I thought I’d give a recap of what happened regarding bare feet the past two years on the Shuttle Buses at the Grand Canyon. It’s mainly just an excuse to post the email I sent to the Superintendent of the park, but I think it’s also useful to see it all laid out in one place.
It starts last spring (2012), when fellow-barefooter Alan Bruens visited the Grand Canyon. He didn’t do the massive in-the-canyon hiking that I did, but did take one of the airplane tours over the canyon. (Glorious!) Here’s a picture of him just below the Canyon rim.
He had his problem on May 2nd, 2012. The Shuttle Bus driver wouldn’t let him on the bus. All she did was, over and over again (and rudely), say, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” She did call her supervisor, who backed her up.
Keep in mind that there is no written rule. The rules are written above the bus driver’s head. Here’s a photo (badly focused, I’m afraid) I took this past year.
So, when I went to the Grand Canyon a month later, I was forewarned. But not deterred. When I first got to the Grand Canyon, I actually took the Shuttle Buses a number of times and didn’t have a problem. I also even took one to my jumping off point (figuratively) for my backpacking trip into the Canyon (the South Kaibab Trailhead).
But then I had a problem the day after I came back up, June 4th, 2012. I went out to Hermit’s Rest, but when I went to return, the bus driver asked if I had any shoes. Answer: no. Well, she said I needed to wear shoes to ride the bus (she’d checked with her supervisor), but since she’d transported me out and not noticed before I got off the bus, she would transport me back. (However, I did have a connection to make to get back to my campsite, so I was rather worried. However, that ride was without incident.)
So, I had the problem one ride out of about six.
That’s really rather typical of what we see in stores. Most people really don’t care, but all it takes is that one employee who makes a fuss, and then we get tagged.
After this bus incident I went to the Park Headquarters to give them some grief (if I could). I was put in touch with the head of the Shuttle Bus operations there (it was run by a concessionaire, Paul Revere Transportation), who claimed that yes, they had a rule, but no, she wouldn’t show it to me—I’d have to get that from the Park Service. This supervisor also made the claim that I might step on a loose rivet.
So then I talked to the Park’s Deputy Chief of Concessions Management, who tried to get the official policy for me.
You can see a bit more of the story in my blog entry from the time, Abyss Bus Barefoot Ban.
After I got back, Alan and I compared notes, and Alan was sufficiently annoyed that he wrote a letter to the Park Superintendent in mid-June.
He never got a reply.
Meanwhile, I exchanged a few emails with the Concessions Manager, and she never managed to get anything out of Paul Revere Transportation.
At that point, I kind of got tired of it all. Sometimes activism turns to sloth. You can only do so much without burning out.
But then, I decided to go back again this past spring, and with my son this time. So I knew I had to try to do something. I kind of put it off, but eventually, on May 3rd, 2013, I emailed the Superintendent. (This was about 10 days before we were to arrive there.)
Here’s the letter:
Dear Superintendent Uberuaga,
I am writing about an incident that happened when I visited the Grand Canyon last spring. I pursued it a bit at the time, didn’t really get an adequate response, and did not pursue it further.
However, it turns out that I am returning to the Grand Canyon this month, and I’d appreciate your assistance in ensuring that nothing similar happens during my upcoming visit.
I go barefoot almost continuously. I do so for personal, health, and spiritual reasons. I rarely have any difficulty doing so, and at home I regularly do the family grocery shopping, go out to eat, and ride the local bus system (Central Ohio Transit Authority), all barefoot.
When I was there last spring, I used the Grand Canyon Shuttle Buses a number of times. Near the end of my stay, I boarded one of the buses to Hermit’s Rest, without incident. For the return trip, however, the bus driver insisted that I had to wear shoes, which I did not have. Thankfully, she did allow me to board to return to the Village, but she let me know that I could not ride any other buses.
I followed up with Sharon Cann of Paul Revere, who also told me that shoes were required to ride the buses. She made up a silly story about how their buses (which are immaculate, by the way) were dangerous – when doing maintenance, a worker might have lost a rivet I could step on. Aside from the fact that I step on all sorts of things all the time without injury, including rivet-like objects, if workers really are leaving rivets around (and if they truly were dangerous), then they are also dangerous to those who sit in the seats.
It’s just an excuse, and a bad one at that. (By the way, if there are concerns about liability, there are tons of lawsuits involving injuries from raised heels, sandals, and other footwear, and very few involving bare feet. But one never sees such footwear banned.)
Let me point out that the rules for riding the buses are published in the Park Newspaper. Wearing footwear is not one of them, nor should it be. I went further and tried to find out if Paul Revere really has a shoe requirement. Ms. Cann refused to give me any documentation that such a rule existed, and said I would have to get that from the Park Service. Robin Martin tried to get that for me and was unsuccessful. I strongly suspect that no such rule exists, and that Ms. Cann was just enforcing her own personal prejudice.
Ms. Cann offered me an “accommodation” to drive my own car back to Hermit’s Rest, which, at the time, I used. However, this is unacceptable. The bus rides are part of the features of visiting the Grand Canyon; forcing me to drive my car deprives me of that and additionally diminishes the environmental reason for having the buses in the first place. In addition, the buses are required to use the South Kaibab trailhead to head into the canyon and return up the Bright Angel trail. I hope you can see the irony in my hiking the Grand Canyon without footwear, but being forced to don footwear to ride a bus, with the bus termed “too dangerous” for me.
One should not need an “accommodation” to circumvent an unnecessary and unreasonable restriction on riding the buses.
The bus is my primary concern, but while you are at it, it would be nice if you could also get the shoe signs removed from the grocery store run by Xanterra. (Same goes for Phantom Ranch.) When I was at the Trading Post at Desert View, there was a very interesting sign inside, right around the Snack Bar (not the rest of the Trading Post).
Shoes and Shirts are
required in the Snack
Bar, or we will be unable
to serve you.
That sign makes it appear that Xanterra is somehow convinced that bare feet in a food establishment violates the health codes. This is just a myth as you can confirm by calling the Coconino County Health Department. It’s not as if anybody is touching food with their feet. From what I can tell, these “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs originated in the 1960s as storeowners wanted to keep out hippies. Over time, people forgot the genesis of the signs and assumed a health code reason. Myth does not make good public policy.
I do a lot of hiking and I do it all barefoot, just as I live my life barefoot. On various organized hikes I go on (with Columbus MetroParks and the Ohio State Park system), rangers and other environmentally concerned people “get it”. I hope that you do too.
There is no reason for the Shuttle Buses to make up and enforce this non-existent rule. Therefore, I appreciate your assistance in ensuring that I have no problems during my forthcoming visit.
* * *
Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. – Exodus 3:5
Since I mention that the Park Newspaper also has the rules published in it, here those are.
Anyways, I never got a reply from him, just as Alan didn’t. It may just be his standard policy not to reply to letters from the public (or he might end up spending all day doing that).
However, I didn’t have any trouble riding the buses. I think I rode the Shuttles about 8 times. I even rode out to Hermit’s rest and on one of the legs was driven by the driver that challenged me last year. I think she saw my feet, but I cannot be sure.
So, did the Superintendent do something about my letter (even if he didn’t write back to me)? Who knows?
I’d like to think he did. I’d like to think that writing the letter made a difference. However, being stopped for being barefooted is just random enough that one just cannot tell.
However, I am glad that I made the effort. And maybe, just maybe, it had an impact.