Outside the Classroom: Partners in the Parks – Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument
When I landed in Las Vegas I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took a two hour shuttle from the airport to a motel in Utah where I would meet the rest of the students and program directors, and just that drive was amazing. Around every turn were new rock formations, different cacti, and a new story from our driver. The landscape was so open and seemed to roll on endlessly, as if we could drive forever and never get to where we were going.
The next morning I met nine new friends from all over the country (one from the Czech Republic) and three professors from Sothern Utah University. We all climbed into the vehicles and made our way to Pipe Springs, home of the Paiute Indians. Here we unpacked and got our first glace of our food for the week. I had no idea so many dried foods could exist. From dehydrated broccoli to evaporated milk, we had it all. In tight situations we would have to clean our cooking supplies with abrasive earth (dirt) in order to conserve water for drinking and hydrating our food supplies out in the desert, which really gives you an appreciation for what is wasted on a daily basis back home. That night, after catching and identifying bats with one of the researchers from SSU, we all found out that the desert can be unexpectedly cold. Even in June. None of us were prepared for the dramatic temperature change that goes along with a dry climate. Bundled up in our sleeping bags we went to sleep to escape the cold, our first day over, and all of us already friends.
Luckily we made it through the night, and after making breakfast, headed into the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument. The car trip took several hours but we were kept engaged by Dr. Todd Peterson as we ruminated on the nature of silence, the outdoors, and our busy lives. A few snake sightings also gave us the opportunity to get out and stretch, as well as to switch cars and get to know each other better. When we arrived at the research center we were greeted by Ranger Scott, an easy-going, but lively older guy with a few helping hands around the station. He provided a wealth of information on the park and other rangers in the area. I had no idea that the park was so much more than just the canyon itself. Scott’s station was nested high in the woods, around 8,000ft, with the canyon nowhere to be seen. We saw rare squirrels with all white tails, different shrubs and trees, and mountains offering gorgeous views of the surrounding plateaus.
Scott also built on the rumors we had heard about Ranger Todd—a man who would walk 30 miles to ranger meetings, lived on seaweed and nuts for weeks at a time, and drank only rain water which barely ever fell. He was 60 miles from the closest paved road, and would have some visitors come in by plane. We all envisioned him as an eccentric old man with a beard down to his knees, but he turned out to be a compact and energetic guy of about 30, with a real passion for the park. He was very content with just his two room house and the food and water he needed to live. We were both inspired by and envied his simple happiness. Just a few miles from Ranger Todd’s station we found the Grand Canyon campsite, and after a short walk, the inexplicable vastness that is the canyon. As Todd Peterson had expressed to us, some things just cannot be captured in words or pictures, and no matter how many times I look back at photos of that day, nothing will compare with the actual experience. Of course my first impulse was to see if I could throw a rock to the other side, but the canyon was so wide and deep, that I couldn’t even see it hit the ground. That night setting up camp was pretty easy. Since the tents could not be staked into the rock, we just laid out our sleeping bags under the stars. We didn’t have to worry about rain that much, at least not as much as some of the scorpions crawling around our campsite. Of course food never tastes as good as when you are camping and really hungry, and luckily that night we finally broke out the s’mores—a perfect ending to a perfect day.
We all had the chance to just sit and look out at the canyon by ourselves for two or three hours the next day, and it’s amazing how fast the time went by. Time definitely seemed to run differently on this trip, and we were able to address this time dilation during nightly talking circles we had. As Johnny, professor of geology had put it, on this trip we were “going out, as a way of going in.” Not only did we experience this great new landscape, but we also explored the uncharted areas of our minds.
If what we had already experienced wasn’t enough, that afternoon at camp, a few researchers greeted us and led us to investigate completely unexplored caves that had just been discovered. My friend Tim found a cave himself and got it named after him! We were able to see more bats, as well as experience the complete opposite of the vast canyon.
Soon enough I was traveling back to Las Vegas on the shuttle to fly back to Boston, and I was taking away an experience that I will never forget. Growing up around the deciduous forests of the east coast, this desert was like nothing I had ever seen, and I encourage everyone to explore this area, and really take the time to appreciate it. This park is not a tourist attraction, it’s a place of beauty and contemplation, a place to get away from society and experience silence. The canyon is truly a place to understand the magnificence of erosion: of the earth, of the body, of the mind.
-Justin Roberts, Chemistry