Uncovering New Layers: Whitney Mitchell Rediscovers Herself in the Grand Canyon

Whitney Mitchell Grand Canyon

Whitney Mitchell shares the eye-opening experience of how camping and rafting in the Grand Canyon created a space for continuing her journey of becoming. Words and Photos by Whitney Mitchell

Before leaving New Orleans for the Grand Canyon, I’d been experiencing a continued cycle of lows. Both professionally and personally I was in a rut of loss and lacking. I was consumed by an unwavering series of challenges that left my spirit feeling doubtful and joyless.

Between the death of a family member, professional fatigue and literally every news outlet’s reports, I was living in a world of doom. Abundance was perceivably absent.

Then I went to the Grand Canyon. I went inside the Grand Canyon.

Whitney Mitchell Grand Canyon

Whitney wears the Hurricane XLT2 Alp in GC100 Eclipse.

I jumped on a tiny 20-seat propeller plane with 12 complete strangers to Bar 10 Ranch, a cowboy’s dreamed-up desert oasis in the Arizona Strip. Over the course of five days, these strangers eventually turned into confidants. We shared in exchanging stories of the groover (tented toilet) and became ATV-drivin’-cowboys.

This trip was lit. It checked all the boxes. It gave me all the answers and the space to determine them.

Whitney Mitchell Bar 10 Ranch

Before heading into the Grand Canyon, the group stayed at Bar 10 Ranch on the North Rim.

Bar 10 Ranch at the Grand Canyon

Welcome to your own private wagon at Bar 10 Ranch. Pictured: Hurricane Drift in Mango.

Bar 10 Ranch at the Grand Canyon

For the majority of the trip, I felt like Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park.” Every time I was excited (or scared) I didn’t say real words. The helicopter ride felt like a horizontal elevator, gliding across canyon lands that lowered us into “the park.”  It didn’t feel real—it felt like I was watching a simulation of a tiny ride in the sky.

When we reached the bottom of the canyon and began rafting, the simulation became a movie that I was suddenly part of it. I was able to see the rim “close up” from the bottom up—a perspective that isn’t often the visual summary of Grand Canyon experiences. Being inside it, I had to trust it and move with it, quite like Jeff’s ability to move with nature and avoid being overcome by Isla Nublar (Jurassic Park island).

Bar 10 Ranch

Bar 10 Ranch

Pictured: Hurricane Drift in White.

It made me feel naked. I saw its scale and I felt it even more. I was able to see how years of stories contributed to a bigger, grander picture. The folks that manage Bar 10 Ranch and guides that raft on behalf of CRATE Inc. (Colorado River & Trail Expeditions) live disconnected for long periods of time from the onslaught of information provided by our phones, the internet or the presence of a large audience.

This has afforded them the opportunity of space to uncover internal layers of talent and thoughts alike. They rode horses, drove ATVs, rafted boats, cooked up the finest camp cuisine I’d ever tasted, sang and played guitar. They were open to seeing themselves in different roles and open to trying to uncover newer layers. They are surrounded by the space to try without being distracted by what they’re not doing, where they’re not going and who they don’t know from the internet.

The experience reaffirmed the importance of intentional space and disconnecting for recalibration. I have this renewed sense of how valuable space is for my continued journey of becoming.

Teva Hurricane Drift

Twinning in the Hurricane Drift in White and ready for takeoff to the Grand Canyon.

Arriving at the Grand Canyon

I was most surprised by the variety of jobs that are centered around national parks and the mini-ecosystems they create. Every leg of the trip came with tenured professionals that knew the park as well as they knew themselves. They worked to showcase the park’s glory, while teaching our crew how to care for the land and sustaining its natural flow.

The Grand Canyon is powerful. It lives. It’s forever becoming a continued home to time and stories of the past. I felt an immediate appreciation for the people that work to keep it kept. The spirit of the Canyon moved uninterrupted by our camp’s presence. It gave and didn’t stop giving.

Grand Canyon

Whitney shared the trip with visitors from around the world.  

You know when it’s so quiet, it’s loud? It’s the type of quiet that will amplify the sound of a bug’s wings humming through the air 20 feet away. That’s how quiet the land in and around the canyon is. When I woke up for a morning walk, I was super aware of how my actions might affect the people around me—a simple tug at my zipper could wake everyone up.

In the buzz, hum and song of my everyday world, it can be hard to see those impacts. How loud I say something. What I choose to pick up or throw away. The Canyon reminded me that everything shifts, no matter how small or large in scale by our individual actions. We all are connected—if not by sound, then by the way we work together or how we listen to each other. We are all playing small parts within a bigger story.

Colorado River

View from above of the Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon.

Original Universal

Making fast friends in the Grand Canyon. Pictured from left, Original Universal Maressa, Hurricane XLT2 Alp in GC100 Eclipse and Hurricane XLT2 in GC100 Boomerang Canyon.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

When challenged to pack light, the Hurricane XLT2 Alp was the perfect shoe that would allow me to feel nimble in both water and climbing rock.”

Over the past few years I’ve been going to national parks alone: hiking alone, sleeping alone. It’s been my continued version of escape. I was a little nervous heading into this trip, feeling that my escape would be muddled by varied intentions. But there were so many moments where I was inspired by everyone’s tenacity to try anything: jump on a horse, or into the Colorado river. We moved together and yelled to the cliffs when confronted with the newness of every river rapid. We learned the language of paddling and listened for it—we navigated the escape together.

It was clear there was a version of fullness and level of shared freedom that existed within the group that would have been missed had this experience been spent alone. I felt exposed each day we spent beneath the towers of Schist rock and a new sense of trust while I was depending on a crew of strangers to successfully work as a unit down a living river.

Rafting in the Grand Canyon

“There were so many moments where I was inspired by everyone’s tenacity to try anything.”

Every passenger on this trip came from totally different backgrounds. We were all brought together by Teva as winners of the global sweepstakes to experience a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, where the brand was born. From an Italian trio and the Swiss-German and UK duos to the Oakland and Dallas pairings from the states, there was never a dull moment.

We learned of our differences and used them throughout the trip to either aid in understanding or comic relief from the ever-present heat. Everyone asked questions that felt rooted in true curiosity. It felt like we grew our own community.

Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Special thanks to CRATE’s whitewater rafting guides.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

Pictured: Hurricane XLT2 Alp in GC100 Eclipse.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

Pictured: Hurricane XLT2 Alp in GC100 Eclipse.

Summarizing a trip that offered a layered reprieve from everyday life has been difficult.

I started the trip in Vegas with emotional baggage that seemed weighty. In the Grand Canyon I was able to press pause and address each layer with recognized internal strength, or shared knowledge passed from Bar 10, the CRATE Inc. staff and the crew of Teva.

I said “yes” to a catalog of normal world “no’s.” I walked away from my sleeping cot under the brightest Milky Way on the banks of the Colorado River feeling completely full.

My truest takeaway about what this experience was for me—is that it left me feeling fully grounded.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

Pictured: Hurricane XLT2 Alp in GC100 Eclipse.

Hurricane XLT2 Alp

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