Life's a Grand Picnic

Dec. 4, 2014
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One of the natural wonders of the world, Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park is alluring to residents and guests alike. Over the years, many OSCers have made the trip and several have trekked down its steep paths to the Colorado River. Some have taken eager visitors along.  But I think that probably few have hiked to the river toting a picnic basket loaded with the outdoorsman’s most essential provisions: chocolate and alcohol. This is the story of one such kind and brave man, Professor Emeritus Roland Shack, as told to me by his wife, Pam.

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Sometime in the late 1980s, a visiting scientist from Ukraine was working with professor Shack. At the end of the scientist’s assignment, his wife arrived to spend some holiday time with him and a friend from Estonia, also at OSC. The young travelers did not have much money and they really wanted to see the Grand Canyon that they had heard so many wonderful things about, so Roland offered to take them.

They arrived on a Tuesday evening and stayed at Bright Angel Lodge. The next day was spent sightseeing along the south rim of the canyon. They had reservations for that night, once again at Bright Angel Lodge, and Roland expected to drive back to Tucson on Thursday morning. At dinner on Wednesday evening, however, the visitors told him that they absolutely had to extend the trip another day. They would not be able to face their families, friends and colleagues if they had not hiked down into the canyon. Roland reluctantly agreed to accompany them to Indian Garden, the halfway point along the eight-mile Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River.

The next morning, Roland woke at the crack of dawn, hoping to get an early start but his fellow hikers insisted on waiting until the small grocery store opened at 8 a.m. so they could buy “necessities,” in addition to the lunch supplies, trail mix and water he had purchased the night before. These necessities consisted of a box of chocolates, two bottles of vodka, a bottle of bourbon and a picnic basket. Roland was taken aback, but they assured him they were quite prepared to walk down to Indian Garden to have lunch. Only Roland had hiking boots and a daypack, which he always kept in his VW camper. The others walked (and according to Roland, even skipped) down the trail in loafers and oxfords, carrying the picnic basket between them. The expressions on hikers coming out of the canyon ranged from amusement to astonishment to sheer disbelief. 

Much to Roland’s relief, they arrived safely at Indian Garden and ate a sumptuous lunch. His companions followed lunch with vodka, bourbon and much merriment. In the early afternoon, Roland suggested they hike back up. “Nyet, nyet! Now we must go to the river!” He could not dissuade them, but he did decline to go with them. After agreeing to keep the picnic basket with him, he found a nice shady spot and went to sleep. When he awoke from his nap, they were not back. Since there was no way to communicate with them, he sat and waited. Just as it was starting to get dark, and Roland was beginning to get a little worried, they arrived. After a much-needed vodka respite, they took off up the trail, reaching the top well after sunset. Luckily, the visitors were able to find a room for the night. Roland slept in his camper, and all four arrived back in Tucson safe and sound on Friday. 

No, Roland did not share in any of the alcohol at the Grand Canyon. But Pam did make him a good stiff drink when he got home.