Eons ago when I was young and imagined that adventure was for the young, I went on a two-week kayak trip through the Grand Canyon. One of the other kayakers was 73-year-old Spike White, who had started kayaking at age 70. The director of an Ozarks summer camp, Spike introduced thousands of kids to canoeing, climbing, hiking, and swimming, and every day he saw that being adventuresome was less about age than about a state of mind. On our trip Spike did better than some of the young: after he successfully ran the notorious Lava Falls, we hoisted his kayak onto our shoulders, with Spike still in it, and gave him a victory parade around the beach.

Years later I watched another kayaker, Lonnie Bedwell, starting into Grand Canyon. Lonnie was blind. I was reminded of hiking down Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail with Keith Green, a longtime park ranger who was also blind. He tested every step of ten miles with his cane. Spike, Lonnie and Keith were following the spirit of John Wesley Powell, the Colorado River’s first explorer, who had lost an arm in the Civil War and thus was a poor swimmer, but he didn’t let this stop his love of adventure and geology.

There’s an adventurer in all of us, and sometimes it takes a place like the Grand Canyon to bring it out. The canyon has long attracted people with a unique spirit, challenged them greatly, but also given them canyon-deep satisfactions. The Ancestral Puebloans who farmed inside the canyon could have had a much easier life elsewhere, but they found the canyon so powerful that their descendants, the Hopis and Zunis, still view the canyon as their sacred place of creation and make pilgrimages to it. American prospectors faced enormous work for little profit, but some fell in love with the canyon and did anything to stay. Teddy Roosevelt loved the mystique of the Wild West and hunting Grand Canyon mountain lions, but the canyon and other natural wonders inspired him to become our breakthrough conservationist. The Santa Fe Railway rose to the challenge of national parks and found a young high school teacher, Mary Colter, with an inspired vision of how architecture could honor southwestern landscapes and cultures. The canyon has teased artists, poets, writers and musicians into some of their greatest intellectual and aesthetic adventures.

Next year, 2019, is an especially good year to explore Grand Canyon National Park. It’s the 100th anniversary of the park’s creation and the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s river expedition. Many special events are planned. 

Road Scholar offers various ways to explore Grand Canyon: expert-led river trips, hiking trips and rim stays.  And no, we don’t require you to be disabled, blind, or a 73-year-old kayaker. It’s okay if your sense of adventure includes only geology, beauty, Native American cultures, frontier history, wildlife, art, architecture, amazing characters and stories, starry skies and the forces of creation.             

Want to learn more?

To learn more about Road Scholar learning adventures to the Grand Canyon, visit www.roadscholar.org/grandcanyon.

About the Author
Road Scholar instructor Don Lago has been exploring the Grand Canyon for 30 years and has taken six kayak trips and some 75 backpacking trips into the canyon. He is the author of three books about Grand Canyon history from university presses, including the newly released The Powell Expedition: New Discoveries About John Wesley Powell’s 1869 River Expedition.

  • I am so excited to take my 10th trip to the Grand Canyon next year to celebrate the 100th Birthday.  The Grand Canyon never disappoints.  In one day, with the changing light from dawn to dusk, one can sit in the same place and experience so many changes.  This year will complete my "Grand Tour" of the Grand Canyon.  I have been on every rim but the North Rim.  I have flown above and down into the canyon, walked the glass bridge, hiked down Bright Angel Trail and rafted the Colorado.  This year I am not only going to the North Rim but staying there for two nights.  I can not wait to wish GCNP Happy Birthday.

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