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home : columnists : columnists August 23, 2017

Grand vacation, redux

By Dick Wolfsie
Funny Bone

Mary Ellen is planning our 2017 summer vacation. She wants to go to the Canadian Rockies. I get nervous about trips like this. Sometimes we get on each other's nerves when we travel together and it looks like this time we're going to have a particularly rocky start...and finish.

Back in 2007, we took a trip to the Grand Canyon, the only place in America where you're allowed to drag your kid to the precipice of one of the world's deepest chasms, but they put you in the slammer if you feed a squirrel.

In the gift shop on the South Rim, the clerk recommended a book called-hold on to your hat (actually, hold on to anything you can): Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. What a charming choice for fans of light summer reading.

The authors do not restrict their colorful travelogue to unscheduled plunges to the bottom. They want you to know that with a little bit of poor planning, you can also die of dehydration or starvation. Rattlesnake bites, driving slide-offs, and eating poisonous plants are some of the more fun options to choose from.

Authors Myers and Ghiglieri want you to know how safe the Canyon is if you are careful, but the book seems oddly misplaced in the gift shop so close to, well, the edge. You won't find pamphlets relating the history of scaldings on the counter of McDonald's or brochures about whimsical power-tool mishaps attached to your chainsaw purchases.

There are many other entertaining stories in the book, including bear attacks, drownings, and rock slides, to name a few. So many ways to buy the farm and still enjoy the grandeur of nature. Maybe I'm an optimist but I look at it this way: just a few hundred deaths in six million years. That's not a bad record.

You want to hear more, don't you? In one touching chapter a man makes tea for his wife out of a deadly canyon flower and they both die within minutes. In another section, a woman tries to pet a mountain lion. There's clearly a fine line between bad luck and stupidity. An elderly couple got lost in their 1996 Taurus on a back road. They were found dehydrated, but still alive. They had no water but a week's supply of Depends. I'd call that ironic.

The chapter on suicide makes it clear this really is the place to go if you have a flair for the dramatic. It is rumored that one guy who met his maker by diving off a cliff had complained at the gate that the entry fee was exorbitant and he would never come back again. No idle threat there.

Travelers from abroad love the Grand Canyon. Europeans winter in Arizona. Asians summer in the Canyon. Americans usually fall there. About 600 feet. That's just an average, though; your actual plummet may vary.

While we're in the Rockies this summer, we probably can't avoid dangerous cliffs, windy roads and harsh weather. But we will stay away from bookstores.

Dick Wolfsie has written 12 books and has been a television personality for 30 years. His humor column appears Saturdays in The Times.

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