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ImageWind whirled erratically, tossing scatter-bombs of coarse sand with each unpredictable gust. An ominous stew of clouds seethed overhead, conjuring lonely droplets of rain. It was all somewhat distracting, yet the tempest remained squarely in the background due to the imperative of a three-hundred-foot abyss below us. Down there, the river roared, undercutting our cliff through its timeless work.

The two Youth whom my fellow guide Kate and I led here sat cautiously, a few feet back from the edge. Their silent gazes spoke volumes, but it wasn’t until we descended past Puebloan ruins toward the boats when I saw the wondrous glow of discovery in their faces. Later, I overhead one of them—a seventeen year old on the brink of womanhood—as she regaled the experience to her friends. Clearly, that simple walk was her nature epiphany.
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To me, these are the most rewarding shared moments of a Grand Canyon Youth trip. But sometimes those moments manifest in less dramatic ways. Take the kid from Chicago who joined us for the lower half of the Canyon. He had never walked off pavement before, an incomprehensible fact to someone like myself, who walks barefoot into his naturalized backyard each morning just to get balanced for the day ahead. I began to wrap my head around our disparate experiences as I watched the Chicagoan creep with utmost care across river cobbles on day one. A few days later, my amazement was complete as I watched him hike to the Deer Creek Patio, traversing a bedrock footpath along the edge of an attention-grabbing cleft.

I suppose Grand Canyon Youth trips are a little different for everybody. For some it is simply a fun time. For others, it is a life-changer. For me, it’s a little of both, bit by bit, every time.

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