The Great American Road Trip – Episode VIII

The Great American Road Trip – Episode VIII

by Carolyn McLaughlin

The night spent camping at chilly Sunset Crater had been exciting because of the change in the weather. We all slept very well, snuggled deep into our toasty sleeping bags. By morning we smelled the crisp air beckoning us to liven up. We took the tents down and packed our sleeping bags fairly quickly in the brisk morning air. The breakfast choice of watermelon seemed to fit into the camping theme well, slicing it up with a pocket knife and eating it at a big old picnic table, yet it was too cold to really enjoy.

We left the campsite after paying the host something like 8 bucks for the night. Among four of us that was quite a deal, yet we had pondered simply driving out without paying the fee. We were tired, I guess, of paying for every little thing. Once in a while it was tempting to take on an outlaw’s attitude – pay for nothing and take everything and be off to the next unknowing town before anyone can catch on to our plunders. It might have been fun to get a motel room and take long showers and ask for extra towels and eat all the snacks in the little fridge that also posed as a nightstand and then leave without taking care of the bill at four in the morning. But we were adventurers, not marauders. We paid our dues and drove into the cold drizzling morning.

All along the road there were signs for the Grand Canyon and signs for American Indian trading posts. We drove and jammed to the Bee Gees and were glad that not only were we staying alive, we were about to see an amazing part of the planet today that would be one of the biggest landmarks in our cross country tour. Four hours later and we had crossed a bridge with a pale greenish-blue river far below. Dan wondered if he’d be able to fish off it. Right. After a quick spit over the railing to really know how far the fall was, we were back in the car, to be headed into the day’s event in another hour.

We had reached a higher altitude by now, illustrated with the piles of snow along the roadside. The National Park cost a mere 25 dollars to enter. Here we go again. Paid, we drove in and continued to eat our chips – crisps if you’re British. I was driving and steadily blazing along the lovely curves my island driving is so familiar with when a park ranger clocked my speed at 65 in a 45 mph zone. Everyone in the car agreed that I had easily been doing 70. Alas, the ranger, John Caroll, couldn’t have been friendlier. He told us to slow down and enjoy the view. No ticket. Saved.

So, off we went to the marvelous Grand Canyon. It was cold up there and evergreens were everywhere.(58k gif)
This is not how I had always pictured the Canyon. It was supposed to be desert-like red and deathly hot. This was better. There was life and color and energy. There are 217 miles to the preserved area of the Canyon and we were at its highest point. It was absolutely breathtaking.(61k gif)

The weather during our visit consisted of sunshine, drizzle, lightning, hail and rainbows.(66k gif)
What excitement. It was so picturesque it looked fake, like a touched up postcard. We parked at the Visitor’s Center and hiked a small trail that came to an end and dropped to the far, far away bottom. Again the spitting took place. Melissa took a picture of us out on the ledge and as vertigo set in we preferred laying down on the firm rock to pose.(56k gif)
What a view. We all threw pennies too and made wishes; I think mine may have been not getting pulled over again.

Back to the chariot so we could check out more vantage points. We did not tire of these stops as we had at the Petrified Forest. I’m glad of that. It was just so amazingly beautiful. Eventually we came to the last stop, which was the best to see the sunset from. Most of the other sightseers were leaving. We built a fire and pulled up a picnic table and prepared a meal of garlic chicken and potatoes and beans. A feast after another long day filled with driving and hiking and smiles for the cameras.(39k gif) (63k gif)

We let the food cook itself as the fire was a steady one. We were able to hike out to the end of a trail and watch the sun dissolve into the clouds at the edge of the horizon. The rocks resembled eternity and the green valley below fed upon the silent, pulsing stream at its core. Piles of glacial till looked like pebbles from where we stood. Every direction was engulfing, and the sunset was merely complementary. Even after it was gone the land throbbed with such a strong presence that I felt about as significant as a second up against infinity.

The food was ready when we returned to camp. And the beer was cold. The wind had picked up and drizzle was starting up again. We packed up the utensils and made sure the fire was out and there was no garbage anywhere. Dan and Melissa foraged in to the palms of Mother Nature to relieve their bladders. Rob and I drifted out to the ledge where the Canyon remained. Simultaneously, we howled into the air as loud as we could, then listened. We counted five clear echoes. We did it again. That’s a lot of space out there.

Already we had plans to continue on to Las Vegas. One night of camping in the cold was exciting but we were higher up this evening and the smell of rain in the air was uninspiring. The idea of driving into Las Vegas all lit up was fun too. Rob and Less were of age and anxious to make their first million gambling. Melissa took the wheel and I changed my jeans, which were completely soaked in front from laying down in the snow, 7000 plus feet up in the Grand Canyon.

Next week: Viva Las Vegas!