How our out of shapeness is impacting the Grand Canyon

Posted on May 15, 2017

(Last Updated On: September 5, 2021)

When making the United States cross country drive you decide between going the northern or southern route. Usually because you’re debating Rocky Mountains or Grand Canyon. When I made the trip I came close to going the northern route.

“I mean, the Grand Canyon is like a big hole in the ground? Internet pictures are pretty good these days. Is doing this in person going to be worth it? It adds an entire day to my trip.”

I narrowly decided in favor of the Canyon.

I purposely traveled through a lot of America in my 20s. I’ve been to 40 states, hitting most major attractions.

There is nothing like the Grand Canyon.

I’m not an overly patriotic person. I love it here, but “‘Murica!” isn’t my style. Yet I always tell people if they live here, they have to see it. Once you do, you can’t help but reflexively go GEORGE WASHINGTON!!! I imagine it’s as close as an everyday person can get to walking on the moon. The magnificent desolation, the immensity of what you’re looking at, the idea of one’s place in the universe, the fact when you’re on the rim you’re consistently ten feet from death. (You’d have to do something stupid, but you’re always close to the edge, largely with no railings.)

I was happy to come across this:

There was a lot about the Canyon I didn’t know. Such as it being the best area for uranium mining in the U.S. I didn’t realize how much development pressure it consistently deals with too.

Most egregious is the proposed gondola:

It’s not egregious because “eff capitalism!!! #OccupyTheCanyon.” The journalists do a wonderful job detailing that’s a tricky issue. Even within the tribes who own the land there is disagreement.

It’s frustrating because:

“If I were to hike down to the bottom of the canyon I’d have to be air evaced out because of my knees and ankles. And so we’re trying to offer the average person that below the rim experience.”

One thing I’ve tried to do on this site is show how our physical inactivity, our overweightness and obesity, affects way more than we commonly think-

Less space on airplanes

More expensive airline tickets

Being in shape would get us to live longer than curing cancer

Mirage of thinking we need to wait for electric cars

Increased energy demand

-More air conditioning usage / plastic in ocean / antibiotic prescriptions (posts to come)

It didn’t occur to me it affects infrastructure in this manner. Note the developer’s words. The “average person.” The two guys who hiked eight hundred miles are 50 years old, give or take. They were nowhere near ready to do it when they started. One guy lost 30 pounds during it. Yet they did it. We’re merely talking getting below the rim for the average person.

To take one of the paths well traveled, if we’re only talking getting below the rim, getting a view of the river (like the gondola), then there is a 12 mile as well as a 6 mile roundtrip trail.

The first would be like walking on a treadmill with an incline of 10. Three thousand feet down; three thousand back up. You could do it at one mile an hour -a pace so slow you’d hate yourself regardless how out of shape you are- and be done in 12 hours.

The second trail has an elevation change of 1400 feet. About 11 on the treadmill. One mile per hour and you’re done in six hours.

Regardless of trail, there is plenty of time left in the day to hit up the inevitable Cinnabon at the top.

The average person, if in half decent shape, can do this. (We regularly see obese people finish marathons.) This doesn’t necessitate some feat of the human spirit. Challenging the limits of human biology. It’s walking a damn hill for a few miles. You’re not even at an altitude which is likely to cause issues.

“But I have knee replacements.” “But what about those in wheel chairs.” Our omnipresent disability argument rears its head.

First, there is already this offering,

Forty-five helicopters an hour. Busiest helipad in the country.

Second, if disability is genuinely the reason, why not make it like handicapped parking spaces? Only offer it to those legally disabled.

-> I’ve trained multiple people with knee replacements. All of them above 50 years old. All of them could have hiked to see the river. Every client I’ve had in their 60s could have too.

We all know this wouldn’t work. Business wouldn’t be enough. The gondola wants to have ten thousand people per day. That ain’t for wheelchairs. How many wheelchairs are on the airport’s moving walkway? How many paralyzed people are in your apartment’s elevator per day?

We all understand access for those who genuinely need these services, but that’s not how they have ended up being used. Notice the gondola pictures have a walkway! If you can walk a straight line like that, odds are you can get in good enough shape to hike the hill.

Instead we’re building for a population so out of shape walking at a moderate incline for a moderate amount of time has now been equated with needing an air evacuation.

As the journalists point out, finding the right balance between access, maintaining the landscape, economics, that’s a tough scale to equalize. What is clear though is the business rationale for something like this gondola would be much more lacking if the average person could do an average hike without the Grand Canyon rangers worried they’re going to die. (Which they do. Read their website and it’s constant WARNING text.) If the average person wasn’t so averse to physical exertion.

Plus, the bar at the top of the gondola would be more enjoyable if everybody had to hike down and up. Food and beer taste a hell of a lot better when you’ve exerted yourself for hours than after a 15 minute amusement ride.

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