SWC Fun at the Grand Canyon
By Allegra Borghese
Part of the fun of moving to Santa Fe for grad school is getting to explore a new geographical location. The high deserts offer a different kind of vastness than the concrete jungles of the east coast. While a seven hour drive can get you through four states back home, here it might get you out of one. Distance is so relative sometimes.
The drive to the Grand Canyon is easygoing but somewhat monotonous. There’s only so much dusty horizon I can handle. And yet it did not disappoint; the giant, debauched casino signs, teepee rest stops and life-sized dinosaur sculptures that punctuated the sides of the highway made me feel I was entering another time period, if not another planet. Who knew my country was like this in its Southwest corner? Not me.
Not everyone has an interest in camping, let alone on Thanksgiving night without family or turkey in 19 degree weather. However I managed to find one other person as untraditional and spontaneous as I wanted to be. Enter Sylvan, the official driver, chef and tent provider for this trip. I am forever indebted to him for making this adventure possible.
Upon getting to the canyon we quickly realized a few things: 1) one cannot camp precisely at the canyon’s rim as we expected; 2) there are a lot of people here, mainly half of Eurasia; and 3) park rangers are no longer polite this late into the season…particularly sassy are the bus drivers. We let none of this phase us. After setting up our tents at the camp site, we head to Mather Point to catch a glimpse of the canyon at sunset. First impressions:
Sylvan: I’m not saying it’s not big. It just could have been a little bigger.
Me: Yeah, I mean, I can see the other side.
Sylvan: Like everyone said how my mind wouldn’t be able to wrap itself around how big it is…but actually my mind can wrap itself around it.
Me: Yup mine can too…God we’re jerks!
Sylvan: Nope, just from the east coast.
Me: It’s still really pretty…
We are both so happy to be there.
Upon returning to our campsite in swallowing darkness, I have to come to grips with how cold 19 degrees is. I put on a third pair of pants and a fourth sweater and sit in the car with the heat on. As Sylvan fumbles to assemble our jet boil stove for the first time in the car’s headlights, I am contemplating the potential loss of going home now. Hmm, I could still say I made it here and got to see the canyon…only seven hours till I’m back in my warm bed…but I snap out of it. “I am making the fire,” I declare. And I start scouring (but more like devouring) the nearby earth for twigs and wood trying to work up a sweat.
Sylvan gets the water to boil. I start the fire. Ten minutes later he hands me a feedbag and a titanium spoon and says “Happy Thanksgiving.” I look at the brown bag of steaming lentil pilaf curiously, but I do not hesitate to dig in. And it is surprisingly delicious. Thank you, Mary Jane’s organic, vegan, freeze-dried camping meals. I take out dessert, dried mango that is now as hard as a rock and could quite possibly crack teeth. We proudly decide this is the healthiest Thanksgiving meal we’ve ever had.
The fire strangely goes out every 10-15 minutes, requiring constant attention. While this is somewhat of a blow to my fire-building-ego-self I make up for it in lung power, earning the nickname Dragonbreath Borghese. When we are tired of getting more wood and blowing on embers we call it a night. I go to bed thinking how pretty my tent is: it sparkles, how nice. Then I realize the sparkle is actually a film of ice lining the inside of the tent. It’s literally freezing.
We wake up with two dead phones, achy backs and a fierce demand for java. Oh, and blood all over Sylvan’s face. “I must have had a bloody nose over night,” he says, giving himself the nickname Nosebleed Schneider. We laugh and recharge with bitter, black, instant coffee and prepare for our hike into the canyon.
As we approached the head of Bright Angel Trail, Sylvan claims he wants to reach the bottom of the canyon and reckons it will take half an hour. Having read the guide for the trail which says it takes about 4 hours, I laugh at this and wonder how long I should wait to tell him of his faulty calculations. Apparently, it is a lot bigger once you’re in it. We have a glorious hike and warm up for the first time since arriving. And sadly, we have to turn out of the canyon somewhat prematurely to make it back to Santa Fe, but not before taking lots of pictures and feeling very blessed.
As short and unconventional as our Thanksgiving trip was, we both found moments of deep beauty and gratitude. I found it in the grand wingspan of a raven and in my borrowing all things down from a dear friend (which most certainly saved my life). Sylvan found it in the epic ZZ Top beard of our only approachable bus driver and in his perpetual caffeine jolt. There is nothing like nature to get you close to what matters most or what you’re most thankful for: working bodies, warm food and good company. We had a blast, and hope you did too wherever you were. Happy Holidays everyone.