When we left Colorado in 2002 to move to Monterey Bay, CA my parents took us on a roundabout trip. The first stop we made was to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument (a couple years before it officially became a National Park). As a middle school student in Colorado we learned about some of the geological areas in the state and how unique they are, so I couldn’t wait to visit the dunes. I remember we parked the car mid morning along the side of the road because the park was so busy, I don’t even remember there being a parking lot, but that could have been 11 year old me not paying attention to driving conditions. We all piled out of the car to see the dunes. We climbed up the mountainous dunes with the dog, got about halfway up, ran back down, and then left to continue our journey.
I knew the next place we could stop was Mesa Verde National Park in Southwestern Colorado. I was so excited to see the Ancestral Puebloan city that I learned about in my 6th grade social studies class. I was ready to see the abandoned places carved and constructed into the sides of the mountains. I saw the exit coming up and excitedly told my dad who was driving that we would reach the turn soon, and then I saw us go past the exit. I alerted him that he had missed the exit and he said, “Whoops.” But we did not turn around, we kept driving to our hotel near the Four Corners area.
Now as an adult who has gone on many road trips I understand that at 5pm after a full day of driving and a stop for hiking, that with up to two hours left to drive, my father was not about to stop that car so I could see the cliff dwellings. As an 11 year old who was very excited to see a National Park that had so much to do with history and the story of the Ancestral Pueblo people who helped shape the American Southwest, I was very disappointed. I would not have the honor of seeing the remains of this ancient civilization for nearly 20 years.
Alas, with the disappointment in my heart from having to bypass Mesa Verde National Park, we went on and made our way to the Four Corners where I placed one appendage in four states at once. After our brief foray to the Four Corners we drove to Grand Canyon National Park. I remember going through the ranger checkpoint at the entrance of the park and thinking that it wasn’t very impressive, it looked like a scrub forest, but we hadn’t seen the canyon yet. Our first stop was at the Desert View Watchtower. As a child I was excited to be able to climb up to the top of the tower. We saw the canyon, but I was not moved or concerned with the splendor that is the Grand Canyon. We then went to the Bright Angel Trail and walked partway into the canyon. There was a park ranger standing near a ledge and perched on it was a very large bird, the ranger was excitedly telling us that it was a California Condor the largest bird in North America and critically endangered, we were able to see it perched on a cliff close up and not far off in the distance in flight. Of all the things we saw in the park that day, seeing the California Condor was by far the memory that replays in my mind as if it was yesterday.
As we left the Grand Canyon I still did not fully appreciate the absolute privilege it was to have seen it’s unparalleled beauty, but I know that I will be forever grateful to my parents for taking me to this National Park. When we arrived in Monterey Bay a few days later we were thrust into a completely different world.
How was your first visit to the Grand Canyon?