Commentary by Dick Wolfsie
Mary Ellen is planning our 2017 summer vacation to the Canadian Rockies. Back in 2007, we went to the Grand Canyon, the only place in America where you’re allowed to drag your kid to the precipice of one of the world’s deepest chasms, but they put you in the slammer if you feed a squirrel.
In the gift shop on the South Rim, the clerk recommended a book called — hold on to your hat (actually, hold on to anything you can), “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.” What a charming choice for fans of light summer reading.
The authors do not restrict their colorful travelogue to unscheduled plunges to the bottom. They want you to know that with a little bit of poor planning, you can also die of dehydration or starvation. Rattlesnake bites, driving slide-offs and eating poisonous plants are some of the more fun options to choose from.
Apparently, the canyon is safe if you are careful, but the book seems oddly misplaced in the gift shop so close to, well, the edge. There aren’t pamphlets relating the history of scaldings on the counter of McDonald’s or brochures about whimsical power-tool mishaps attached to your chainsaw purchases.
Other entertaining stories in the book include bear attacks, drownings and rock slides. Maybe I’m an optimist but I look at it this way: just a few hundred deaths in 6 million years. That’s not a bad record.
In one touching chapter, a man makes tea for his wife out of a deadly canyon flower and they both die within minutes. In another, a woman tries to pet a mountain lion (there’s clearly a fine line between bad luck and stupidity). An elderly couple got lost in their 1996 Taurus on a back road. They were found dehydrated, but still alive. They had no water but a week’s supply of Depends. I’d call that ironic.
Travelers from abroad love the Grand Canyon. Europeans winter in Arizona. Asians summer in the Canyon. Americans usually fall there. About 600 feet. That’s just an average, though; your actual plummet may vary.
This summer, we probably can’t avoid dangerous cliffs, windy roads and harsh weather. But we will stay away from bookstores.