Mother and daughter make return trip to Grand Canyon 40 years after first visit
The young, smiling couple in the old photo stands at the Grand Canyon, dad holding their bright-eyed 3-year-old daughter. Fast forward 40 years, as mom and daughter return to the canyon, one of them on a mission to scratch something off her “bucket list.”
“That’s why I think I held that picture in my mind because that’s all I have of him, just a few pictures,” said Deborah Dalgo, who lost her father at 8.
And since her mother, Sherry Haley, was with her on her first time at the canyon, she asked her to go again, so Dalgo could scratch “Hike the Grand Canyon” off her list of things to do before she dies.
It wouldn’t be until they returned from the trip and Dalgo was looking through a box of photos that she turned over the one from that first trip and noticed the date — July 1971 — exactly 40 years before she hiked the canyon with her mom last July.
“But I first thought she (Haley) wouldn’t want to go because of her knee surgery (double knee replacement just weeks before). She can’t hike in and out. She’s not a tent person. She’s used to the Ritz.”
The pair burst into laughter.
“Yeah, well,” Haley, 63 at the time of the trip, said, admitting to enjoying being pampered.
“Over the next few months, I decided it felt like it was the right time to do it. I said, ‘We’ve got to go together. She can handle this,’” Dalgo recalled.
Dalgo said she hikes about once a year, but is an avid runner and walker. Her mother, meanwhile, remembered hiking in Gatlinburg, Tenn., once, but that was only a brief experience.
“This was probably about as rugged as I’ve ever gotten,” she said.
Making contact with Arizona Outback Adventures, The duo settled on the company’s “Ultimate Experience,” and learned that Haley could take a helicopter or horse back out of the canyon at trip’s end rather that attempt the ascent on foot.
“So she could horse out and I could hike out. That would be perfect. After seven days, we’re probably going to need a little separation,” Dalgo said, and laughed.
“I was hesitant,” Haley said. “But she seemed so confident about it and wanted to do it. I said I know I can make it down into that camp, once we started hiking, me with a backpack and tons of water. It was really comfortable, the equipment, even with all that extra weight.”
Mother and daughter flew into Phoenix, Ariz., where they were met by what they at first considered unlikely tour guides for their week of adventure — two girls in their early 20s.
“I was expecting burly men to take care of us this whole week down in the canyon. You know, I’m thinking rattlesnakes, hiking, and I thought, ‘I don’t know about this,’ Dalgo said.
But as the week went on, the Baton Rouge hikers became comfortable with the girls’ guidance and professionalism, noting their training in recreation, and vast adventure travel experience even at their young ages.
The group of eight, including guides, stopped first at Sedona, Ariz., for a one-day hike to get acclimated to the elevation and the activity itself. Then it was on to the Grand Canyon for the 10-mile hike down to base camp, about 2 miles below the village of Supai and the Havasupai Reservation.
Base camp offered tent accommodations, a compost bathroom and a solar shower. Tour guides prepared gourmet meals, using food from ice chests carried down by donkeys. The animals also transported the hikers’ clothing and other personal items.
Living with nature had its good and bad points, they agreed.
“Our camp was right on the side of the water,” Dalgo said. “So you went to sleep at night with the sound of that water. I got up one night and unzipped my tent and there was a full moon, like I could just reach out and touch it.”
Answering nature’s call was a different story.
“Well, you hear all these little critters,” Haley said. “Bushes are kind of halfway over the little path you’re going through, and you’ve got a little flashlight, you know. If something jumps out, I’m gone, that’s it.”
The mother and daughter went on the daily hikes, optional but recommended, with their guides.
“They strongly encouraged us to go hiking every day, and they were right. And you still had enough time to lay in the hammock and read or take a shower when we got back, while they were cooking us dinner,” Dalgo said.
The hikes, which offered views of gorgeous waters, rocks and vegetation, also came with some tense moments.
“The only time I got scared was when I was coming back up (Mooney Falls) and I grabbed hold of a rock, and when I went to pull my body up, the rock broke off, and I hung onto the other one with my other arm and I thought, ‘Gee, I’m stronger than I thought I was.”
Appropriately, Dalgo said her mother was wearing her “Mamma Mia” hat that day.
The hikes also got increasingly strenuous day by day.
“And that’s what they (the tour company) meant by ‘the ultimate.’ I mean I got scared especially for her (Haley). I mean we’re hanging on rocks, and there’s this 200-foot drop and it’s all wet, and I just thought, ‘This is more than I expected.’
“They’ve got this big chain drilled into this drop, so you have the chain to hold on to, and then you’re feeling your way down, and there was that moment when I said, ‘Oh my God, Deborah, if anything happens to my mother I will never forgive myself, like you got her into this.’”
But did Mom share her worry at that point?
“Not at all,” the self-described daredevil who’s ridden a zipline and a hot-air balloon said with a grin. “Just do it.”
Beaver Falls was the destination on their last big hike of the trip.
“Do you want to tell her or should I?” Haley asked her daughter enthusiastically as they related how this last hike went down.
“We got to this one waterfall, and you could either go straight down this little area, that you did have a few things to hold on to, and it wasn’t that far. And they told everybody, ‘You can either do that, or you can jump off into the waterfall,” Haley said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh Mom we’re not going to do that!’”
“And I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I hope she doesn’t decide to do it because then I have to do it,” her daughter said.
“I wish I had a picture of her face when I said ‘I’m going over,’” Haley added.
And off they went. Dalgo said the water was so stinging cold that it took her breath away.
The rock wall the group approached soon after was where Dalgo drew the line, standing by watching nervously as Mom descended the wall to the bottom-most section of the canyon.
“I just said to myself, ‘If you fall, you’re going to be dead,”’ Haley said. “Then they told us we had to go back up the way we came and I said, ‘You kidding me.’”
On the final day at the canyon, Mom took a helicopter to the rim, while Dalgo hiked out.
“Every time I think of the trip, I can’t help but smile,” Haley said.
“Everything about this trip just turned out so wonderfully,” her daughter added. “It was just breathtaking. It was just an amazing, amazing experience.”
Dalgo later compiled and had printed as a gift to her mother a book of photos and text capturing the highlights of their special mother-daughter journey.
She included the treasured 40-year-old photo and a quote that she had run across just before the trip.
“At the end of your life, you will regret more of what you didn’t do than what you did.”