After a restless long night of driving we finally arrived at our destination. Fatigued and willing we headed into the immense wonder with everything needed for the next four days strapped to our backs. As we stepped to the edge of the boundless beauty, excitement and nerves set in. With no other options to plan or prepare further, we headed into the immeasurable awe of the Grand Canyon.

There were four of us Colorado girls, all Horticulturists, and the trip was a celebration of a 40th birthday for a dear friend and a 30th birthday for myself. With a body that rejected temperatures over 80 degrees and an apprehension of too many people (Living in Summit County tourism is a joint hate and love) November was the perfect time to explore the desolate canyons.

One thing that was removed from my typical camping adventures was my two furry companions: Dylan the 9-year-old, independent, Princess Siberian Husky, and Mr. Blackpants, the 2-year-old, needy, licking lab/pit mix. I honestly could not remember a time in the last 9 years I had camped without my fluffy girl at the foot of my sleeping bag, and almost missed the trip, as Dylan had not been herself the day before we left.

A relatively delicate hike in the first day led us to our first camping spot. After leaving Summit County in the beginning of winter, we were happy to be able to enjoy a few more days of fall. Beautiful yellow and gold leaves of the deciduous trees and flowers turning into ornamental seed heads stood out next to the beautiful red rocks.   Like clockwork, I began to document the trip like most of my travels since I fell in love with Horticulture- by taking numerous pictures of plant life and nature and very few of the four of us.

After setting up camp we lounged in the sun, read, dozed off and prepared for the first night of celebrating. Looking back to when I was younger I would have never guessed that my life would be exactly as it was as I turned 30, and this would be the spot that I would celebrate the seemingly large event. But here I was, single, childless, and unconditionally in love with life.   After starting my own gardening business in an area I adored and investing 10 years of my life to, I felt like I was finally putting the pieces together.

Not much later the boxed wine was opened and the party started. We hiked out to a lookout point and went on several little adventures. I was still in awe of the plant life, and the moon was full and beautiful.   Despite the wonderful start to the trip sleep did no agree with me the first night. Stressed and restless I dreamt of my sweet girl Dylan struggling, and I felt trapped in the colossal canyon, unable to reach her.

The following day with a lingering bleakness from my lack of sleep, we moved on to the bottom of the canyon. The plan was to spend the next two nights close to the glorious Colorado River, and we were a bit surprised to run into a bit of civilization so far away from humanity. We reached a popular spot for river explorers to stop and catch their breath with loved ones and even buy snacks and supplies. I immediately took advantage of the pay phone to check in with my wonderful roommates to see if Dylan’s appetite had returned.

My stress level spiked as I learned that she had been taken to the vet that morning (per my request) as her appetite had been lacking for about 3 days. The diagnosis was pancreatitis. However, she was feeling much better with some fluids, and an operation the following day would put her on the path to recovery. I put a plan in place with my roommates and the intention was to check in the next morning after the procedure.

Drained from the distance we covered those first few days we spent a lazy day by the river, practicing yoga, reading, even enjoying some beers at the local ‘bar’ that served from 6-8 pm every night. Initially remorseful to be away from my first true love, Dylan, I felt confident in the plan, and allowed the weight of her operation to not overtake the allure of the beauty around me. I enjoyed another night of adventures, wine and hiking around.

The ensuing morning I calmly waited for the appropriate time to check in with my roommates, family and vet, and I was shocked when it appeared I had been cut off from the use of my credit card from my bank, and the pay phone was no longer an option. I tried to call collect to my parents’ landline- but there was no answer. Distressed that my communication to society was no longer an option, I felt trapped again, and begin to feel the gigantic canyon closing around me. I immediately felt regret for experiencing this adventure and contemplated my escape. All I wanted was to be with my girl.

Perceiving my changing character that day, the other girls tried to distract me and assure me everything was going to be OK. Realistically, unable to leave I settled into nature and tried to enjoy the moment and the beauty of where I was. Conserving ourselves for a longer 12-mile hike to Ribbon Falls the next day, we opted for a shorter early evening hike up above the river and our campsite.  When we got to the peak, I pulled out my cell phone, which I had been carrying that day to reference for phone numbers repeatedly at the pay phone. Amazed, for the first time in 3 days I realized that I had cell service at our current elevation- and I immediately called my family and roommates.

After a few unanswered attempts I quickly learned that my sweet, self-reliant, headstrong, gorgeous, fluffy Dilly girl – who had been by side for the last 9 years – did not even make it to surgery, passing away Monday night without me to comfort her and say goodbye. Restrained and stunned I spent the next hour overlooking one of the most beautiful places I have ever toured, and slowly the burden and desire to depart from this reality lifted. Dylan was gone. I couldn’t get to her and she would want me to enjoy the beauty that surrounded me.

Three years later the discomfort of leaving and not being with Dylan as she passed still envelops me at times. If I had know the severity of her condition I would have never left her, but she was taken from me swiftly, months away from her 10th birthday. I will always cherish our time together, roughly 8,000 hikes, numerous moves across the county, infinite memories in the snow (her happy place), the motherly love she provided Mr. Blackpants, and the many lives she touched. That night in the Grand Canyon she gave me her blessing to move on and enjoy the rest of my adventure. Cloudless and clear for the preceding three days, I experienced the most graceful, blooming, crimson sunset.

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