The Summer of 1997: A Look Back

Helllloooooooooo!" That’s what I shouted over the Grand Canyon when we first pulled up. You have to do that. It’s the law. Whenever you see a great big hole placed inconveniently between you and your destination, you have to get out of your car and embarrass your

family by yelling loudly. For maximum effect, there should be a lot of strangers around, ensuring that your teen-age daughter will never speak to you again "for as long as I live!" or until you get back into the car, whichever comes first. "If you EVER do something like that again, Dad..."

I’m hearing this a lot lately, now that I’ve apparently entered a period of my life where I routinely do things outside the narrow range of teen-age acceptability, such as innocently walking through the house in my pajamas—my OWN house, mind you—when she has friends over. Was that so wrong? I think I look good in matching plaid tops and bottoms, accessorized with comfortable suede slippers. Frankly, I was a little surprised they didn’t invite this snappy dresser to join in their fun.

But back to the Grand Canyon, a geological phenomenon that really gets in the way of people trying to make Vegas by dinner time ("What the...! [sound of car brakes squealing] How did THIS get here?! What, they couldn’t put up a bridge or something?!!")

Our 11-year-old wanted us to go on the famous mule ride down to the bottom, which prompted me to find out again if the canyon could return an echo, which it did: "Noooooooo!"

You see, I’ve been told the dirty little secret about that ride. Contributing editor Joyce Hollyday used to spend her summers selling tickets for the popular mule trip. Popular, that is, at the beginning. Decidedly unpopular about five minutes later when the tourist realizes he has just paid $200 to sit on an animal who walks right on the very edge of a narrow trail, presumably to listen to loose stones scrabbling down the mile-deep drop-off. Of course, the mules probably can’t hear those stones since the people on their backs make their own noises: sad, pitiful noises, punctuated by short screams of terror. Hearing her recount this from the relative safety of our office building a few years ago, I immediately updated my personal creed of beliefs to include not riding a mule into the Grand Canyon. (This replaces "Don’t tug on Superman’s cape," since someone finally convinced me that he’s just a mythical superhero. Oh well. There’s still Batman.)

So we didn’t do the mule ride, which was disappointing to our youngest, but I quickly pointed out that disappointment is one of those emotions that living people have, as opposed to the emotions felt by formerly living mule riders. We could have hiked down into the canyon, except for the signs that said "Don’t hike down into the canyon." It seems that people forget that hiking down means at some point you probably will say "Hey, like, we have to go all the way back up now. By the way, is it just me or is it really hot down here?" Yes, it’s 115 degrees at the bottom, but don’t worry, at night it gets down to just above freezing. A hiking wonderland? You bet.

To make up for not risking our lives in the Grand Canyon, we did consider caving, which also requires a high degree of danger since the snack bar inside Carlsbad Caverns had the worst hot dogs. (Parenthetical note to cavers: Lights on the ceiling, wooden walkways on the floor, snack THAT’S caving!)

THE AMERICAN WEST is truly an awesome place, with skies that stretch from horizon to horizon (unlike the American East, where the horizon stretches from liquor store to liquor store.) The West is big, with big skies, big canyons, and big shoulders (oops, that’s Chicago). The West is so big they say things like, "Yeah I know where that is. You go up this road about 430 miles and turn left. Then you’re halfway there."

The high point of our trip was the week we spent in a mountain cabin, right next to a spring-fed stream. There is no better rest than sleeping next to a quietly gurgling stream, except for when you get up several times a night and groggily stumble into the bathroom to shake the toilet handle. "Oh yeah," you remember, "...gurgling stream."

Unfortunately, our euphoria for the cabin was diminished somewhat when a neighbor walked over and reported he had seen more bears this year than ever before, to which I replied—in the timeless words of my mountain-taming ancestors: "Monopoly, anyone!?" I quickly began planning a week’s worth of great indoor fun, telling the kids "a cabin can be a wonderfully cozy place...DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!...a place you never really have to leave, okay guys?" The neighbor assured us there is nothing to fear from bears as long as you don’t run when you see one. "Just yell real loud, or give a sharp whistle, and they’ll go away." He forgot that in this particular circumstance, people’s whistles may fall short of the necessary sharpness, sounding more like "PPHLIPSTH!" or "TWEEPFTH!"

The neighbor guy (who was beginning to get on my nerves) also mentioned casually that we probably shouldn’t cook any bacon, since bears are really attracted to the odor. Seeing a bear would make me forget all this good advice, of course, and I would probably run away as fast as possible, screaming loudly the first thing that came into my mind: "BACON! I GOT YOUR BACON HERE! WHO WANTS BACON?!"

But otherwise the mountain was beautiful. At least the parts we could see through the window.

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"The Summer of 1997: A Look Back"
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