LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
When I first joined the Air Force, I knew I wanted to travel. Wherever my duties took me around the globe, was fine with me. I was craving adventure and new experiences.
When I learned of my assignment to Luke Air Force Base, my mind instantly was drawn to one of the most iconic and precious American landscapes in the world - the Grand Canyon.
Having been stationed at Luke for over a year, I had yet to make the four hour trip north to witness the acres of sweeping canyons, mountains and majestic views I kept hearing so much about.
One day, I was scrolling through social media when I came across an advertisement from the 56th Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation Facebook page offering 12 military affiliated personnel a one-day trip to the Grand Canyon.
I inquired more about the opportunity and ultimately decided to purchase a ticket which included transportation to and from Grand Canyon National Park. We were scheduled to embark on Jan. 27 at 6 a.m.
The night prior to the excursion, I packed my camera gear, water bottle, snacks and made sure I had plenty of warm clothes to wear in northern Arizona. I wasn’t sure what to expect and that was fine. I knew I would be surrounded by fellow Thunderbolts, and we would all make the most of the experience.
The morning came, and the 12 of us loaded the bus. There were four active-duty Airmen including myself, a dependent, six retirees and Mike, our bus driver. For most of us, it was our first time experiencing the Grand Canyon, however there was a small bunch who were going for their second, third, fourth, or even fifth time. This group described the Grand Canyon as a spiritual experience you felt in your soul each time that you visit. I wondered what that felt like.
During the four hour bus ride, everyone nodded off to sleep. Not me! I was far too excited for what was to come. Luckily, the bus came equipped with a small television that played DVDs. This eased my excitement. I sat with my coffee, watched two outdated movies and saw the sunrise through the bus windows during the voyage north.
After what seemed like an eternity, we made it. Signs popped up along the side of the road advertising the beauty to come. My eyes were peeled on the surrounding landscape looking for any sign of the canyon.
Slowly, my companions awoke from their traveling slumber and began to get as excited as I was. Conversations echoed throughout the bus of what section of the canyon people were going to see first and what popular attractions they wanted to visit.
We found a parking lot to unload in and after a short safety briefing from Mike, we were let loose to explore the park.
A series of complimentary buses intertwined their way through the park allowing visitors to make their way to the most popular sights in a short amount of time. I referenced a visitor’s map at the nearest bus stop I could find and boarded the first bus headed to the rim of the canyon.
The bus twisted and turned through the park before reaching a trailhead to Mather Point, a south rim viewing point. I exited the bus and hastily made the half-mile hike towards the rim. Before I knew it, there it was in front of me. Like a painting hanging on a wall, the Grand Canyon sat in all its majesty blanketed in purple, red and pink colors. My jaw dropped.
Cliffs and valleys filled with shadows of deep colors and crisp details engulfed every inch of the canyon. Wherever my eyes wandered, a new feature appeared in the terrain.
I sat down on a bench and gazed at the national treasure in front of me. The depth and magnitude of the Grand Canyon stretched far beyond any words I could put on paper or capture in a photograph.
Like a natural history book dating back thousands of years, Grand Canyon National Park is a vital part of our American heritage and culture. It serves as a reminder of our predecessors who worked so hard to establish the land we live on today.
Like them, we as Airmen are focusing on the culture of our organization, spreading American values and ideas, and protecting the land so many warriors before us fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice for.
My mind wandered for what felt like hours. I started to realize how small of an experience this would be in the grand scheme of my Air Force career. Where else would I be stationed? What other wonders of the world would I have the opportunity to see?
At that very moment, I felt grateful for what I had and the life which lay ahead of me – all thanks to Grand Canyon National Park.