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Some people will do anything to raise money for cancer.

Last summer, PALS president and CEO Ann Smith Gordon rode a mule.

The mule ride, along the edge of a steep canyon in Utah, was part of a 4,300-mile journey she and two friends took across the national parks of the American west in September. Breathtaking photographs from the journey will be shown in her 25th annual charity slide show on Wednesday.

Ms Smith Gordon travelled across six states, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, but the slideshow will mainly focus on the last three. She visited a number of famous landmarks along the way such Arizona's Painted Desert and Petrified Forest and Mesa Verde in Colorado.

“At Meteor Crater in northern Arizona, we witnessed the result of a meteor that crashed 50,000 years ago, after travelling through space for 500 million years,” she said. “Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. It is an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, air conditioned indoor viewing, wide screen movie theatre, interactive discovery centre, unique gift and rock shop, and Astronaut Memorial Park at the modern visitor centre located on the crater rim.”

On one of their adventures, Ms Smith Gordon and her two friends visited Zion National Park in Utah. There she picked up her ride to travel down into Bryce Canyon, a little mule called 'Alaska'.

“I loved that mule,” she said. “I don't think I'd ever travelled by mule before. The paths were so narrow that sometimes his head and shoulders would be over the side of the cliff as we went round a bend while his feet were still planted on the path. On Alaska I descended 1,000 feet to the canyon floor through the strange, magical and spectacular beauty of pinnacles, spires and columns known as hoodoos, left standing after millions of years of erosion.”

She said that although it could be very hot in the region, the hottest temperature they experienced was 97F(36C), and on that day the humidity was 20 percent. The low humidity made the heat easy to bear.

In terms of photography, this year has heralded a change for Ms Smith Gordon who is known for her images. She has stuck to a manual camera for years this year she used a digital camera. To do this, she bought a new Nikkon camera, in an effort to keep up with the times.

To get to their destination Ms Smith Gordon and her group flew from Bermuda to Miami and on to Dallas, Texas. There they rented a car (sometimes they hopped a mule) for the rest of the way. Accomodations were reasonably priced. For example, in Monument Valley they rented a four-bedroom house for $150 a night. However, she said if they wanted to go out at night they had to drive in pitch black conditions as there were no street lights.

It was easier to eat in. Authorities were also very strict about alcohol consumption, particularly on Native American reservations. At one point Ms Smith Gordon, was is a senior citizen, was carded to make sure she was legally old enough to drink.

Every year, Ms Smith Gordon's slideshows are packed. Last year, she did a slideshow of a tour of the Canadian Maritime region. All the money raised goes towards the cancer charity, PALS.

“The challenge for PALS is for the donations to keep coming,” she said. “The new cancer drugs are $6,000 to $11,000 a month. What do you do? If you have insurance they will pay 80 percent, but 20 percent of $11,000 is more than a lot of people can pay. It is terrible. If you don't have any insurance, what do you do?

“I would never deny a suitable candidate if they have a chance to live, but we really have to figure out what we are going to do about it and how we are going to cope in the future.”

She said there are new cancer drugs that can be taken orally. Although it's much nicer for the patient, they are much more expensive.

“The prices are certainly not going to go down,” she said. “It is scary stuff. We need more than $1.2 million each year. The money raised from this slideshow is a drop in the bucket. I will probably make about $8,000 from it. That is a drop in the bucket but it is great public relations. When I am packing up for the night people from the audience will be asking me what my show is for the next year.”

Wednesday's slideshow will be held at 8pm in the Mount St Agnes Academy auditorium. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased from PALS at 18 Point Finger Road or by calling 236-7257.

Useful website:

The rock formation known as the Three Sisters in Monument Valley.
The Painted Desert
Some of the amazing scenery in the American west.
Monument Valley
Susie Yazzi, 95, a Navajo weaver that Ms Smith Gordon met along the way. Mrs Yazzi has been weaving since she was ten years old and has been featured in several magazines.
Ann Smith Gordon on a mule called ‘Alaska'.
Spider Rock

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Published March 03, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 03, 2011 at 8:48 am)

National parks of the American west

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