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For those whom recall my original Grand Canyon challenge to Sugar Belle, as well as my brief follow-up post, please enjoy the following, full-length narrative, on the one-year recollection of a most wonderful trek to the depths of the Canyon (and a surprising, Jennifer Aniston sighting) and, naturally, back to the Rim where a much needed, heartily-earned, hour-long, lemongrass shower and subsequent martini awaited.
The dining hall is virtually empty, with the exception of our small crew and Jude, a kind, slightly bohemian fellow working the Phantom Ranch Canteen. On this ghostly quiet, February afternoon, the Ranch is appropriately named. As there are no other guests to tend, Jude chats with us and asks our story; we return the curiosity, and wonder about his story, working at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon. He brings us some of the best beer any of us will ever imbibe, given its Tao-like actualization, and tells us.
"Working below the Rim is like nothing else, anywhere," Jude claims with a smile that upholds the claim. Even though he hikes in and out on his own time, and his own dime, it's a nature-gig, similar to being a lifeguard or snowboard instructor, well worth the physical effort and light pay. For the mellow dude from Phoenix, just getting to be in the Canyon is enough. It may seem simple, working in a restaurant at a national park, but it's not simple by a long shot. In fact, it's phenomenal when one realizes that, of all the humans of the planet, only a small, anthropologically-insignificant handful has actually sipped where we did that day.
Eight-hundred years after Havasupai tribes slept in pit houses at the Canyon's lowest point, and well over one-hundred years before Jude regaled us with tales and ales, John Wesley Powell, a grandfather of 19thCentury American West conservation, camped along the waters of what is today Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. In 1913 Teddy Roosevelt made his way to this same spot via mule and slept in the same camp where the Havasupai, J.W. Powell and our little group all slept. Today, it is difficult to imagine there hasn't always been this oasis of running water, summertime ranger talks, pampered mules and all the seven-dollar postcards, vegetarian chili and four-dollar cans of beer your heart desires.