Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Trip to the Canyon

So, we went to the Grand Canyon. Here's how it went.

Because we didn't plan ahead but put this all together literally the night before we left, we didn't get a direct flight from Cleveland to Phoenix. That meant it took us 12 hours to get there. Oh well. The next morning, we rented a car and drove three hours or so north to the canyon. We checked into the hotel, The Grand Hotel, which is not to be confused with the hotel on Mackinac Island. This one is a newer place meant to look like a traditional western lodge, and it's not even a mile from the southern entrance to the canyon park. In the hotel restaurant, there is a stage labeled "Buck's Stage," and Buck sings there at night with his guitar and harmonica accompanying. He's not bad, especially with the Johnny Cash songs, and he takes requests.

Across the street from the hotel is a National Geographic station, sort of like a rest stop with a food court and gift shop. They also sell tickets to the park (a $25 dollar pass per vehicle that lasts for seven days), and they offer guided hiking tours. There is also an IMAX theater there that plays a film about the canyon, mostly about the experiences of early explorers. I was hoping the film would provide more facts about the size and age and rock composition of the place, but what we got instead was a bat flying around in front of the screen so that his shadow made it look as if there were two bats in the canyon.

As we drove up the main road leading to the canyon, I had the same sensation I had when I was a kid and we would drive to Lake Michigan, a pleasant feeling of anticipation as you're approaching something wonderful that you can't quite see ahead but you know it's there, and you can't wait until you can at least get a glimpse of it.

Let me just say that the Grand Canyon is a marvel. I won't call it a miracle, and I can't stand the word "awesome," but it is certainly a place in which to stand in awe. Teddy Roosevelt said it was the most impressive piece of scenery he ever looked at—"it's beautiful and terrible and unearthly." I agree. It's beautiful in its colors and in its record of history, but it's also terrible in its size and danger, like a giant scar. You stand on the rim, and you're afraid of getting too close, but you can't look away. And each spot along the rim gives you a different view. The bookstores sell a book about all the deaths that have occurred at the canyon, and it's updated regularly, so that should give you an idea of how risky the place can be.

Day one started out cloudy with occasional rain, and it was a little chilly. This is one of the first things we saw:

After exploring for a while, we stepped into a rim lodge bar to get away from the drizzle. The staff was scampering to catch a ring-tailed cat that had found its way behind the bar. The server explained they don't mind having the things in the kitchen because they keep the mice away, but they didn't want this one to nest with the ice and limes and glasses.

By the time we left the bar, it was clear the rain was not going to pass over, and within minutes, this is what the canyon looked like from the rim. Even with a few clouds, you can clearly see ten miles across to the north rim, but in the rain, you can't see a thing, and it's a little ghostly, especially when you can hear wind blowing through invisible trees.

The skies cleared up by evening, though, and this is what you can see at sunset about halfway along the road to Desert View.

Day two was sunny and clear, so we went back and drove all the way to Desert View, a spot just inside the east entrance. There is a watchtower there that was built in 1930 and made to look ancient. You can walk up to the top to get a better view of the canyon and to see more of the Colorado River which was the culprit in this whole thing. Amazing.

Here is Husband on the rim at Desert View.

And here is a mule we did not ride to the bottom. Some day before I die, I would like to make that trip.

Now, onto something completely unrelated to the Grand Canyon. I have a cousin who lives in Phoenix, and we have never met. I grew up in Indiana, while Clay grew up in Kentucky. The rest of the family was in Alabama, and while we each visited them, we never visited at the same time—our paths never crossed, and in fact, Clay didn't realize I existed, thinking his Uncle Elmer only had three daughters.

He and his wife Suzanne took us out to dinner, a great little place they called "a local hole in the wall." We had margaritas and enchiladas and guacamole, and we shared stories about our envelope-pushing fathers and the mothers who tried their best to keep them in line.

These fathers of ours grew up in Alabama, and to listen to their own stories, they were somewhat unattended. They were young rapscallions, actually, and these two spent a lot of time together. I always wondered about my Uncle Everett because he grew up to become a veterinarian, fully college educated, whereas my father didn't finish the seventh grade. I was curious as to why two brothers from the same family would be so different, and I wondered if either one was ever encouraged by their parents or discouraged by their parents, or if they just found their own way.

It turns out that despite the paths they took, they were one in the same. Both men chewed tobacco and kept nasty cans with paper towels stuffed in them to catch the juice. Both men drank a little, and both men were scolded by their wives for all of their misbehavior. And it seems neither man took his wife's scolding to heart. After Clay and I exchanged stories about our fathers, I found I started looking at my own father a little differently. I never begrudged him his lack of education, but I did think the chewing and spitting and general coarse behavior was unpleasant. Evidently more schooling wouldn't have done much to change that.

It was great to finally meet this cousin and his wife—and how nice that they're democrats (hee hee) because there are so few of us in the clan. Interesting side note—the booth where we had dinner was the very same booth where the McCains and Bushes met last year. Suzanne suggested she purify the air with a little sage before we had dinner.

1 comment:

dive said...

Yay! What great news about your long lost cousin, Robyn (and I don't just mean that he's a Democrat … hee hee).

I know you don't like the word but those photos are awesome! I've always wanted to visit the canyon and you've just made me crave it more.
The sunset shot in particular is breathtaking!

Your husband's standing about as close to the edge as I would dare get. Sheesh, that's a long way down!
I hope you get your mule ride one day.