Tuesday, October 05, 2010

35 Years in the American Southwest

A very important anniversary is happening right now in my life. It was exactly 35 years ago today that I was given a two-way radio and a used uniform, and asked to patrol down the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National park for the National Park Service. But that was not my ultimate job that day, nor was the hike down the trail my final destination. I was hired as a volunteer to be stationed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and this was the day - October 6, 1975 - that I became an official resident of the American Southwest. Imagine the thrill as this 21-year old boy set out on his way 9.5 miles to his new "home" at the River Ranger Station near Phantom Ranch. It was dream really, and one that I relive constantly as I recall my good fortune to come of age in a time when people were encouraging each other to wander and "find yourself". Boy did I ever!

I can remember some scenes from the top end of the trail but my anticipation at arriving "home" must have precluded me from remembering much about the end of the hike. I did see Mark Sinclair on his way out that day. He was the person who had been working as the volunteer at Phantom during the summer of '75 and had just been upgraded to seasonal ranger, which made room for the new volunteer at the Ranch. We exchanged greetings and it was then that I knew that my path was not just some dream.

I worked as a VIP (Volunteer in Park) in Bright Angel Campground for four months and then one morning (after an all-nighter at the Ranch!) I was asked to be the seasonal ranger at Cottonwood Camp (seven miles north of Phantom) during the Bi-centennial summer. There, I remember meeting my first geology students from Northern Arizona University on a field trip. The rest they say, is history.

I have usually been on the trail in the canyon for this anniversary, which I have celebrated in some way ever since 1975. But this year, the Museum of Northern Arizona did not get their permits for group hikes across the canyon (due to the new application process) and so here I am in rainy Flagstaff, still celebrating anyway. I am 56 years old now, still hiking the canyon but a tad slower than I used to be. The canyon continues to inform, inspire and intrigue me. I will never not be connected (somehow, someway) to this holey place.

This is the first year that I have celebrated the anniversary with the huge cyber-world out there. In many years past, I was on the trail with eight to ten people and only then I might mention the anniversary if the mood and group was right. But 35 years is just too big a milestone to not share. Enjoy a few old pictures of me from the 70's in my uniform. (Remember, I did not start taking pictures myself until 1980 and so these are old one's from my fiend Bryan Brown.

October 6, 1975, was one step along the way for me and I thank my lucky stars that I let my good friends drive back to California without me that autumn day in 1975!

As a Lake Mead ranger in the lower end of Grand Canyon National Park, Spenser Canyon, August, 1977. That is Norm Henderson on the left. We camped here on my last river trip and it was all gravel!

On patrol at Columbine (Emery) Falls in the lower end of Grand Canyon, September, 1977. I guess upper arm muscles were not standard issue with the Park Service back then.

After a Cataract Canyon in Utah, August, 1981


  1. Wayne, thanks for sharing and happy anniversary. 35 years seems like a long time to have a relationship with the canyon, but in the canyon's time is nothing at all. Nice to hear the story of how you got your start here. It is a place that captures your heart, mind and body (OK, a little slower is alright.)

  2. Happy Anniversary Wayne! I really enjoyed your stories of life down there/back then on our hike a few years ago. Will be thinking of you this upcoming week while volunteering for the GCHBA service project at Cottonwood and Phantom. Supposed to stay in the River Ranger house while at Phantom! Waynes Old crib...Cool! Maybe see you at the GCHBA Symposium this Saturday? Cheers!
    Russell Ownby


If your comment will not post, email me with the problem.