooed the squirrels away from the candy as we rested, the boys impatient to get moving. At some point, Sunshine dropped a couple of M&Ms on the ground and a flurry of squirrel warfare ensued, causing us to jump onto the ledge and earning us the ire of the more orderly hikers on the trail. After all, the brochure said definitively not to feed the wildlife. Now we knew why.
We looked up the trail. What had been so pleasant coming down now looked daunting. I had my personal list of killer trails: Vernal Falls in Yosemite, Mount Constitution on Orcas Island, and Iron Mountain closer to home, but none came close to this one, with an elevation change of over 2,000 feet in just three miles. I steeled myself and started putting one foot in front of the other. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Sunshine was by my side the whole way.
Which brings me to where I started this story, almost at the top and having a clear picture of which child I could count on in life. As we made our way the last few bends and turns in the trail, the temperature shed its austere cloak and became more welcoming. We found ourselves encouraging other hikers who were finding the path equally difficult. We passed people coming down in all manner of dress, but none of them looked like experienced hikers, and passed a ranger who seemed to be at a loss, questioning them and turning some back, while at the same time inquiring about the welfare of the people coming up. Not a job I would want to have. As expected, Maverick and Goose were at the top, jeering at us and begging for ice cream.
We made it. We had hiked the canyon. (Well, part of it, but I’m counting it.) We paused for a quick victory photo and headed to the car. Ravenous, we didn’t look for a picnic spot. We unloaded the cooler and sat by the road on a downed tree, scarfing down the most delicious impromptu salami and french bread sandwiches. It was quite possibly the best food I’ve ever eaten. Hunger will do that to you.
We did finally make it to the hotel in Flagstaff, and judging from the red ring around the hot tub, were not the only people to have made this trek. For months after, I would put on my socks that retained the red smudge of the trail dust and remember our road trip. The canyon itself made an indelible mark on my heart, and I can’t wait to return, hopefully not in the heat of summer, to hike it again.