What was your best experience in the field covering this story?
It had been several years since I was last at the Grand Canyon. And even though I "remembered" it, I'd forgotten just how overwhelming and utterly grand it is. Besides hiking down into the canyon, I also spent several hours hiking along its rim, looking out over its colors and shapes, and stopping at times to simply listen to the silence. It is a kind of quiet that is special to that place—a silence that seems to come from the depths of the canyon itself—and that seemed to me then to be the essence of serenity.
What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?
It was distressing to see how little information or recognition the National Park Service provides about the ties that link many American Indian tribes to the Grand Canyon. Apparently some Native American people also feel aggrieved about how they've been erased from the canyon. We hiked out of the Grand Canyon on the Tanner Trail. At the trailhead, there's a park service information sign that explains how this trail had been made and used by outlaws and cattle rustlers in the 19th century. Of course, the Anasazi actually had made it. And someone (I'd guess a Native American) had scratched across the sign: "Bullshit! This is Indian Country!" So at least one sign at the park has been partially corrected.
What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?
Our guides told us numerous stories about people who come to hike in the Grand Canyon, but who simply aren't prepared. Despite the numerous warning signs posted at every trailhead, they head into its depths without sufficient supplies—particularly water—and every year some of them die. It was hard to believe some of the stories. One of my guides, Dave Hogan, once met some Japanese tourists who were carrying little plastic sandwich bags of water on their eight-mile (13-kilometer) hike to the rim. Other trekkers abandoned all of their gear along the trail in their desperation to get out. His stories became more believable after we met a party of four men camped on a slope several miles above the Colorado River. They were out of water, but they still had plenty of canned gin!