It’s old news that one of the reasons I most love Las Vegas is because of its proximity to so many national parks and outdoor spaces that let us hike, camp and explore. One of these is Grand Canyon National Park. Despite what many people believe, it isn’t the closest national park to Las Vegas, though it’s probably safe to say that it is the most popular of all the natural spaces within a few hours of our home.
The first couple of times my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon, we did it for ourselves. We spent the Fourth of July enjoying the cool weather of the North Rim and we bundled up to brave the cold winter for Christmas on the South Rim. Ventures in recent years have centered on the South Rim (the more accessible of the two sides). Now that we’ve been living in Las Vegas for almost seven years, we’ve made several trips to the Grand Canyon with friends who pass through town and foreign exchange student who come to live with us.
In many ways, the Grand Canyon has lost its luster for me. It is still an awesome natural wonder, but now I know the parking lot well, details on the bus route and where the most crowded overlooks are bound to be. I don’t have that wide-eyed sense of wonder that I had when I peeked over the rim for the very first time from the north side and when I caught a glimpse of what it looks like covered in snow from the south side. As I make the drive into the national park, my mind files through logistical thoughts and assumed details about what a visit will entail. I no longer wonder what the Grand Canyon will actually look like.
Nonetheless, as I make the walk to the first overlook with my unknowing friend or one of our kids, I can usually sense a vibe of excitement and anticipation as they wonder what lies over the edge. And then we take that final step that gives us the first glimpse of this international icon, this hole in the earth that thousands of people travel to see every year. This is the moment when people who are with us suck in their breath ever so slightly and their eyes get just a bit bigger. Are they really seeing what they think they see? At first, there usually aren’t words; just a long minute as they stand at the railing, looking into the deep canyon that they’re finally lying eyes on for the very first time.
Some people we travel with to the Grand Canyon like to take a long, slow walk along the rim. Others like to rush from overlook to overlook for the best pre-defined views. Some glance at the canyon in general while others seek out details. Can they catch a glimpse of the artist’s cabin? Is the Colorado River visible from where they’re standing?
Living in Las Vegas, I find I have a similar experience with visitors from outside the state or country within my own city. I know and embrace my city, but I also know it quite well, so there aren’t really many surprises anymore. I know how big the buildings really are and how many slot machines crowd the casino floors. The neon doesn’t faze me; it’s just there.
It is very possible to suffer from travel fatigue and to lose the love of discovery and exploration when visiting places becomes commonplace, but I refuse to let that happen. Even if I’ve seen the Grand Canyon several times or I’ve posed beneath the Las Vegas sign on more than one occasion, I relive those experiences with fresh eyes because I travel with and experience those things with people who have never been in my shoes before. Old destinations become new again when I watch our guests in these places. I can feel their excitement and almost see their thinking process as they take places in for the very first time. When they point things out, I see things I’ve never seen before, and when they ask questions, sometimes I don’t have the answers.
Time is too precious to feel bored or worn down or irritated from traveling. When my friends and family want to visit what could be described as a stale destination to me, I take a few minutes to remind myself that this place isn’t stale for everyone. Being with these people in these moments—when they catch the first glimpse or have that first ‘aha’ flash—I’m reminded of what makes these destinations so special. In a single second, an old destination can take on an entirely new personality.