ERROL CASTENS: Getting to the Grand Canyon: Better late than never

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Given that the Grand Canyon’s age is reckoned in hundreds of millions of years, I guess it doesn’t matter so much – from the canyon’s perspective, at least – that my dad was 63 years late in seeing it.
After receiving his Navy discharge in 1947, he sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and sought from there a way home.
In the San Francisco train depot he spotted a billboard – big as any sign along a highway, he asserts – that touted, “Travel the Grand Canyon Route.”
It sounded enticing to Daddy, so he bought his ticket and headed home with anticipation of a breathtaking stop in northern Arizona. A few hours into the trip, he asked the kindly conductor how soon they would see the world’s largest gully.
“Buddy Boy,” the elderly man answered, “we don’t come within 70 miles of there.”
Daddy got over the disappointment – mostly. He returned to Mississippi, where he re-established ties with his parents and siblings and saw such wonders that had occurred in his six-year absence as a butane stove, electric lights and the first doses of gravel on the formerly dirt-only road.
He traveled, farmed, raised a family, worked at a paper mill and a camp and a school (among other places), buried loved ones and grew old.
Daddy still enjoys life, but his memory occasionally fails him, and the fistful of medicines he takes every day reflects a host of other health challenges. So when one of his doctors warned of some new concerns not far down the road, we decided it was time to go see the canyon.
On the trip we spied a big bull elk, spectacular desert wildflowers, miles and miles of lava from an 11th century eruption. We eyed the red rocks of Sedona, which are indeed very red and very rocky.
We saw snow trying to survive in the shade of ponderosa pines and crows three times the size of ours. We drove through science-fiction landscapes and wondered how – and why – they had ever been traversed on horseback.
We saw the engineering marvel of Hoover Dam and the resulting sprawl of Las Vegas. Daddy was one of the few who could put the dam-building pay in perspective: In the depths of the Great Depression, when farm labor was paying a grown man 50 cents a day in Mississippi, a starting wage of $4 per day drew eager workers from all over the nation.
The capstone, of course, was standing with Daddy on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, looking out into that massive planetary scar and sharing the same awe of its Creator.
It was a great trip.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or

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