August 3rd was our 25th wedding anniversary and my wife and I decided we'd go to Vegas. When we got there it was strange, but the town felt desperate, unhappy, it didn't smell right, we weren't feeling it. Anyway since it had been awhile since we'd gone to Vegas we decided to cruise the town, and although you could see lots of new edifices and gleaming pretty buildings it just felt icky so we just followed our bliss and hooked a right on Charlotte street and drove into red rock canyon. I'm really a city kid and although as a boy scout they let us run around the Vasquez rocks I’d never allowed myself to appreciate the natural spirituality of places like that I'd never really been in the desert. We spent the day driving around the canyon letting it impress itself on us, and when we got done and headed back into the city it occurred to us we just didn't want to hang out. So we decided to just pack up and go to the Grand Canyon.
We rode through the desert at the intersection of night and day in the time when spirits exchange in less than the blink of an eye we arrived at neat little Quality Inn 2 exits up from the canyons entrance.
Waking up the next morning was like getting out from under a heavy blanket compared to Vegas we just felt light. I'm an early riser I like meeting the sun in the morning, but my Sweetie pie doesn't mind doing the sleep thing, but we were both up before dawn. When we arrived at the hotel it was dark. By dark I mean I saw the Milky Way for the first time in about 10 years again dark, like so dark the headlights took out a flashlight to see where they were going. The next morning dawned unto some of the most strikingly beautiful country I think I've ever seen.
You know I was mad at Arizona. Weird to be angry at a state, but I was mad at it over SB 1070. I literally thought things like I wouldn't piss on Arizona if it were on fire. What a liar I am. I would die defending that beautiful space.
We entered the park through its' south entrance, and although we knew both intellectually and emotionally that the land had always been inhabited we were just struck by how brave European people were. What in the entire heck drove people to go marching around the planet so fearlessly so willing to build a life where ever. The saying went and what did those people on covered wagons do here?
My wife had been to the canyon before and knew what to expect so she would glimpse over her shoulder and go “ohh” saw it “aww” it's lovely, but I'm a granny like driver, so I kept missing the views with my eyes on the road and hands in the proper 10 and 2 o’clock positions.
The land is remarkably flat. You can see scrub of what Sweetie said were ponderosa and other pine, but I couldn’t imagine there was a canyon anywhere near. When we went to the visitors’ center and walked around trying to figure out how to do the canyon in a day I didn’t know I could probably chuck a rock into the thing from where I stood. I doubt horses run off cliffs by themselves with a rider on it. I think they’d probably stop themselves and the rider continues, and I have to wonder how many of those European people we were thinking of before met that fate. Don’t worry if you’re height shy you tend to adopt the posture to the canyon you’re comfortable with and fall into it so to speak. The rangers say the most asked question is how many people fall into the canyon, and the answer is surprisingly few.
As we hooked a left out of the visitor center I still hadn’t seen the canyon at all. We decided to do what the tour busses do which is head toward a spot called Desert View and out the parks western entrance. I’m not about to lie here, I was about to think what is with all the hype. I think we went perhaps an 8th of a mile to the first turn off point which was a left turn.
When one wondered what were cathedrals inspired by I got my answer. It was taking in vistas like this. To say that the length and breadth of the canyons undertaking is massive, awe inspiring wondrous, mind blowing, metaphysical, can’t think of any other words. I felt like I was in a time machine with the river as now so many feet below and I as the traveler many years in the past with the entire full sweep of time available in every blink of my eye. I was scared to look at it all. I couldn’t believe it existed.
The potential energy in these canyons could run the earth for millions of years and I could feel it. Therefore the posture I felt between myself and the canyon was highly respectful, and yet from the moment I was able to look upon the distant mesas and feel the play of light and shadow on their walls, I’m going for another word here majesty? Yes, majesty I think this is what the word was coined for.
It’s about 40 miles to the exit with at least 5 major stops and 20 minor ones. We hit every one of them. The speed limit was 45 but the land around the canyon was so scenic 30 seemed to fast to drive, and there was a pullout every mile or so with a view that could make you stay all day and we hit every last one of them.
It was an interesting thing who joined the caravan of the slow French, German, English, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Italian people and those are just the people I spoke with who would catch my eye. Oh sure I heard plenty of English outside of all the people from Brighton and Bristol, but I sure enjoyed trying to hammer through are you having fun on your vacation in all the other languages.
Have you ever been at a party and were having too much fun for your own good and something said time for you to leave? Ever been in church when the Holy Ghost was freed and after a while you’re tired and you just say no more, no more I’ve had enough? The fullness of the canyon or at least the National Park tour portion of it ends like that. It’s a right turn rather than a left. The vistas in the distance are no less beautiful, but they are more subtle, more restrained giving you the ability to decompress and turn out the lights the party’s over though all good things must come to an end.
Part of that decompression is the Little Colorado gorge, which if it were anyplace else on earth would be a tourist attraction in itself, but placed next to it’s big brother seems pale. You don’t have to go very far at all before you see little stands along the highway that sport impressive views in their own right with handicraft from the native peoples of Dine’ people of the Navajo tribe.
I was born in Gainesville Georgia moved to Ohio as a youth and spent my formative years in Southern California yet it occurred to me as my Sweetie was picking out more things for me to shower her with that I had never spoken to a Native American person face to face. I glimpse through the pictures in my head of the probably 100’s of thousands of people from all over the world I’ve had conversation with and this is to the best of my recollection ever seeing this face in the flesh.
My doll found what she was looking for and I had a great time talking to 4 pretty typical teen age American kids just with a new beauty I get to catalog.
The Dine people have it going on going down the strip to the junction between the park and the right turn to Flagstaff or the left turn unto their lands. About every mile or so there is a turnoff with a sublime view and the ability to purchase mementos of your trip, and since we had managed to escape Vegas without giving them any real money we decided we wanted lots of them. We bought a lovely necklace from Jennifer. She was about 3 miles up the road from our first stop and actually had pay booth in front of her stand.
As a person who didn’t use to many of the resources of our national forests I had no idea how many require you to pony up before you use them. I’ve been blessed no problems here, but dang ya’ll if a family wanted to just ride up the highway and stop at national forests that view spots in the middle of Arizona you could run up a substantial expense in about 200 miles.
Anyhow, Jennifer, she was just as nice and open as all the folks who were tending the booths along that stretch of highway are, but what struck me was a conversation we had where I asked her if she could be doing anything on earth what would she do. She said she would tend sheep. She said she would just love to sit on the land, draw water for them, cook sit among her friends and live. Jennifer has seen American Idol, and you know what? She wasn’t buying. She also shared that the land where she hoped to raise her sheep just got electrified, and when I say just I asked like 1965? I’m thinking the TVA the rural electrification program, I’m thinking huh? She told me just like last year the year of our lord 2009. She also told me that in this time when we have open the book of man and its genetic code it’s children in this country don’t have water.
She also told us that rather than turn right to Flagstaff we should turn left toward Cameron and their trading post. She described a meal like Jennifer Rowlings does in her Harry Potter books. First they have this bread. Think of it as the worlds best deep dish pizza dough touched with yummy and fried in butter. We will put some honey on the side with that, but were going to also stack up some beans, some beef, some chili peppers, some lettuce, too much cheese and tomatoes. You can have two size of that large and small. I said you know Jennifer I like to eat. I have met eating and he is a friend of mine you can take a look at this belly I’ll be getting the large. She was kind enough not to laugh at me.
The Dine peoples trading post is only a quick 2/3rd of a mile before the bridge of a chasm unto their reservation proper. They have signs, turn here now! I think they needed to add fool for me, but I made the left turn without burning rubber to stop.
Arizona is where the sun goes to take a vacation. It’s hot like Africa hot. Like my ancestors who speak to me from the across the middle passage saying welcome home hot. My Sweetie likes to call me muffin, but now I’m baked muffin Arizona is hot. The weather was actually benign for what it could be, and we had a cloud that decided to make friends with us, but Arizona is no joke at all. Again I’m from Southern California and Arizona hot makes California hot run for its momma. It was nice that the Navajo taco was inside the nice air conditioned trading post.
You know at the last moment before ordering the large I heard Jennifer again, and we went for the two smalls and tall fruit drinks. Lemonade for Sweetie and fruit punch for me. They were very cold and not sweet. I have to imagine they were doing us a favor in liquid as opposed to sugar. Jennifer was right to laugh. I couldn’t finish a small. It was all that and very good.
Outside the restaurant is of course a trading post, and one of the curios they had was the ability to reach into a pile of stones and feel around for the one that speaks without your eyes or ears and I did it. I pulled this one.
Tommy is the cool guy behind the counter if he wasn’t an elder he was older than I am, and Sweetie and I shared a great conversation with him. I had no idea that the Navajo people were not native to the area. I had an idea how long the pueblo people had lived there, but didn’t know that the Navajo weren’t there too much longer than the first Spanish conquistadors. Apparently there has been a land dispute between the Navajo and Pueblo peoples instigated over, coal? I asked Tommy did his people war with the Pueblo people, and he shared with me no they sort of worked it out. I think the name of the company that ignited the dispute was Peterson. How on earth did we allow a company chasing after a thing to disharmonize people who had lived together for 400 years without major strife?
What a fantastic couple of days. I saw one of the universes most beautiful sights within a day’s drive of me but I found the place full of people who have come from much further away to experience it.
I met so many new people it was a blessing, and I learned a new word which I won’t even attempt to spell. There was a movie Midnight Run with Charles Grodin and Bob Di Nero. Charles jumps into the back of a truck with a bunch of native peoples and tries to greet them and he says something like “ya hey” ok I was trying it out, and it sounds like it a bit the way they say it, but I might have been saying wolfs tit, but they appreciated the sentiment. It doesn’t mean goodbye it has the aloha meaning.
Sweetie and I will definitely do Arizona again. We aren’t going to let the haters remove a state from our union.
Photo credits to my Belissima the love of my life. I stare at her because I can.