Earlier this month we camped at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, a place that is dear to my heart. Four years ago we embarked on our first camping trip with kids at the North Rim completely unprepared physically and emotionally. Our good friends booked the site and invited us along, and as soon as I heard the words ‘Grand Canyon’ very few subsequent details registered, including which rim we were going to. As we began to gain elevation nearing the national park panic set in. Pine trees rapidly outnumbered cacti, the temperature dropped dramatically and rain splattered our windshield. I hadn’t packed any jackets or warm clothes thinking we were going to be camping in the desert in the summer. Being that it was our first camping trip in years, our first time camping with kids in tow and Ben had started walking the day before, we felt more than a little drained before we even arrived.
My naivety about the grandeur of the canyon didn’t stop at camping logistics. I knew the views would be impressive but I truly thought that after the first day the “been there, seen that” 14-year-old mentality would set in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Standing on the edge of the massive cliffs, staring at a million-year-old masterpiece never got old four years ago and only got better on this trip. On both visits I relished in the realization that my personal existence is but a fart in the wind compared to the existence of this planet I am fortunate to call home. It is a powerfully humbling experience to be at the canyon edge thinking of the creatures that have thrived and ceased to exist in the area, the years upon years it took the river to wear down the rock and sand, and the people who have clothed, fed and housed themselves in the harsh environment.
Four years ago I should have been concerned about the future of our planet and the effects of global warming but regretfully it was never a thought. This year, however, it was impossible for me to not think of the destructive force that is human nature. Although the national park appeared to be thriving with wildflowers decorating every meadow and hillside and the appearance of rapidly flowing water in the Colorado River, I was aware this trip of the threats facing the Grand Canyon. I’ve read recently about the amount of garbage and plastic that is being found in the wildlife being tracked by the national park service. Further, destructive effects of human existence and global warming include the threat of longer drought periods disrupting a sensitive eco-system, uranium drilling that will contaminate the water sources and emissions from nearby coal plants polluting the air.
While I was receptive to the reality facing the Grand Canyon on this trip, I was also forced to confront my contributions to the threats. I threw trash away, including plastic, and I drove a car all around the national park. I left footprints and carbon prints and plastic prints. A few months ago my family and I were on a really good streak of eliminating single-use plastic, being mindful of how much we purchased and where from and avoiding red meat. But I will admit that it slowly became overwhelming. It takes work and planning and can often cause inconvenience. I allowed myself to ignore my negative impact, prioritizing comfort and ease and choosing to narrowly focus on my suburban existence.
I don’t claim to be an environmentalist and I have a ton of work to do to clean up my act. But for me it is impossible to be in the presence of raw beauty like the Grand Canyon and not feel pain for what we are putting this world through. I am grateful for the memories and experiences that the Grand Canyon houses for my family from our last two visits. But I think the greatest gift the Grand Canyon offered this trip was the reminder and inspiration to be more mindful about my existence and impact; to accept inconvenience when inconvenience has the power to save something much larger than my personal comfort.