by Deborah Hartz
Deborah Hartz and her husband of Tucson, Arizona, decided that their daughter's blindness was not going to be a barrier to them or her in the enjoyment of a special vacation. They explained to skeptical friends that there were more ways than one to experience the Grand Canyon and that they intended to make the most of the opportunity to "see" it in a different way. Here is their story. We stop to rest at the edge of the Tonto Plateau. Andrea tips back her canteen and drinks deeply. The water's hot from hours in the sun. Before her spreads the wide canyon. Andrea listens. "I hear it. I hear the river." Her baby sister, Laura, bounces in my backpack.
"Are you hot, Lolo? Here. I'll give you some water." Andrea finds the baby's mouth under the wide brim of the sun bonnet and tilts the canteen carefully. "OK, Mom, I'm ready." Andrea reaches for my wrist, and we continue down the trail singing "Kookaburra." Soft dust puffs up around our feet with each step. Below us a sheer cliff drops away. Andrea is not bothered by the drop-off; she doesn't see it. Andrea Barker, an experienced hiker, is blind. At the time of our Grand Canyon hike, Andrea was seven.
"That hike was neat because Grandpa and Uncle Myron hiked with us. My sister, Laura, was eight months old. She got to ride in Mom's backpack," Andrea recalls. "Pack it in, pack it out" says the trail sign. On that hike we had four days of dirty diapers to pack out.
Our hike began on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because the South Kaibab trail is steep and deeply rutted, we often modified our guide technique. Andrea walked directly behind me and held onto the sleeping bag which was tied to the baby's pack. Movement of my pack gave Andrea a good idea of the trail ahead. A safety line connected the two of us. The night before our hike the temperature on the rim had been close to freezing. It grew steadily hotter as we descended into the canyon.
"I was glad when we got to the tunnel," continued Andrea. "It was cool, and I've always loved echoes. The suspension bridge was fun, too. It swayed some, and our feet made neat noises as we crossedlike the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The breeze from the river felt good."
The Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon was a welcome oasis. Water, large trees, flush toilets, picnic tables! A turkey wandered through the campsites ignoring the campers. Andrea was asleep before the tents were up. In the morning, we walked to Phantom Ranch, where Andrea mailed a postcard to her teacher, written in Braille using a slate and stylus. Mail from Phantom Ranch is packed out of the canyon on mules. The lodge and restaurant at Phantom Ranch are supplied by pack mules.
We waded in the Colorado River and built sand castles before beginning the long hike out of the inner canyon. On the trail we made up stories and songs to keep us going on the steep, uphill climb. One round was sung to the tune of "Three Blind Mice."
"Ringtailed cats, ringtailed cats. See how they run. See how they run. They run up the packbars to get in our packs. They eat all the fig bars that Grandpa has. Have you ever seen such a sight in your life as ringtailed cats, ringtailed cats."
Would she want to hike the Grand Canyon again? "Yes, definitely!" responds Andrea. "I'm in better shape now. It would be easier. When someone tells you how big the Grand Canyon is, you just can't understand it. You have to walk it yourself to really understand the size."