Last fall I returned home from hiking the Grand Canyon and felt compelled to share my story. I’m just an ordinary, homegrown Peoria guy who’s not made a big name for himself. I just stay to myself, try to be a good dad to my kids, and make it a point to be kind to anyone I meet along the way. And I always try to be a good steward of this world we call home.
Some months earlier, my cousin asked if I wanted to hike the Grand Canyon with him. I had never hiked before and never had an interest, although I did like to run. With some prodding, he convinced me this could be a life-changing experience and sent me a training regimen. Of course, that meant that I needed to get out on some hiking trails.
But I was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, I thought to myself—we don’t have hiking trails! I soon learned nothing could be further from the truth. I was about to discover how sheltered and one-dimensional I had been all these years…
Gems in Our Backyard
My world changed the first time I was introduced to the trail off Grandview Drive which leads down to the trails at Forest Park Nature Center. There is a spot at the top that is so beautiful, I told my daughter and son that if they want to find me after I am long-gone from this world, they can talk to me there.
That might sound a bit dramatic given all of the beauty in this world. In my first job out of college, I had the opportunity to travel to some beautiful places, including England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I have gone on cruises to beautiful islands surrounded by white sandy beaches, and visited several of the Hawaiian Islands—of which Maui, along with Sedona, Arizona, are two of my three favorite places on earth. I realize this does not make me a world traveler, but I have been fortunate to see some beautiful places along the way.
During those five months of training to hike the Grand Canyon, I was introduced to numerous other trails in the Peoria area. Each had their own beautiful spots—and I didn’t even come close to hitting all the trails that are available here! And that is why I write. I want everyone to know how fortunate we are to have beautiful places to hike, walk, run or ride… right here in our own backyard.
Beauty and Awe
That training helped me achieve my goal of walking from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim, and then back to the South Rim. When you first arrive, you’ll know right away why it is called “Grand.” I was overwhelmed with awe, feeling God’s presence and a sense of peace. We hiked 17 hours the first day and 11 hours the next—and I could have taken a picture every five feet. Seriously, that’s how beautiful it was!
When I returned home to Peoria, one of the first places I went was to the trail off Grandview Drive. Call me crazy, but while there I thanked her for the challenge, calm, serenity and beauty she offered me during those months of training. It had prepared me well for the challenge, calm, serenity and beauty presented by the Grand Canyon.
Running along Grandview Drive and hiking the trails, I could take a picture every five feet there as well. And that’s all I really want to get across—that we have numerous gems right here in Peoria. I encourage everyone to go to Grandview Drive and either get out of your car and walk the drive, or stay in your car and enjoy the drive. It’s as beautiful there as it is anywhere.
And if you get the desire to get more adventurous, take the hike along the trails off Grandview Drive. Remember when I said Maui and Sedona, Arizona, were two of my three favorite places I have ever visited? Number three is at the top of this trail in Peoria, Illinois. It’s where I find my peace, my calm, my purpose and my quiet time to express gratitude for this beautiful place that all of us can enjoy.
Bottom line: I’m proud to be from Peoria, Illinois, home to one of the most beautiful places around. There is a reason they call it Grandview Drive—it’s the same reason they call it the Grand Canyon. Both are absolutely beautiful places, but only one is just a quick walk or drive away. PM
Bill Crowley is home-grown and proud to be born and raised in Peoria, Illinois.