The Big Ditch


Grand Canyon Alternative Spring Break

by Teresa Shipley
Tents unzipped to bright blue skies this morning. Eager students were divided into three hiking groups. The mission: eradication of graffiti within the Canyon and hand-pulling invasive weeds along the way. We also welcomed two visitors: Mike and Brian, videographers from Phoenix who joined us for a few hours to document all this hard work for SCA, AE and, possibly, MTV.

Our group trekked down the Bright Angel trail, one of the Canyon’s busiest routes. We soon discovered we had our work cut out for us; nearly every rock face boasted scratchings of “Eddie Was Here” or “TM + JF.” We used water spray bottles to soften the yellow limestone surface and then gently attacked the graffiti with soft bristle brushes. Other participants patiently rubbed pencil erasers on graphite or charcoal graffiti.

Due to the trail’s popularity and heavy use, we had ample opportunities to explain who we are and what we’re doing in the Park, and what our awesome blue t-shirts mean. Many hikers stopped and watched our progress and took photos of our efforts, praising all the while our hard work and dedication to preserving this incredible natural resource.

We often had to sidestep burro trains coming up or down the trail. “Cheaters,” we called them when we could catch a breath. Several aspects of the trail were always in shadow; therefore each participant slapped on a pair of Yaktrak – an outer sole with metal teeth on the bottom that slips over a hiking boot. Even the cameraman, Mike, grudgingly put on a pair after he suddenly slipped and dropped his 30 pound camera.

It’s difficult to get a bad photo at the Grand Canyon, or have a bad day, even when you slip. Little surprises lurked around every switchback. Once, we glanced up at a rock ledge far overhead and discovered ancient ochre rock art depicting humans and horned animals. Participant Kristen Schulte, SCA alumna and something of a walking encyclopedia, pointed out a rare raptor perched on the cliff face. Kassy Theobald, NPS staff member and self-appointed tour guide, drew our attention to the towering, seeded spire of an agave plant. The plant only blooms once in its lifetime and then immediately dies after it has gone to seed, she said. Since most agave live a long time, it only happens once every 75 to 100 years.

The hot sun seemed to melt away all memories of the frigid beginnings of this Alternative Spring Break. Everyone scrubbed and weeded and hiked and sang trail songs with great enthusiasm, agreeing that it felt really good to accomplish this project and help the Park. By the end of the three mile vertical hike out, however, folks were more focused on their day off tomorrow – and sleeping in.