Future Reflections Spring/Summer 1993, Vol. 12 No. 2


by Deborah Hartz

[PICTURE] Andrea uses her cane to walk alone along the Bright Angel Trail below Indian Gardens Campground. Sunglasses protect her eyes from branches

From the Editor: It is often all too easy for us, as sighted parents of blind children, to make unwarranted assumptions about what our blind son or daughter can or cannot do, or will or will not enjoy, when we plan family summer vacations. But this need not happen. 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.

In a letter accompanying the following article which describes that vacation, Mrs. Hartz commented: “My daughter Andrea is a seventh grader at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. She has hiked with me and my husband since she was quite small. When she was seven, we backpacked into the Grand Canyon. While we were training for the hike, there were many people who wondered why I would take a blind child on such a hike. After all, she wouldn't be able to see the scenery, and isn't it sort of a dangerous thing to do? We explained that she had been on many hikes with us before that were along trails more narrow than the ones we planned to travel. We also explained that although sighted people tend to think of the Grand Canyon purely in visual terms, there were sure to be many more ways to experience the Canyon, and we intended to make the most of the opportunity to `see' it in a different way."

Here is the article.

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 sighted 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 crossed” like 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. The campground at Indian Gardens is about halfway out of the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. We spent two nights there and enjoyed the reprieve. Andrea had time to use her cane for independent travel around the campground.

While we were practicing writing numbers using a slate and stylus, a mule train tied up to the hitching posts nearby. A stylus is an awl-like utensil that is used to make raised dots which can be read by touch. The slate is a frame that holds the paper and helps in spacing the dots. Because the stylus pokes the dots from the back of the paper, the message is written from right to left and all of the letters are reversed in form. Once the message is finished, the paper is turned over and the Braille is read as usual. A guide in charge of the mule train became interested in what we were doing. Andrea, meanwhile, had become more interested in the mules. The guide lifted her up on the back of one of the mules where she discovered that “a mule is a lot like a horse.”

Back 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.þ”

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.”