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Rim Shots : Artist J.D. Crowe's Zany Grand Canyon

July 03, 1994|COLOR, J.D. CROWE

RAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. — More than any other national park, the Grand Canyon occupies a special place in the imaginations of Americans. Visitors (30,000 a day in summer) can view the canyon from the North and South rims, hike in and out on foot or go by mule train, fly over in a helicopter or small plane, or raft in at the bottom, where the muddy Colorado River continues making canyon walls.

In June, we sent artist and illustrator J.D. Crowe, who draws our weekly "Travel Insider" cartoons, to the "Great Crevice" to get his unique take on this summer's scene at the world's grandest canyon.

There are three types of people who go to the Grand Canyon.

The first group is a gob we will call "Goobers." They are your typical tourists. They drive to the Great Crevice and then roam around the rim with cameras in front of their faces telling their little Goobers to quit running. They buy T-shirts and key fobs, use the facilities and go on their way.

If you want to get away from the Goobers, just go down a trail into the canyon. You won't have to go far. A few Goobers drift near the edge of the trails, but seldom venture further. The rangers spray the trails with Goober repellent.

The exact opposite of the Goobers are the people who take the canyon seriously. They don't come to see the canyon, they come to do it. The canyon is their cathedral. It is their World Cup soccer match. It is their Grateful Dead concert. These people are the "Game Facers."

Somewhere between the Goobers and the Game Facers is a group that is going through its awkward stage. These people are not as goobery as the Goobers, and they don't have as much game as the Game Facers. For phonetic reasons we dub them "Goomers."

I am a Goomer and so is my wife, Goomerella.

Goomers are the most fun. We are bred for misadventure. A handful of curiosity, a peck of pioneerism and a big bucket of naivete will get you a Goomer every time. Want to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back up to the rim on a nice toasty day in July? Sure! Grab a couple of Power Bars and a bottle of Evian and let's go!

How do you tell a Goober from a Goomer from a Game Facer?

Let's start down Bright Angel Trail into the canyon. We have already eliminated the Goobers.

How do you tell Goomers from Game Facers?

The clues are in the shoes. The more spontaneous Goomers wear whatever sneakers they own at the time. The Goomers who plan on hiking the Grand Canyon want to look the part, so they buy brand-new leather hiking boots. Nothing gives a Goomer more dang pride than going down Bright Angel Trail for the first time and getting his new boots dirty. Team dirty new boots with the smell of mule sweat and manure, and you have a Goomer so full of "Just Do It" that he might just try to jump over that Grand Gully. By the time the white-brown dirt near the rim of the canyon turns into the red dirt of the hot lower canyon, our Goomer's new shoes are putting a big hurt on 10 local toes.

Game Facers, on the other foot, wear hiking boots that are already worn and trustworthy.

As you get closer to the Colorado River at the canyon's bottom you will be more likely to spot Game Facers. A good place to watch the Goomers converge with the Game Facers is at the rest houses that dot key destinations along the trail.

The rest houses are rock shelters that offer sun-beaten hikers shade, water and a place to hold informal meetings about their journeys. Eight to 10 filthy, hot hikers can fit uncomfortably under a thick wooden roof as they line up to soak their bandannas and fill their canteens and bottles with canyon-temperature water piped in from Hades.

Those coming up from the bottom swap stories of hope and horror with those going down. The words of those who have come from the depths are held in reverence, more so than those from their descending counterparts, for they have seen the river and they know the true heat of the canyon on this day.

The best time for collecting tales of the day is at night. Goomerella and I stayed in a hiker's room at the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim. Each night after the sun had gone down and darkness chased away the Goobers, we would take our places on the rock wall of the rim and wait for shadowy figures to emerge from the deep and tell us stories.

One night after the sun had been asleep for almost two hours and the air was cool, two figures burdened with lots of backpacking gear ambled out of the black hole.

They told us their names were Bob and Sandy from St. Louis. They were college professors and avid bicyclists who loved the challenge of a good canyon outing. (They were Game Facers but quite friendly to us rim sitters. For all they knew we were Goobers.) They had hiked to the bottom the day before and camped near the Colorado River.

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