In my youth, I attended a typical country church about three miles from our farm. The old building had long pews, wood floors, high ceilings, and a raised platform in front, with space for a pulpit and choir. My earliest memories there are of fidgeting around on a hard pew, while the preacher droned on and on about sin, hellfire and damnation. As I grew older, I did less squirming and either read stories from church pamphlets, or simply daydreamed of boyhood adventures.
When I was thirteen in the fall of 1960, the Nazarene head office decided to charter two buses and take teens on a week-long excursion to the Grand Canyon. They reached out across the state, inviting youth to join in the trip.
I have no idea why I was the only teen from my church to go or why my parents were willing to part with the required $12.00. At the time, for us, it was a large sum of money. I mean, you could buy a gallon of gas for $.25 and a Chevrolet Impala car (fully loaded) for $2000.00.
My memories of the early portion of the trip are dim, but our arrival in the parking lot at our destination was not. I fully remember the remainder of my trip so many decades later. Our adult group leaders got busy organizing the packs we would carry for a two-day hike. We planned to walk to the bottom of the canyon and up the other side. We weren’t just going to visit the usual tourist attractions. We were hoofing it “big time”.
As we began our descent in the deep gorge, I was awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of the landscape. I was fascinated by the trail itself, with all the plants and layers of rock I was seeing along the way. Looking over the edge, down the winding switchback trail, I could see other trekkers, all adults, most with pack mules, loaded with supplies. I understood that these were people who assuredly had funds and could rent sturdy sure-footed creatures to carry their goods. Later in life, I suspected the church could have rented mules, but chose not to give us such an “easy” trip. Hard work and challenges for the good of our souls, you understand.
I could write a volume about those few days, spending the night on the floor the canyon, and of our adventures beyond. Also about getting emergency PB&J sandwiches that first evening from the custodian at the lodge which, unbeknownst to us, had closed for the season. The second day, we hiked upwards in misting rain, most of us finally taking shelter under a small overhang for the second night, a couple of hours from the top, when the weather had increased beyond our ability to continue safely. We spent a dark night miserably shivering in the wet and cold. The third morning dawned warm and dry and our spirits restored, we trekked onward to the top.
I did notice that that particular trip was never repeated by the church. Perhaps it had become more hardship than expected. Certainly, it appeared more planning should have been in order. Regardless, I would not have changed the trip in any way. Perhaps it was as formative as the leaders had hoped. It was a true adventure I’ll never forget and will cherish forever. That Colorado landscape is truly named appropriately. It is and always shall be the “Grand” Canyon.