My family and I recently took a trip to the Grand Canyon. This was an event almost two years in the making, as my in-laws had been planning it for quite a while. Combining the fun of being together with family and the majesty of a place such as the Grand Canyon would make for an amazing and memorable experience. So my husband, two children, and I embarked on the eight-hour drive from our home in Utah to Arizona, to experience one of the most well-known landmarks and National Parks in North America.
Now this sounds like a fine plan, except that I and my two children are totally blind. So it might seem strange that we went to one of the most arguably visual places in the country. Understandably, many of our friends were a bit confused by this choice. They wondered what we would really get out of such a trip with the dynamic of our family. I think this is a very fair and reasonable question. It’s true that three out of the four members of my family couldn’t see, from a literal visual perspective, the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation around us. Thankfully, there are so many other ways to experience beauty and wonder.
For my daughter, it was by smelling and feeling all the various plants as she went along the path, while we hiked in southern Utah. We enjoy taking our time as we travel, stopping to see fun things along the way. She particularly liked the yellow flowers, as even without sight, yellow has consistently remained her favorite color. She also took exuberant delight in breaking and molding the sun-baked clay that composed the ground on which we walked. She would have been content to stop and look at every plant, rock, and pile of clay along the way. She also took pride in leading! She would use the sand as a guide to know she was in the right place. If she felt plants on either side, she knew she had veered and would correct her course. It was pretty awesome to watch and definitely a proud mother moment.
My son, found joy in hearing the sound of his voice as it echoed off the canyon walls and it was the awesome type of echo, the kind that when you say a word or make a silly sound, the entire thing is echoed back to you. He also took pride in his ability to hike at all, as in his orphanage life, he never walked, let alone hiked in a canyon!
For my part, I found walking in the horse tracks fascinating. I also enjoyed just listening to the quiet. It is so refreshing to be somewhere with no sounds of cars, airplanes, blaring music, or sirens. I’d suggest finding ways, if you can, to seek out those opportunities for quiet in your life. They give you the chance to truly think, reflect, and wonder. As my husband so aptly says, it is good for the soul.
As we continued on, we stopped at Grand Falls Arizona. Our plan was to see and hear this beautiful waterfall, that we had read about, as we thought that would be a fun and more importantly auditory experience for all of us. The problem was that, with Arizona being a desert, after all, most of the water had dried up.
This didn’t stop my kids from finding things to enjoy, even without sight. They splashed in the scattered pools of water that remained. They loved looking at all the rocks that were now visible in the dry riverbed. I even found some cool textured igneous rocks to add to me and my husband’s little rock collection.
When we arrived at the Grand Canyon itself we asked the park ranger if she had any suggestions for a hike we could do that would fit our unique family situation. She recommended a geological trail, along the southern rim of the canyon, and it really was a good fit.
It was paved which made walking a bit easier for my son. Along the path, there were various geological formations and types of rock that we could all feel. My daughter, from the examples provided in the museum, learned to distinguish between aspen, Ponderosa pine, and juniper trees by the bark! This feat rather impressed other hikers, as she practiced her botany skills along the path. She also loved climbing every rock she could find.
We came to a spot, as we hiked this trail at the top of the canyon, along the southern rim, where I could feel the vastness of the place! Until that moment, if someone were to ask me, I wouldn’t have thought that vastness could be felt. I would have only associated it with a visual experience. When I told my husband how I was feeling, he showed me the thin layer of border rocks and the small step that separated us from the 4,000-foot drop to the canyon floor! The wind, as it blew through the huge expanse, had its own majestic sound and grandeur. Somehow just knowing where we were also made it feel all the more impressive. I also really enjoyed feeling all the different types of rocks and I think, with practice, I could learn to identify the different types by texture. My daughter and I could set up our own business, as blind trail guides. I think we’d do pretty well for ourselves!
My sister took the kids for a day to experience the pools and waterfalls at Crescent Moon Park in Sedona, Arizona. They absolutely loved the cold water, splashing and playing. They loved the sound of the water and of course, like all kids, throwing rocks. My son was so proud that he could stand on a rock, with the “strong water” moving quickly around him, without losing his balance.
While my kids were playing in the water and having some time with their aunt, my husband and I went on a train ride to the Grand Canyon. There is something soothing about the sound of a train on the tracks. When we arrived we went on the South Kaibab Trail, which takes you down in to the canyon. It felt so different, going down deeper in to that huge canyon. I loved it! Going down was a bit unnerving but it felt awesome to have done it! I also really enjoyed walking back up by myself!
I’ll admit, the reactions from other hikers when they realized I couldn’t see was amusing.
There have been few moments in my life where I envied those with sight. I’ll admit, while I walked and stood at the rim of the canyon or walked down into it, hearing my husband and sister exclaim in awe and wonder, I was jealous. They tried to explain, how the visual perspective changed with every few steps they took or how the slightly different position of the sun made them desirous to take yet another picture. Even as they continued to take pictures, they voiced their frustration over how all those images would never do this place justice! Even at night, when we’d return to our vacation house, they would exclaim in amazement about how well they could see the stars.
I did not write that last paragraph seeking to elicit pity. I wrote it to encourage you to realize the gift you’ve been given by having vision! Go out and make good use of it! Go find the beauty in rocks, trees, and the sky. And better yet, go do all this with those you love!