Today was our first full day at the Grand Canyon. By 7 AM, everyone was up and ready to start the day. We met Jamie who is a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at the Grand Canyon, and who will accompany us throughout our time at the Grand Canyon. Jamie provided us with essential information about our service program, shared with us her experience visiting and working at the Grand Canyon, and answered all our questions. She had all our names memorized in no time!
We then went on a short drive to the Science and Resource Management Building. There we met Pam who works at the Commercial Services department. Pam has been with the National Park Services (NPS) for more than 19 years starting out as a volunteer. She now oversees multiple units within the park such as the K-12 school, the clinic, and the bus system. She also works with Parking Management which is the area we will volunteer at. Our morning meeting with Pam was focused on understanding the layout of the park, getting acquainted with our volunteering responsibilities, and discussing the logistics of our volunteering assignment and some of the potential challenges that we might face while we volunteer. For the next few days, we are going to be assigned to rove different parking lots within the park ensuring visitors in vehicles park their vehicles in designated parking lots to prevent traffic congestion during the busy season of spring break. Parking management during spring break, as we quickly learned, is one of the challenges that the NPS at the Grand Canyon has to confront each year. With nearly 6 million visitors in 2016, the NPS at the Grand Canyon wants to maintain a positive visitor experience and minimize any issues that arise because of parking. This year, Pam and her team are experimenting with different strategies to manage parking during peak visitation. Our volunteering assignment is essentially a trial to test how well one of their strategies was going to work; thus, Pam emphasized that our feedback at the end of the week was going to be crucial to her team in evaluating the effectiveness of their strategy and how to enhance it.
After our meeting, Pam and Jamie led us outside to the different parking lots and adjacent facilities and attractions so we can get a better visual of where we were going to be stationed while volunteering. We enjoyed hiking between parking lots while learning more about the park and the different trails. Pam and Jamie had so much to share with us. All this while we had not seen the actual canyon part of the Grand Canyon National Park. Todd, who is the volunteer coordinator, had wanted us not to see the canyon from the rim until later in the afternoon. So, despite how hard it was not to walk over to the rim to lookout to the canyon, we had to promise Todd not sneak off and see the canyon until later as he had wished. After breaking off for our picnic-style lunch, we returned for the remainder of our field orientation with Pam where we went to the see the Visitors Center and the parking lots in the vicinity.
At the end of our meeting, Todd came by to finally take us to see the canyon for the first time. As we approached the viewing point, Todd and Jamie asked us to form a single line, hold on each others shoulders, and close our eyes. He then led us to the rim promising not to push us down the canyon while our eyes were closed. Once we were on the view point, they told us to turn around towards the canyon and open our eyes.
What we saw was unbelievable! I was enthralled by the colorful rock formation, the stillness of the canyon, the gentle breeze on my face, the clear blue sky above, and the shear magnitude of it all. It was well worth the wait and the suspense!
We indulged ourselves at the rim of the canyon taking endless photos with every imaginable combination of poses!
We then headed back to the house for dinner. On the menu tonight were hamburgers and baked potatoes. It was our first dinner at the house together and we ended the night with a deck of playing cards and lots of laughs. We truly had a grand first full day at the Grand Canyon.
Tomorrow we begin our first volunteer shift at the parking lots and I can not wait to start volunteering!