By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Occurred: 1/10/1995
Topics/Keywords: #GrandCanyon #Winter #KarenHopeCilwa #JenniferAnnCilwaRizzo Page Views: 2257
Visiting Grand Canyon in the winter.

In January, 1995, I was teaching a class in Arizona and took a side trip to Hollywood to visit my daughters, Karen and Jennifer, who were living there at the time. This was their first time really far from home, really on their own (together; Jenny had previously had a solo adventure further north in California) and they were very excited to show me the restaurant where they worked, their apartment, and so on.

It wasn't the best neighborhood in town. In fact, I feared for the safety of my rental car. So, after a quick tour, I told them to grab their things and hop in—we were going for a ride. I had no idea where! –But, away from there!

Caution: Immigrant Crossing

We headed south through Los Angeles, as I tried to pick a suitable destination. The problem was, I myself didn't know California well. The nearest thing I could think of that I'd want to see, was Grand Canyon back in Arizona, even though it was January—surely not the best time to visit and I'd never been there in the winter. On the other hand, as we passed the run-down neighborhoods, poorly-maintained roads, and "Immigrant Crossing" signs (I am not kidding!), Arizona in winter seemed more and more attractive. Finally, we cut across to I-10 and headed east towards Arizona.

Karen and Jenny observe a stony outcropping.

This was the girls' first opportunity to see the western wilderness in its austere glory. We made frequent stops so they could enjoy it, even doing a little rock scrambling.

Jenny and Karen do a bit of climbing.

Because we'd gotten a late start—it was nearly lunchtime when we left Hollywood—a spectacular sunset signaled the end of the day, but not of our trip.

Sunset at the Arizona border.

By now we were on a side road, one that would eventually pass through Prescott. We were stopped by a Border Patrol checkpoint, where we managed to work every reference to American popular culture into the conversation that we could think of. Laverne and Shirley…Mary Richards…Rocky and Bullwinkle. It didn't matter; they were just checking our licenses and quickly sent us on our way.

We drove through the night; Karen took turns driving while the other napped. Eventually the sun rose to reveal the high chaparral north of Prescott.

High chaparral north of Prescott.

Soon we came to more tortured Rim Country landscape near Chino Valley, and a place called Hell Canyon. We stopped for the photo op. The two photos I took, first of Karen and then of Jennifer, remain my favorites of these two.

Karen at the Hell Canyon campground. Jenny at Hell Canyon.

These photos, of course, were shot on film. (There were no digital cameras in 1995.) When I had the negatives processed, the camera store asked permission to make a copy of the photo of Jennifer, which they used as a sample in one of their frames. Every time I came in after that, I would see Jenny's picture brightening up the place.

Our approach to Grand Canyon wasn't auspicious. We drove beneath heavy clouds and a driving rain that soon became a heavy snow. I didn't care; we were too close now to give up!

Threatening clouds near Grand Canyon. The Brady Bunch at Grand Canyon.

There was no one at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, so we entered the park at no cost. The roads were coated with unblemished snow. Worse, the fog filled the air; visibility was limited to just a few yards. I very much feared Karen and Jennifer, on this, their first trip to Grand Canyon wouldn't be able to see anything.

I had been to Grand Canyon several times: When I was ten years old, with my other daughter Dottie on a rafting trip, and on a couple of other rafting trips on my own. But Karen and Jenny's entire experience with Grand Canyon was in watching the episode of The Brady Bunch when the Bradys made the trip—and, as far as my girls knew, that represented reality!

And now, here we were, surrounded by deep fog and silent snow-covered ground. At the rim, it was as if the world ended at our feet.

Karen and Jenny at the Rim, in the fog.

And then, a miracle occurred.

The fog began to clear.

A wind blew up and drilled a hole into the fog over the canyon. Suddenly, there was a tunnel though it—it didn't extend that far over the Canyon, after all—and we could see the North Rim, 25 miles away from us, bathed in sunlight. Then, in short order, the rest of the fog began to unravel as well.

Karen and Jenny observe the flog lifting. Festoons of fog decorate the Canyon.

I had never seen the Canyon like this! —Never imagined it this way. Karen gasped. "I thought it would look like it did in The Brady Bunch!" Nothing could have pleased me more, than for her to see that it did not.

Paul, Karen and Jenny in Grand Canyon.

It was still pretty chilly, of course; the ground was patchy with snow and there wasn't much sun. But it was still awe-inspiring, which is what Grand Canyon does best.

The girls celebrate a pinnacle.

Years later, I would have to point out Karen's ease at sitting on a cliff's edge, when she begged me not to do the same with her nephew Zachary.

Karen on the edge.

We had lunch at the Canyon Café, and bought warm pullovers at the gift shop there. Still, Jenny was more interested in looking good for the camera, than in keeping warm.

Jenny: very cool.

I got the girls to photography me near a two-thousand-year-old juniper. The trees at the Canyon's edge are truly ancient, old when the conquistadores first came upon the Canyon in the 1500s.

A 2000-year-old tree. Grand Canyon

Even people who have seen many photos of Grand Canyon and researched before visiting it, are amazed. The reality always looks ten times bigger, and ten times farther away, than the photos.

Jenny on the trail. Karen looking over the overlook. Snow in Grand Canyon.

Who would have imagined that winter would be the perfect time to visit Grand Canyon? It's not too hot; there are no crowds, and no traffic. There is silence, peace suitable for meditation and contemplation, and the basic services (the El Tovar hotel, a couple of restaurants, and a gift store or two) are available.

We wandered the Rim Trail without another soul in sight. It was too icy to attempt to descend even a short distance down the Bright Angel Trail but that was okay; there was scenery a-plenty from the Rim itself.

I've been back many times, hiking, camping and just visiting. But this trip, in January, remains unique and distinct in my memory: The time I introduced two of my daughters to the Grand Canyon, swathed in fog and adorned with snow.

Paul at Grand Canyon