12 September 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Twenty-Four

We're still doing Sightseeing in September and being armchair tourists. Last week, we took a relaxing trip to Venus (or did we???); but today, I think we're going to stick closer to home. Today I feature a place that I feel bad calling a tourist trap . . . though not as bad as anyone who made it a tourist trap should feel.

Grand Canyon
The Moon by Night
by Madeleine L'Engle

. . . The only trouble with Grand Canyon was that we were already saturated with beauty that we looked at it and said, "Oh. Pretty." Which is hardly the word for Grand Canyon. But it just didn't mean to us what it would have meant if we'd come straight to it from Thornhill [Connecticut] without all the other things in between.

Also, Grand Canyon was crowded and commercial, and it's a place you should see without any people at all.

. . . We were there over Sunday, so we went to the Church service, and I'm sorry to say it was the dullest of all the ones we went to, held in a hall instead of outdoors at lots of other parks. If there was ever a place to have church outdoors, Grand Canyon was it.

The Moon by Night was the first book I thought of when I decided on this month's theme. In it, the Austin family's road trip across North America and back gets to parallel teenage Vicky Austin's journey of faith. They visit different national and state parks, and meet lots of colourful fellow Americans, including the much maligned (but here defended) Zachary Grey. I probably should have featured one of the places that was more memorable to them, but it was Grand Canyon that got me thinking.

Isn't it sad when places don't live up to their hype? Especially when the hype is arguably deserved. In the case of Grand Canyon, all that publicity comes with a second stinger in its tail--for hype is meant to bring the big crowds, but big crowds are the last thing you want to see in a place that is supposed to be about majestic nature. (For more on the paradoxical problem of tourists in Locus Focus #121. For a more positive view of tourist mobs you can also jump back to Rob Sheffield's thoughts on Madonna and Lourdes, France.)

I suppose that most visitors to Grand Canyon don't drive all the way there from their homes in another state. If the only other big destination of your vacation were, say, Las Vegas, then Grand Canyon would probably blow you away, aye? Of course, having said that, I wish we could survey a decent sample of families for whom it was one of several entries on a road trip itinerary, and preferably one in the middle. Should enough of them echo the Austins' experience, my question would be: are they proof that Grand Canyon, for all its greatness, actually isn't that great . . . or are they an argument for keeping truly great places like Grand Canyon from being just one of many tourist spots of "equal" standing?

And now I should say that although the Austins don't feel properly impressed by Grand Canyon, they do have a lot of fun during their two days there. They take part in hikes, campfire lectures, and pickup baseball games with the children of other campers. And it is the baseball games that are most interesting to me: I mean, we expect the educational and other enriching stuff from the organisers; but the fun that the visitors can make for themselves is always an unanticipated bonus . . . and well, something that can't really be hyped.

Question of the Week: Have you ever been to a place that didn't live up to its hype?

By the way, if you've ever wanted to take part in Locus Focus, you should do so soon. Like, really soon. And that's all I'm going to say about that for now! =P

Image Source: The Moon by Night by Madeleine L'Engle


Emily J. said...

Oh my goodness - I was just talking to someone the other day about the Grand Canyon, and that quote sums up what I was trying to say exactly. Growing up in the Midwest, in the middle of cornfields, places like the Grand Canyon and the ocean seemed far away and exotic and fantastic. Then you see them in person. The first time I saw the GC was kind of spectacular, because I was with friends in college driving from South Bend to Phoenix for a football game. We drove through the night and showed up on the North Rim (the less touristy side) for the sunrise. No one else was around. It was freezing. And the sunrise was spectacular. Then we jumped back in the van and drove away. We showed up again years later when our big kids were toddlers and we were driving across the country to a new duty station and we camped in the GCNP. I had been reading library books about the canyon in preparation for our trip and we talked about where we were going. The boys were excited by they had fallen asleep by the time we arrived, and we pushed them in the stroller up to the canyon rim (where there is a sidewalk and a glass wall - very pedestrian and FULL of pedestrians) where they woke up. Look! we cried, "The Grand Canyon!" "Where?" was the three year old's reply. Ah disappointment. It is awe-inspiring, but you can't get close and experience it with out feeling like a tourist being told to be amazed - like being one of the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa. Or seeing the Vatican as a tourist vs. as a pilgrim at a Mass. We since have visited with all our kids a couple years ago, again as a stopping spot on a trip across country. This time we hiked down into the canyon about an hour and a half. You read online about how dangerous the canyon is and how careful you need to be, and then you show up and share the trail with 90 year old grandmas and Japanese tourists in high heels. We also stopped at the Hoover Dam, which is incredible as a feat of engineering, but awe inspiring also because of the lack of water during this awful drought. Then we passed through Las Vegas, which made me feel dirty just from stopping at a casino gas station. I don't understand the attraction to that place at all.
On the other hand, we went to Yosemite in off season and were duly impressed, although I have heard that should you visit in the summer, you will be surrounded and stuck in tourist traffic as you enter the grand meadow. Then last summer we drove through Utah - speed limits are 85, one amazing thing, and the other is that you drive through canyonlands under an enormous sky and past incredible geographical features and 3 or 4 National Parks as you drive across the state: Bryce, Zion, Arches, Canyonlands...I think if you were after a moment of communion with nature you might choose to visit one of these instead.

Enbrethiliel said...


Vicky doesn't even bother to describe Grand Canyon, because, as she says, you can just read about it somewhere else! =P

I suppose Grand Canyon is one of those places you feel you should see if you're in the area (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris), because there's a possibility that you'll really regret not going once you're back home. At least you had one really magnificent experience, Emily. =) Your toddler's "Where?" is pretty classic, though! LOL! Does he still remember?

Emily J. said...

Of course not - but he was the one who wanted to hike across the canyon when we went the third time! The GC is a bucket list item a little like the Eiffel Tower - but whereas the Eiffel Tower is pretty hard to miss while visiting Paris, the Grand Canyon is a few hours off the main highway. For beauty, the Utah canyons may best it. I'll have to look up this L'Engle book again. My 13 yr old daughter is in need of young adult books with substance - books that give real consideration to faith, even if not exactly orthodox - without seeming preachy, like reading a saint biography. She didn't like A Wrinkle in Time, but I think because all the science is confusing. But she does like relationship books...

Enbrethiliel said...


Now I'm wondering if there is a reason urban sprawl and suburban development haven't brought Grand Canyon closer to the main roads.

I didn't like L'Engle's "Austin Chronicles" very much as a teen . . . but then again, I was an Action-Adventure reader! As an adult, I have a new appreciation for these Relationship books. I hope that your teen finds them edifying! =)