PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNIFER EMERLING
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park. In celebration, Hemispheres steps up to the rim with a few of the millions of people who visit or work at the canyon each year to learn what brought them to America’s grandest natural wonder.
Kathy Young used her third visit to the park as a jumping-off point for other experiences nearby, such as a cookout on a Navajo reservation and a trip to Monument Valley, where many classic Hollywood Westerns were filmed. “We went out to see the sunset that afternoon, and that was really special,” Young says. “It’s definitely different from Mississippi!”
As a wildlife technician with the park’s Science and Resource Management Division, Tessa Corsetti studies the canyon from all sides. (One ongoing project has her researching its 20-plus bat species.) During her free time, Corsetti (pictured with visitor Tom Blackwell) volunteers with the horse patrol. “It’s so special to be able to give people a glimpse of the Old West,” she says, “before cars and helicopters dominated the landscape, when horses along the canyon rim were a daily occurrence.”
The size of the canyon makes logistics tricky—especially for someone trying to capture it in a work of art. “It’s incredibly difficult to paint the canyon convincingly and convey the sense of scale,” says Mark Popple, who makes a hobby of depicting scenes from various national parks. “Nothing really prepares you for looking out over that wonderful view for the first time.”
“Grand Canyon National Park is more than a scenic landscape,” says Vanessa Ceja-Cervantes, who has been a park ranger since 2015 and now works in the public affairs office. “It’s a place of residence and worship for America’s first people, a collection of geologic records and natural resources, a place of learning and reflection.”
WATCH: Three Perfect Days Arizona
Over the past few months, Ceja-Cervantes has spent much of her time planning the centennial celebration. “It means a lot, especially for a woman of color, to be able to represent a public space like the Grand Canyon and tell others that this is also their land.”
The Grand Canyon is home to more than 350 bird species, and ranger Kate Pitts (pictured with fellow ranger Ronald Brown) ranks the annual Christmas bird count among the best parts of her job. “Not only is the count a holiday tradition for families all over the country, it’s the longest-running citizen science program in the United States—over 100 years,” she says. “Each bird reminds me to travel with a light impact and a lighthearted joy for the world around me.”
“It’s absolutely beautiful seeing so many people from so many places gathered in this area,” says Bosnia-born Sada Palislamovic, who traveled to the Grand Canyon from her present-day home in Boise, Idaho, to watch her grandchildren be sworn in as junior rangers.
“The Grand Canyon was mind-blowing,” says Perth, Australia, native Shannon Cheetham (pictured here with friend Daniel Layfield), who visited the park for the first time last year as part of a tour group. “It’s hard to grasp that something that vast is naturally occurring. It’s like another world beneath your feet.
The Grand Canyon Railway departs daily from Williams, Arizona, carrying passengers directly to the rim. Russell and Reagan Wren, of Las Vegas, rode the steam train with their family to celebrate their older brother’s high school graduation. “It’s majestic to be in nature, because in the city you just see buildings everywhere,” Russell says. “I would definitely recommend other kids go to the Grand Canyon,” adds Reagan. “I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
It isn’t only astronauts who get to go where no human has gone before. “When we are flying to a patient, I look out and realize how large the canyon is,” says George Hein (pictured here, left, with Eduardo Mendoza Jr. and Ronald Montgomery), who has been in the Grand Canyon National Park Service Fire Department for 11 years. “There are places we are going past that very few people have ever seen or touched. It is a humbling concept.”
“The Grand Canyon has been a place that I keep returning to,” says Kirsten Fuller (pictured, right, with fellow HawkWatch International volunteer Greg Cooper). Fuller is studying to become a raptor biologist and has been a hawk migration counter. Ferruginous hawks and California condors are among the birds of prey she has seen on her visits. “I’m from the East Coast, so I get to see some raptor species that I wouldn’t normally see.”
“I don’t think there is a word to describe the emotion you feel when you see the Grand Canyon,” says Marta Chesta, who traveled from Cuneo, Italy. (The NPS estimates that about 40 percent of the canyon’s visitors come from abroad.)
Hikers come from around the globe to trek the park’s 358 miles of established trails. Cheryl Criscenti (pictured, left, with friend Cindy Hirakawa) traveled from Benicia, California, for her first overnight backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon last year. “I had a never-ending smile on my face, knowing that I was finally going to get to see the canyon from top to bottom,” says Criscenti. “That joy and excitement are now forever a part of me.”