Last weekend I returned home from my first trip to one of the most special places in our country: Grand Canyon National Park. When I first walked up to the north rim of the canyon, it felt like my idea of up and down had been flipped. The land that the canyon is cut into is called the Kaibab, meaning “Mountain Laying Down” in the Paiute Native American tongue, and sits more than a mile above the Colorado River.
As you stand on the edge of the Kaibab plateau, you are quite literally looking down on mountains that have been carved out of the earth while standing on a flat, forested plane. After spending a few days hiking along the North Rim, hunting for brachiopod and coral fossils in the 300 million-year-old limestone that forms the topmost layer of Grand Canyon, it was time to cross the canyon. My favorite hiking partner (aka Dad) and I woke up for a pre-dawn start down into the canyon. We descended for 14 miles and 6000 vertical feet towards the Colorado, passing through incredible ravines, side canyons and towering temple buttes. The walk down was a mind-boggling walk through geologic history, going from the 300 million year old Kaibab limestone past dozens of layers of colored sandstone, shale, and more limestone all the way to the 1.8 billion year old Vishnu basement rock (almost half as old as Earth itself!!). These layers told the stories of continents smashing together, desert sand dunes, ancient coral reefs, and volcanic eruptions, all open to read like the pages from a book. After we crossed over the Colorado River on a particularly long suspension bridge, the fun part was over. Then it was another 10 miles and 5000 vertical feet up to the South Rim with the Arizona Sun beating down on us. Once we reached the top, it was time for some of the best tasting burgers and cold drinks of my life.
Hiking across Grand Canyon and sitting on its north and south rims for me was a powerful reminder of the importance of the natural treasures we have, and how important it is for us to protect them while keeping them accessible for generations. So next time you see a National Park Ranger or Forester, give them a high-five and say thanks for making our park and forest land the coolest places on earth!