The Grand Canyon
From Great Outdoor Store
Let me tell you about my brother Burt. He’s a comic book super fan, Nintendo champion, and is one of the only people I know who reads encyclopedias cover to cover. He turned 50 this year and wanted to see the Grand Canyon. Naturally, I volunteered but wasn’t sure he would take me up on it as our trip together 10 years ago to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole ended with him asking me for his money back. Burt loves nature and seeing wildlife. He also likes sleeping in, which isn’t conducive to seeing animals in nature. So, after spending three days traveling through Yellowstone, the only animals we saw were the plentiful prong horns and occasional buffalo. The only redeeming parts of that trip for Burt was the food, hanging out with our dog Conrad, and the occasional natural feature like Old Faithful. We stood at Old Faithful for a few minutes and watched the geyser. Burt snapped a photo of it, exclaimed, “I got it!” and headed for the car. Burt is a tough customer.
As you can imagine, I had some ground to make up on this trip! I knew that seeing and experiencing the Grand Canyon was going to be hard; Burt has had about a million surgeries on his legs starting from when he was little, so his legs get sore when he is on them too long. Hiking wasn’t an option. A good friend recommended that we take a helicopter tour. I first asked Neil how many helicopters crash in the Canyon a year and he assured me that it’s a rarity. With my fears assuaged I called Burt and asked if it was something he would like to do. He answered without hesitation: “Yes.”
Now we just had to get there.
In hindsight, we probably should have taken more than six days to drive to the Grand Canyon and back. Jeff, Burt, our two dogs Sydney and Buck, and I piled into the car after work on Wednesday and starting driving--in total, we drove just under 3000 miles in those 6 days. It was rough. We fueled ourselves on gas station food and Dr. Pepper, but we made it to the Grand Canyon airport on Saturday morning in time to catch our flight. It was a high wind day and the flights before us had been cancelled. This didn’t seem to be a big deal until Burt and I got into the helicopter with four other people and the pilot. Burt and I had front row seats. The pilot gave us rundown of safety instructions, helped us put on our headsets, and played Danger Zone as we left the ground.
The first few minutes were great—we were close to the ground and not catching the crosswind. As we neared the rim of the Canyon, you could see that the ground was about to fall out from underneath us. As it did, there was an audible gasp over the headphones and five of us looked for something to grab onto--Burt sat completely still.
For 45 minutes.
We flew over the Canyon, looking down on the boats floating on the Colorado. We saw where the Colorado River and Havasu Creek meet, which was brown and then green from the rain the day before. The experience was incredible and terrifying as we occasionally caught some crosswind, but fully worth the price for the experience.
The helicopter landed back at the airport and we took some photos. It was a full ten minutes before Burt started to talk. And once he started, he didn’t stop for 3 hours. It made the 8 hour drive to Jeff’s sister’s house in Torrey, Utah go by a little more quickly. We spent the following day at her place, looking for preying mantis and getting a first glimpse of the fall colors around Fish Lake. The next morning we started our 2 day drive back to South Dakota. Burt was a champ and didn’t seem to mind the time in the car. During the drive home, he told me that he wanted his next trip to be to Hawaii so he could see the volcanoes and eat seafood—something that was lacking on this trip.
I’ve already started looking for places to stay and things that Burt will be able to do once we get there. He is an easy travel companion—willing to try new food, (in fact, he insists trying the most obscure thing on the menu) willing to have new adventures, and doesn’t mind a little down time as long as there are animals or landscape to look at. Burt also has no problem telling you if he does or doesn’t want to do something, which also makes traveling with him easy. There’s no guessing. I’m always on high alert when I’m with Burt—making sure people don’t make fun of him or take advantage of his disabilities. During our trip, we didn’t run into any situations in which I had to defend or protect him (so different from when we were growing up) and that gave me renewed faith in people.
During our 6 days, we visited 4 National Parks, ate way too much Mexican food, drank way too much Dr. Pepper, broke the windshield in the car, and got to hear Burt laugh every time we drove over a rumble strip. It was a fantastic trip with my big brother and I can’t wait until Hawaii.