Happily out of range at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Rebecca Brown

By Rebecca L. Brown

Every year more than five million people visit the Grand Canyon. Only one percent make it to the bottom. Last week, Steve and I became members of this elusive club.

The view from the edge of the Grand Canyon is breathtaking. To climb down (and out) on your own two feet is life changing … or at least a memory for a lifetime. For Steve and me, dressed in our telltale brand new REI gear, it was all of the above.

A trip down the South Kaibab trail is measured in milestones, not miles. Drop a few switchbacks off the edge and the brisk rim breeze subsides. A few more and the temperature begins to rise. The 360-degree view from the famous Kaibab Limestone – dubbed the bathtub ring of the canyon -can only be explained as otherworldly. And it practically is with geologic exposures in the inner gorge nearly two billion years old. Skeleton Point provides the first view of the Colorado River and the utter disbelief that such a humble stream of water could have created such a majestic sight. The Tip Off Point literally tips you into the gorge and towards the Kaibab Suspension Bridge constructed from cables carried down on the backs of men when the mules couldn’t manage. A tunnel leads to the bridge that is the gateway to the famous Phantom Ranch and our home for three days: Bright Angel Campground.

To say that less is more when it comes to camping in the Grand Canyon is an immense understatement. Whatever you carry in, you’re carrying out and up 5,000 feet. (Thankfully our travel companions from Montreal considered the two bottles of white wine we shared on Shabbat a “necessity.”)

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The best thing about camping at Bright Angel is the camaraderie and the shared connection that everyone has traveled under their own power and for their own very personal reasons into one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It’s a place where respecting one’s neighbors means not hanging dirty socks in trees to dry or banging the lid to the ammo box that holds your food in the early morning. Dimming one’s headlamp on a dark trail is an expected courtesy. Campground “Quiet Hours” are from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. And it’s actually quiet but for the sound of the river and the million twinkling stars in the sky.

Regardless of the hour there are noises that you will never hear in the canyon. No cars or sirens. No mindless television. No beeping and blaring video games. And, most notably, no cell phones. Or their companion one-sided cell phone conversations.

You see, there’s no cell phone coverage in the canyon. Not because it’s impossible. It is. But because some wise person has thankfully preserved a spot where it’s still impossible to divide your attention between your phone and life.

And such was life for us … at least for three days. Undivided attention for Steve and for me and for the beautiful place we were blessed with the good health to climb down into and, eventually, out of. That alone was worth the miles of hiking and the 5,000 vertical feet.

Our guide warned that real life returns quickly once you’ve hiked to Skeleton Point where spotty coverage resumes. Listen closely and you may even hear the telltale “You’ve Got Mail.” Steve and I did not succumb to temptation quite so soon. We held off to the top. Seated in the El Tovar Lounge, wine in hand, we hit “Power” and one by one the sea of emails rushed in along with the overwhelming feeling that we’d missed something. A deadline at work. Snack for preschool. A panicked (babysitting) grandparent. We were, after all, integral to the spinning of the world. Right? Well, apparently not. It kept right on spinning. Our colleagues worked on. The kids survived. And the grandparents managed. Perhaps the only thing missed was an extra cheap massage on Groupon , which I could have used right about then.

So what did I learn? That the world does keeps spinning even if I’m not connected every moment. That if it’s OK to sign off for three days in the wilderness, then it is certainly OK to sign off to give all of the things important to me in my life my undivided attention. Like my husband. And my children. And the joke that my son, Ben, has to tell me again on the way home. All of those precious moments in life that are far more important than whether I’ve immediately returned a message, mindlessly read Facebook status or otherwise used my phone for some purpose that Alexander Graham Bell surely never intended.

Last year we vowed to slow down on Shabbat -to take it in and to turn the rest off. We’ve done a pretty good job in that respect, but there’s room for improvement on the other six days of the week. I’m ready.

So if you email me and I take a few days to answer, now you know why.

Dor to Dor

Rebecca Brown, a lawyer, works as an adviser at Washington University’s School of Law. She lives in Clayton with her husband, Steve, and their two young children. They are members of Central Reform Congregation.

“Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent Jewish Light series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area.If you are interested in contributing to Dor to Dor, please email [email protected].