A Grand Sight
I sure would hate to be a sleep walker in the Grand Canyon. One misstep and you surf the wild Colorado the hard way.
My wife and I, along with six other intrepid from Laurens County, recently spent a week, roaming the scenic National Parks of northern Arizona and southern Utah. The people were friendly, the scenery was breathtaking and the rough hiking trails were a real challenge for an overweight, near-sighted grandfather with an elevated glucose level.
One of the more difficult tasks in taking in all this natural glory is getting there. We flew from Charlotte to Phoenix, Arizona in a very large plane populated by an even larger crowd of anxious, itchy tourists determined to disembark before the plane came to a safe and secure stop, somewhere west of the Mississippi.
I compare flying now to a very bad bus ride without the scenery. We always fly economy, never first-class. I hope I never see what hell is really like but I can imagine an over-crowded, under-staffed plane inhabited by tired, disgruntled passengers recently strip searched by federal employees.
I know that TSA agents have a tough and necessary job to protect the flying public. It just seems to me more than incidental that I have to remove my belt, shoes, hat and dentures to prove that I do not have a machine gun hidden somewhere in my few remaining clothes.
I have been in enough airplanes in recent years to state, emphatically, that I hate the experience. I am in my late 60’s and I can remember the time when flying was fun. Smoking was no problem and there was enough alcohol available to abide the fellow in the next seat who was trying to sell life insurance.
We traveled once to Alaska for a 10-day tour in a small recreational vehicle. I was so anxious to get home I booked a 12-hour flight that took us through four time zones and three airports before arrival at Greenville-Spartanburg.
At a TSA inspection site in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I placed an I-phone inside a shoe. As I prepared to zip my belongings along the conveyor belt, a rather large TSA agent advised me that a shoe was not the appropriate place for a cell phone. Never one to question the authority of someone that size, I placed the cell phone in the other shoe. Only tears and a plea of temporary insanity saved me from an extended stay at a Wyoming prison.
Enough complaining, we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I have been to California a couple of times and once visited the glorious Yellowstone National Park. But this was my first trip to the fabled Grand Canyon, a very large hole in the ground that extends more than 270 miles along the Colorado River. The canyon is 18 miles across at its widest point and a mile deep. That’s 5,280 feet into a raging river.
We stayed in a hotel, literally on the rim of the canyon. It was no more than a good pitching wedge to the very edge of a very edge of a forbidding precipice. Some of our more adventurous compatriots strode to the canyon rim to observe, first hand, a glorious sunrise. I stayed in the room and looked to the east through a pinched and narrow bathroom window. Cowardly, I know, but I am too fat to fly.
The colors and crevices of these western parks must be seen to be appreciated. Some of the rock formations are a dazzling white and others are a deep red, almost crimson. We visited Monument Valley, where the great John Ford directed classic western and cavalry movies starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. We floated for an entire morning on a clear lake, formed behind a monumental dam on the Colorado. We toured Bryce National Park and Zion National Park, two lesser known but equally spectacular vistas.
The trip ended in Las Vegas, one of my least favorite spots in the lower 48. I have been to Sin City twice and gambling is a vice that I have largely managed to avoid. On a previous trip, I won $15 in quarters while playing a slot machine in the men’s room at the Las Vegas airport. In those days, that was enough lunch money for a month. It just took a little longer to settle a bill with a pocket full of quarters.
The comparison of garish Las Vegas to the natural beauty of the west was not lost on me. I must admit as I hurtle towards my sunset years that I am not a particularly spiritual person. But a visit to these sites will convince even the crankiest of cynics that no human hand could have created these wonders.
I arrived back in my home county, convinced that this is a big, broad generous country worth cherishing and certainly worth preserving. Even in an election year.
(Ernie Segars is the retired Laurens County Administrator and former associate editor of The Chronicle.)