FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Seven explorers came together under the guidance of Greg Mai and Kenny Coppedge, outdoor recreation experts with Southwest Adventure of Fort Bliss, Texas, for a four-day quest into the Grand Canyon National Park from Oct. 5, 2012 through Oct. 8, 2012.
Sgt. Ida Irby, Spc. Marco Villafana, Spc. Noe Ruiz, and Paul Nouhan, active duty soldiers from Fort Bliss - along with Will Dellossie, Bianca Dellossie, and Joseph J. Sanchez, local civilians in El Paso, Texas - all divided into ability groups and chose individual adventures. Each person’s journey began and ended, one step at a time.
According to Coppedge, a native of Pinetop, Ariz., The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass of 2012 allots free entry for active duty soldiers for one year. The pass can be used for National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps sites that charge amenity fees.
Day one started with a 1.75-mile hike on the Grand View Trail for three nature lovers; and five hikers went further going three miles to a historic mining site titled Horseshoe Mesa Campground at 4,800-feet elevation.
Once the group arrived, they shared the community trails with hikers of all sizes and experiences. On a map, the 2,600-foot vertical drop to Horseshoe Mesa Campground looks like a stroll through a park; thus amateur hikers were put to the test on the steep and rocky cliffs of the Grand view trail, stated Mai, a native of Denver, Colo.
For many soldiers, the canyon was all about the view.
“Hiking into the canyon for five hours versus viewing it from the sidewalk for one hour is so different. I feel content, I feel the temperature change, most of all I feel it on my entire body,” said Nouhan, a senior noncommissioned officer in the 1-13th Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade.
Nouhan, mentioned that he enjoyed hiking without the hassle of military training that he had grown use to after 20 years in the Army and four deployments. Growing up in Saline, Mich., he enjoyed hunting and fishing as a boy. While hiking, lizards and bees dash across his path as he hiked a total of 18 miles in two days, looking for small caves and any signs of wild life.
“Rim to Rim, maybe I can do that in the future. The [canyon] view was amazing, I enjoyed seeing the small bridges and the climbing the large boulders,” said Nouhan. “Hiking the Grand Canyon has been something I always wanted to do; I guess you could say it’s been on my bucket-list.”
Day two began with a hike out of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Coppedge said that coffee and painkillers were the first two things he thought of after waking up from what he called “perfect weather for camping.”
Bianca, an 8-year-old student at Vista Hills Elementary in El Paso, was the youngest hiker of the group. Will her father joined her for a total of four miles hiked in two days. Bianca hiked with a backpack and what she felt was essential for any camping trip: graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.
Sanchez, a media producer, hiked a total of 18 miles in two days.
“I was apprehensive about my abilities to handle the arduous journey, but I am glad this trip was available to the community,” said Sanchez. “My hobbies include rock climbing, snowboarding, and camping.”
The group camped at the Mather Campground in the Grand Canyon National Park, also a home for families of deer, raccoons and elk.
“I want to see a bear and a bunny,” said Bianca who couldn’t have known that the campground the group chose was the habitants of wild animals [too].
Day three was a day hike where trailblazers traveled between 9 to 12 miles on the Bright Angel Trail to view the Indian Garden campground, found at four and a half miles into the canyon or view the Colorado River at six miles into the canyon. Bianca and Will explored Fossil Geology Museums, tourist shops, and a guided tour of Bright Angel Trail along a two-mile path.
In three hours, Ruiz made it to the bottom of the trail.
“I’m here, at the heart of the canyon and it’s awesome,” said Ruiz, 1-13 Calvary Regiment, standing on the cliff that overlooks the Colorado River, which divided the vast canyon in what he called, “God’s creation.”
“I wanted to touch the water, and bathe in it but I didn’t get to,” said Ruiz, a Taft, Texas native, as he traveled up the canyon and his body temperature adjusted to the cooler air up top. Lastly, as Ruiz ventured to the top of the canyon, he stopped to encourage walkers who had grown weary of the winding trail.
“The most important thing I packed was water and wet-wipes,” said Villafana as he listed off the contents of his rucksack that included snacks, polly-pros, and camping gear. He was one of three hikers to travel additional three miles to collect river water for the five mile hike out of the canyon on day one.
“I don’t think I did anything special. I hike for fun, and eventually I gain more and more strength,” said Villafana, an artillery mechanic in the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who was the fastest hiker of the group – hiking a total of 21 miles in two days.
Between hikes Coppedge, used a Beacon Emergency Location Device to send an updated status alert of the campers while they slept deep in the canyon where communication assets were limited. He mentioned the canyon measured 26 miles from rim to rim, giving an opportunity for experienced hikers to push themselves further and amateur hikers to learn the spirit of the hobby.
For more information about the Southwest Adventure, visit the ITR leisure travel center at the Soldier Activity Center or visit www.blissmwr.com/SouthwestAdventure.