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Remembering the road, day 17
This morning I woke up at 4:45 and got my brother up and saw the sun rise. It was another beautiful sight as the red ball of flame slowly lifted over the canyon wall. Once it was blazing above the rim, we set out on a 4-mile roundtrip hike into the canyon. The guidebook told us to plan one hour per mile, but we figured we could do it in half that time.
As we set out, the cold wind chilled us so we moved briskly. The trail was made of sand with wooden ledges, rocky steps and debris, and plenty of mule manure. Initially we'd walk carefully trying to plant our feet solidly without stepping in the mule dung. But before long, we gave up that hopeless plan and just plodded ahead. Deeper into the canyon the views were clearer and stunning. It's hard to describe how big the Grand Canyon is. Within about 20 minutes we made it to the two-mile mark where a tunnel has been carved out of a massive piece of rock. We used the restroom facilities there and turned around to head back. For the first quarter mile, Mark and I were step in step. But when I needed another break, he pushed on ahead, leaving me to make the steep climb alone. What a brother!
The hike back up was exhausting. Walking in sand is tiring, walking uphill is tiring, walking on uneven terrain is tiring, and walking at 8,800 feet is absolutely tiring. Putting them all together is just flat out exhausting, but I still managed to get back to the top in about an hour, just 10 or so minutes behind Mark, who, I was informed by a hiker heading down into the canyon, was jogging part of the trail. Ugh.
As I walked up the hill, I started noticing pain. First I was getting blisters on my toes. My thigh muscles were beginning to ache, and most oddly, my armpits were getting really irritated. I couldn't figure it out until I realized that because it is so dry here, any sweat is nearly instantly evaporated. So as I was walking, my arms were rubbing against my sides without the benefit of perspiration lubrication. It was really uncomfortable. Hmm, perhaps I'm revealing too much? Then I won't speak of my nosebleeds.
Back at the cabins, everyone else slept. I'm glad they did because I'm not driving today. I'm sleeping. I have to make up for these early morning hikes.
Having slept for a hundred miles or so, I awoke to find ourselves on a Navajo reservation... very different from what I expected. Because I really haven't thought very much about reservations since I was in about the fifth grade, I guess I still had this vague idea that Indians live on reservations sort of like they used to live throughout the country before Europeans arrived. Yeah, that's pretty naïve, but I really hadn't ever thought about it.
Of course, it's nothing like that, or at least, this reservation wasn't. It was a vast tract of land I'm not sure exactly how big with houses and stores and gas stations and such. It seemed like a fairly poor area, with your standard assortment of fast food joints and such. We drove around a bit and found a small place that looked to me like a biker bar. Called "Kate's Café," it featured a ham, veggie, and mashed potatoes special for $3.95, a dollar more to include a soup or salad. It was fantastic.
As we ate, I noticed that my nephew Sam was wearing a Cleveland Indians t-shirt and mentioned it to my brother. Knowing that the name and even more, the mascot (Chief Wahoo), is considered by some as racist and discriminatory, it probably wasn't the wisest choice of wear on an Indian reservation at a restaurant catering to locals. (Later that day, when we stopped at another restaurant touting Mexican fare, I noticed Sam was wearing the shirt inside-out.)
After leaving Kate's, we continued to head northeast, eventually re-entering Utah and taking a drive through Monument Valley. Anyone familiar with Westerns, especially those made by John Ford, will instantly recognize Monument Valley. It's a relatively flat desert boasting gigantic thrusts of rock and dirt in the forms of plateaus and spires. As we rounded a curve presenting us with the view, it was like coming across a famous actor on the street.
Sadly, the two giant wildfires in the area conspired to fill the sky with a thick smoky haze, greatly reducing the visibility and the beauty of the landscape. Still, they are impressive and I was thrilled to drive through there.
Passing Monument Valley, we were treated to more canyons, ledges, and other landscapes that changed with each passing mile. One canyon looked like a rock junkyard with giant boulders just strewn about. And then before we knew it, we were back on flat, arid land. As we sped along the two-lane highway, several large animals moved towards the road. At first we thought they were cattle, but their shape wasn't quite right. Soon we realized we were looking at what we believe to be several wild horses. The horses appeared to be tagged, but were clearly ungroomed. It was an open range area and the horses were simply wandering throughout the open plains.
We turned back to Arizona and within a few minutes we found ourselves at Four Corners the only place in the country where four states meet at the same point. I was expecting a bit of a marketing zoo. It thought there'd be all kinds of fast food places, shops hawking knickknacks, and such. Instead, it's a small site run by the Navajo tribe in the area. Flags surround a platform where the four intersecting boundaries are clearly marked on an metal plate. A wooden platform stands over this so that moms and dads can take photos of the kids. Surrounding all of this are stalls from which Navajo members sell art, souvenirs, photos with themselves, and anything else someone might want to buy. To access the area it costs $3 a person.
I took the opportunity to jog from Utah to New Mexico to Colorado to Arizona all within a few seconds. There didn't seem to be much difference from one state to the next. It's neat and a fun stop if you're passing through. But I don't know that I'd go out of my way to go there. "We planned our whole trip around this," said one woman whose children posed on the crisscross of the four state boundaries. Clueless as to what to say, I got back in the car.
With us in the car was my niece Jane. Half the time I didn't even realize she was there, she just sat quietly as we listened to a book on CD. No "are we there yet, are we there yet?" No "I'm hungry..." or "I need to use the bathroom..." She was simply a great traveler!
Since we're a two-car caravan, we have small walkie-talkies that enables us to keep the other car informed of upcoming stops and needs. This is proving invaluable. I want to have these all of the time. It would be an incredible time saver. I can imagine using them for telling people in cars ahead of me that the light has turned green, or for finding people in the movie theater! There are so many uses!
As we drove, my brother decided to get his car washed. I considered it for a moment, but I really feel the layers of dust, grime, bugs, and tar is giving our car real character. I'm looking forward to rolling into to D.C. with a car that really looks like it has put on about six thousand miles.
Our final stop tonight is Mesa Verde, a national park in the southwest corner of Colorado where there are ancient condos carved into cliffs. After finding our lodge, we unhappily heard that nearly the entire park was closed due to extreme fire dangers. This is a real bummer, the first of our trip. Fortunately, there is one cliff dwelling area still open so we hope to see that tomorrow, but it's still a letdown.
As we settled in for bed, we noticed a bright flickering light in the distance... we're fairly certain it's a fire. It'll be interesting to see what the story is in the morning... or if we're evacuated before then.