Camera adventure

A trip full of spectacular scenery, and a quirk or two


Of all the things I expected to see amid the wondrous beauty of the Grand Canyon, a DJ was not one of them.

I should now know to expect the unexpected when I gather the family and go on summer vacation. After several years of indulging in Orlando’s Pickpocketing Mouse, my wife and I decided our kids needed to see something other than costumed characters, roller coasters, and expensive sugary confections.

This led us to an economically sound “outdoors” road trip that we started planning in January, before gas prices made such a trip much less solid.

Our first stop was the canyon, where we were introduced to this smiling little dude with a full DJ and camera setup, wiggling and twisting to the beat of the boots and cats going through his headphones.

For a brief moment, my caveman brain wondered, “Is this a thing? Is there a Grand Canyon DJ? In a world that seems to be heading towards “idiocracy”-style absurdity, that’s not that far-fetched.

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I quickly realized that he was shooting a video or broadcasting live. We watched it later – search “DJ Gander at the Grand Canyon” for a preview. Gotta give him credit: he was easily the second most popular thing at the canyon that afternoon.

All mix-masters aside, the canyon was even better than expected. We undertook a relatively easy hike and thoroughly enjoyed the views, the occasional parade of sturdy mules ferrying tourists down the narrow paths, and condors soaring to enormous heights.

As we made our way up the Bright Angel Trail, we found friendly people huffing and puffing while doing the opposite. Every interaction was identical. “It’s much more fun going down than going up!” they gasped. We laughed the first few times we heard it, and saved it to be polite through the 20th and 30th times. We then fought the urge to repeat it to those coming down as we came back up.

Next, a short but breathtaking stop in Monument Valley, Arizona. Suddenly we were right in the middle of a John Ford Western (“Whoooo?” my kids asked.) And we found the spot where Forrest Gump (“Whoooo?” Again) decided to stop his three years, two months, 14-day and 16-hour race.

I could have done without the Four Corners Monument, a tourist trap that allows you to stand where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet. Eight bucks per person was a little steep, but when you have young girls planning to do a four state backbend, you cough up the 40 bucks.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah was an eye opener, filled with geological structures that barely seem possible. I highly recommend it. Just make sure you know how long it takes to get to each location.

We had some navigation issues, thinking we were walking to a viewpoint for the famous tricky arch at sunset. Such a walk does not require any equipment or water. So too bad we were actually on what is defined as a “strenuous hike” to get there. Without equipment or water. We laugh about it now. Not so much back then.

Continue to Colorado and a fantastic visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, with snow and perhaps the best views of the entire experience. A white water rafting adventure was also a hit with the kids.

Our last day was the only setback. We drove up Pikes Peak, a slow 19 mile trip with 156 turns to reach the 14,115 foot summit. It’s a little hairy and stressful, but manageable, and we were happy to make it to the top.

The descent was another story. On the advice of friends and online sources, I used a lower gear to give the brakes a break. But because of the amount of cars on the road, it was impossible to fire them on the steep decline.

As we approached the ranger stopping point about halfway through, I could have sworn I smelled something burning. Fortunately, they take the temperature of your brakes there. The helpful ranger told us, “We worry when they’re at 300 degrees. You are almost at 500.

Visions of brake failure and falling off the mountain like Toonces the Driving Cat on “Saturday Night Live,” flashed before me. I’m a worried champion to start with, so it wasn’t a pleasant moment.

She pulled us into a nearby lot – we weren’t the only ones – and told us to wait 20 minutes for the brakes to cool. We doubled that to be on the safe side, and the temperature returned to a safe level. Get off at the lowest gear, she advised, and you’ll be fine. She was right.

But to say it was tense doesn’t even scratch the surface. When the kids asked to buy Pikes Peak products afterwards, I flatly refused. I don’t want to remember all this, much less bear a reminder of it.

So the last trip was the worst part of an otherwise wonderful trip, full of great memories. There is so much more of this country for us to discover, and we have already started thinking about where to go next.

We just won’t be going back to Pikes Peak. Turns out it’s a lot more fun going up than coming down.