Death in the Grand Canyon

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Our National Park to Park Highway Tour schedule had us visiting the Grand Canyon in mid July in the hottest year on record. When we planned the trip we worried over how to stay cool, bringing battery operated fans and water misters for the heat, but when we got to the Grand Canyon the weather was surprisingly breezy and cool.

The high elevation at the rim combined with temperatures maxing out in the mid eighties gave us the perfect environment for exploring, biking the Greenway Trail and Hiking toward Ooh Aah Point on the South Kiabab trail.

Hours of preparation went in to how to stay cool in the Grand Canyon when what we should’ve been worrying about was death.
On our final morning at the Grand Canyon I read this article about Colleen Burns falling to her death on the very trail we had hiked the day before. Less than a week before we were there she hiked the same trail we had to Ooh Aah point, a hike of less than two miles round trip. She was just two years older than me and it’s not like she was being an idiot. She moved to the side of the trail to let another group pass, lost her footing and fell down the Canyon. Being polite can be deadly apparently.

In addition to that tragedy, on the same day we biked and hiked on the Grand Canyon Rim we noticed a huge cloud of smoke billowing from the North side of the Canyon. A column of puffy gray billowed up, filling the air with a fire fueled cloud. The Fuller Fire, a lightening caused wildfire has already burned over 1,300 acres on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, enough to close the road to Imperial Point and other areas on that side.
I’m not an anxious person by nature but if I had heard of Colleen Burns’ death even one day earlier there’d be no way I would take my three small children on that trail. I also know wildfires happen and trust that people in charge have things under control, but reading about the destruction there would’ve also given me pause.


Nature can be a scary place. Being in the outdoors has always felt manageable and safe to me, a refuge from modern day demands on my time. I like to think I’m smart when I explore outdoors, especially with my tots. I’m not free climbing mountains or hucking thirty foot cliffs on my snowboard, but it seems that even with the precautions we take, the wild is still WILD – unpredictable and untamed.
Does knowing that people die in the outdoors change my desire to be there? No, but it does change how I act when I’m in the outdoors. It makes me more willing to put all my food in bear containers and less likely to roll my eyes at certain camping or park regulations. It encourages me to think twice before planning a hike or bike ride that may be dangerous for my kids. It makes me appreciate Mountain Dad’s emergency preparedness precautions like the snake bite kit in our glove box even though I haven’t seen a snake yet on this trip.

My kids loved this warning sign – the man is puking and has a massive sunburn.

Being in nature can be risky, even on the small scale. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes at Great Sand Dunes National Park, my kids have skinned knees, scraped chins and Little G got a bruise on her forehead after tripping on the concrete. Not to mention, all of us have sun burns. But even with those inconveniences I choose to be outdoors. The joy and peace I feel in the mountains or gazing at the ocean outweighs the annoyance of bugs, scrapes and sun burns. I understand how someone who lives indoors all their life wouldn’t want to go camping, get dirty or risk injury. If you don’t know the reward, why take the risk?

At MountainMomandTots I try to show how getting outdoors is worth the effort. There is joy to be had in the outdoors even with the risks. After reading about Colleen Burns’ death in the Grand Canyon I will be more aware of those risks with my kids. Seeing a great view or reaching the summit isn’t worth our lives or health.

Nature can be a scary place, but even knowing the risks I choose to be in it. What about you? How do you manage the risks of the outdoors?

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Author: Mountain Mom

Hi! I'm Mountain Mom. I live with my husband and three young kids in the mountains near Sundance, Utah. When we're not hiking, biking, skiing and camping, I spend my time doing Mom stuff and reading. Summer of 2016 we traveled over 7,000 miles along the US National Park to Park Highway.

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