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Field Tested
If you want to escape the crowds and go beyond the obvious at the Grand Canyon, book a trip with the Grand Canyon Field Institute. That's what Jan Kaplan and Helen Walker did. Many, many times.

By Kelly Kramer

Grand Canyon The first time Jan KAPLAN saw the Grand Canyon, she stood on its rim and cried. It was 1975, and she'd been working at an outdoor education center in Colorado. One of the perks, she says, was being led on a two-week camping adventure around the Southwest, which included a trip to the Canyon.

Helen Walker doesn't exactly remember the scenario that led to her first visit, but she does recall the effect of the Canyon: "Awe. Absolute awe."

Those reactions aren't extraordinary, but for Kaplan and Walker, they've certainly endured. Unlike the millions of people who visit the Canyon once, file their photos in an album, and schedule their next vacation to wherever, this pair keeps returning for more, thanks in large part to the Grand Canyon Field Institute.

Kaplan and Walker first became acquainted with GCFI in 1999, when director Mike Buchheit arranged a private excursion for the couple and their friends to celebrate Walker's birthday.

"It was fantastic," Kaplan says. "It became the hallmark in our minds of everything that GCFI is about and the quality of its product. The trip was transformative in many ways. Most of the folks on the trip had never even camped before, much less had the multiple stimuli that the trips bring about in one packed week — a mix of hiking, river life, natural history, human history, geology, aesthetics, outdoor etiquette, camara-derie and teamwork."

Since then, Kaplan and Walker, both medical professionals who moved to Phoenix from Minnesota in 1996, have been on "five or six" trips with GCFI, including two river trips and several backpacking and hiking excursions. They've seen a lot, but they can't pick a favorite place in the Canyon.

"It's a place of self-revelation and unpredictable temperament," Kaplan says. "It brings out the best and worst in people. When you're there, you have to focus internally. The place you always come back to is inside yourself."

Walker agrees, although she does have an affinity for the Colorado River. "Being on the river is such a different experience from being on the trail," she says. "But my favorite place is always the spot where I'm standing at any given moment."

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