Professor 3rd to Hike Length of Grand Canyon

MESA, Ariz. -- When Mesa Community College (MCC) biology professor Andrew Holycross emerged from Pearce Ferry Wash in the Grand Canyon on Nov. 25, 2013, he became the third person to have hiked the length of Grand Canyon on both sides of the Colorado River. The 65-day journey, in extremely rugged canyon country began on Sept. 22, when he set out to accomplish his sabbatical goal of exploring the modern relationship between man and wilderness.

Holycross, joined in stretches by friends and fellow Grand Canyon enthusiasts, completed the entire 500-plus-mile hike of the north side in a single trip, making him the ninth person to complete a through-hike. He previously completed sections of the south side.

This achievement enables Holycross to bring firsthand knowledge to MCC biology students in the fall, adding to his dynamic style of teaching. He hopes to deepen public appreciation of wild places and illustrate how these places preserve a context within which individuals can grow and challenge themselves in nature. Students at the college are excited to learn details of discoveries made in remote areas of the canyon. “Every day had highlights, like finding rock art in the middle of nowhere that was drawn by people before the birth of Christ,” Holycross recalled. “Some of the images are just ghostly. There’s absolutely some spiritual significance to them.”

“Andrew is one of the most observant people I have ever met,” said Andy Baldwin, Chair of MCC’s Life Sciences Department. “The story of this journey alone will inspire former, current and future MCC students and staff for years to come.”

In addition to sharing what he learned about himself and the geology and biology of the Grand Canyon, Holycross plans to convey to students the importance of setting a life goal. “It doesn’t have to be this kind of adventure, but I’d like students to know how important it is to take time for these kinds of events in their lives and to do it early if they can,” said Holycross.

This personal and professional journey is also tied to a grieving process and quest for meaning in life. Holycross’s late wife, Ioana Elise Hociota, slipped and fell from a cliff on a backpacking trip in a remote area of the Grand Canyon years earlier. The weather was perfect and the exact circumstances of her fall, unwitnessed by her hiking partner, may never be known. Andrew writes, “Some wonder why people engage in adventurous activities considering that some level of risk is inherent in adventure. I’ve spent a lot of 'canyon time' trying to think about this from Ioana’s perspective. I know her as well as one person can know another. I believe what she told us through her example, is that what matters most is not how long you live, but how well you live. And ‘living well’ means throwing your heart and shoulder into both the work and play of life.”

Watch the final leg of Andy’s journey here:

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About Mesa Community College
Mesa Community College provides outstanding transfer and career and technical programs, workforce development, and life-long learning opportunities to residents of the East Valley area of Phoenix, Arizona. MCC excels in teaching, learning and empowering its more than 40,000 students who attend annually to succeed in a local and global community.  Mesa Community College is one of ten colleges that comprise the Maricopa County Community College District. For additional information please visit

About Andrew Holycross
Andrew Holycross is a biology professor at Mesa Community College and adjunct professor at Arizona State University. He is the author of numerous scientific articles on amphibians and reptiles, and with co-author Thomas Brennan wrote "A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona".  He is currently editing a scholarly book on Arizona's snakes, and writing books about his late wife and Robert Benson.  He enjoys rock climbing, canyoneering, and kayaking, but is a backpacker at heart. Andrew is happily remarried and has a house full of wonderful children.

The Maricopa County Community College District is an EEO/AA institution and an
equal opportunity employer of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.

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Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 8, 2014