This fall my 12-year-old daughter headed off for her first trip down the Grand Canyon with students from her middle school through a group called Boulder Expeditions and the established educational guide service Grand Canyon Youth. The plan was to pay for the trip through fundraising throughout the year, engage in citizen science while on the river, learn about natural history, bond with new friends outside of the narrow confines of school and feel something of the great majesty of that place, to be changed by it.
She was tasked with giving a report about one aspect of the canyon while on the trip and she chose canyoneering. Before she left, she interviewed Dan Ransom, a Utah-based filmmaker who created the movie “Last of the Great Unknown.” The film documents the exploration of some of the last places that are still untouched by humans in North America, the slots and tributary canyons that make up the massive network that builds the Grand Canyon. It’s about the entire history of exploration in the place, too, starting with John Wesley Powell, who first ran the river, and ending up with Phoenix-based canyoneerers Rich Rudow and Todd Martin who have made first descents on more than 70 slots in the Grand Canyon. I was lucky enough to tag along with Rudow, Martin and Ransom on one of these first descents a few years ago. The trip scared the crap out of me (if you are a climber, you never want to see the things that canyoneers call anchors), but also touched the infinite beauty of our planet. In there, you build a tactile relationship with the place that’s deeper than passing visits.
When my daughter talked with Ransom, he ended by telling her this: “What I hope young people would take from the film is the same thing I hope you would take from your river trip—I want them to be inspired by wilderness and fight to protect it. I want them to realize that real adventure isn’t just something you see in videos or read about in magazines. Real adventure is something that is accessible to everyone.”
That idea resonated powerfully with me. Those of us in the outdoor adventure media world thrive on bringing you images and stories of things you may never do. Worse, we often play up the aspect of play too much in the wild, when what really matters is what happens in the internal landscape, how we each go out and meet wilderness and take it into ourselves and bring it back to the world where we live. And above all what’s most important is to continue to speak for and fight for these places that could easily be lost.
That message resonated with my daughter, too. She certainly came back from the trip filled with joy and wonder, but also a sadness about the development threats that could diminish the grandeur of the canyon. She wants to fight for it.
I also sent my daughter this quote from John Muir before she left, and I hope it can serve to help us all see deep into wild places: “As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”