“Wanna go to the Grand Canyon?” Esteban asked. “Sure. Sounds great!” I responded.
Neither of us had any idea of the improbable chain of events our casual decision would unfold.
We were on the road by about 9:30 a.m., winding our way through Sedona’s hills. We took 89A north into the mountains and quickly left the red rocks behind for dense alpine forests. The scenery reminded us of Oregon. For about 10 miles, I tried not to look out my window at the precipice that lay beyond the two-foot guardrail.
Eventually the road flattened out, and an hour later we were in Flagstaff. We stopped for gas in a desert prairie and I took the wheel. About an hour later, as we were approaching Bedrock, we saw two guys along the road with their thumbs up. “Should we pick them up?” I asked, as I slowed down and pulled over. “They don’t look like too much trouble,” Esteban said.
Esteban was right: Nick and Mark were no trouble at all. Nick was an adventure tour leader who was between trips. His friend Mark—whom Nick had known since their elementary school years in Pennsylvania—was an environmental engineer. They had a tradition of meeting up once a year to travel together.
Unfortunately, during this year’s trip, Nick’s car had broken down in Bedrock. They’d decided to hitchhike while the car was being fixed. And so it was that our paths intersected.
To make a long story short, Esteban and I ended up spending the whole day with Nick and Mark. They were perfect travel companions: funny, educated, well-traveled, easygoing, considerate, and nimble as mountain goats. That last item on the list freaked me out on more than one occasion as they leaped across a 2,000-foot divide from one stony outcrop to another.
But everyone survived. And along the way, we got to walk up to a group of resting elk cows, watch a pair of ravens playfully lock talons and plummet a hundred feet, hike for miles along the canyon’s rim, and take goofy pictures of each other at every overlook we encountered. Esteban and I had a blast.
As the sun faded behind the hills, we dropped Nick and Mark off in the same parking lot where we had first seen them almost six hours earlier. We waited to make sure their car would start. When we got the thumbs-up, Esteban turned toward the highway and we drove off. I was sad to leave them behind.
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ve finally seen the Grand Canyon with my own eyes. It defies any description I can muster—either through words or photographs. But I will say this: Hiking its rim is one of the best ways to make new friends.