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TrekWest Blog 28: Standing on the Precipice of Protection

Grand Canyon, late April

“Tragically the other young woman who was going for this milestone achievement, a friend of Kristen’s, slipped on a steep slope of loose rock and fell to her death.”

Arid, spiny and angular.

Were I to try three main qualities for distinguishing the West from the East, I’d likely choose aridity, spininess and angularity. The dryness of much of the West is, of course, a defining feature, though not adequately appreciated—especially not given likely effects of climate chaos. Angularity is everywhere in the uplands—sharp rocks, big cliffs and tall mountains. Grand Canyon is dry as a bone away from river and springs, quick to puncture errant limbs, relentlessly angular and frightfully tall.

I saw less wildlife on our six-day backpack across Grand Canyon than I otherwise would have because being nervous along precipitous drops and around thorny plants kept my eyes glued to the ground. Once past the loose rock on steep slopes over sheer drops to the river, I could gaze about and admire the grandeur, my canyoneering friends thankfully keeping a relaxed pace. But I’m sure I missed seeing the defter feet of bighorn sheep or gray foxes or even a cougar or two because of my fear of falling.

Kristen Caldon, aka Canyon Ewe, just delights in these edgy exposed places, where you don’t know whether to grab something if you slip—it probably has spines—or just slide and hope you land in deep water. At 28, she has already earned a place among elite Canyon photographers by hiking to the most remote places, usually alone, and capturing on film sheer majesty and magic, as well as any one artist with a lens can. Kristen is on pace to become the youngest woman to traverse both South Rim and North Rim on foot: 280 river miles translating into perhaps 800-1200 times two, treacherous miles, occasionally on edgy trails. more often in places where few since the ancestral Puebloans have walked. Tragically the other young woman who was going for this milestone achievement, a friend of Kristen’s, slipped on a steep slope of loose rock and fell to her death.

Kristen is a real conservationist though, not just an adventure athlete, and through the National Park Service, Grand Canyon Wildlands Network, Wildlands Media Group, ILCP, and Save the Confluence, she is building a photographic portfolio to better protect the Grand Canyon Ecosystem. This year she is focusing special attention on the confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River, near which we camped on night two, and over which a nearly full moon set the towering cliffs in a celestial evening glow.

Unbelievably, the Confluence is threatened by the kind of insane economic scheme that we might have thought our country had finally gotten past. Exploitive developers are fooling some members of the Navajo Nation, who live on the lands north and south of the Confluence, into supporting a tramway and resort from the east rim of the Canyon down to the river Kristen’s sublime photographs, from at least seven remote vantage points around the Confluence, including Cape Solitude, will help alert Americans, native and new, that one of our ecological, cultural and international treasures is at risk.

TrekWest Action: Please see for all the information about saving this irreplaceable area.

For the Wild,

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ALL PHOTOS: © Kristen M. Caldon 2013



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