Monday, May 15, 2017

Off The Bucket List

Crossed “Grand Canyon” off my bucket list last week and, according to weather reports, it was a good time to be away from Maine. We stayed in Flagstaff, Arizona and took day trips, but only one to the big canyon last Thursday. It was cool and windy, but the sun was out. I got a sunburn on my face, arms, and that alleged bald spot on the back of my head I can’t see but people tell me is there. It feels sensitive under a hot shower now.
Hard to photograph how steep the drop-off is

My wife and I checked out cliff dwellings of the Sinagua Indians in Walnut Canyon the first day. They were western cousins of the better-known Anasazi. The National Park Service did a nice job building a path along what would otherwise have a treacherous hike for older tourists like us. My wife, Roseann, said raising toddlers on those narrow trails must have been a nightmare. I’d have put them in harness and roped them to a juniper growing out of a crevice. On the canyon rim, pottery sherds and chips left from knapping stone tools abounded on the surface. Archaeologists call it debitage — waste from manufacture of stone knives, scrapers, and projectile points. We both enjoyed it.
Then it was down to Sedona where aging hippies and young hipsters comprise a critical mass. Vogue describes a visit there as: “…basking in the pink glow of Sedona, Arizona’s red rock canyons and its aura-obsessed, pleasantly frozen-in-time, hippie-dippie community.” We drove around as I photographed red sandstone formations — some sun-lit, others in shadow.
Loopy people, but beautiful countryside
Vogue said Sedona contains, “an array of healers and their own breed of eccentric methodologies.” They were everywhere but we avoided them. The landscape was interesting, but I felt even more out of place in Sedona than when I visit Whole Foods back in Portland, Maine. I’m just not organic enough, not sustainable enough, and I eat gluten. I like preservatives and I’m free-range only in an intellectual sense that’s threatening to both hippies and hipsters.
Next day we visited a national park called the Wupatki Monument and Sunset Crater. It was fun listening to the female robotic voice in my dashboard GPS unit pronounce it. Looking north from the long road in was a pale-green sea of grass stretching to the horizon. Tasseled tops waved in a steady wind with small evergreens here and there resembled grazing buffalo. To the east were round, grassy hills. To the south were the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks — highest in Arizona.
But the flatness of the grass sea was illusory. Along the way were ravines and small, box canyons offering shelter from relentless wind. Beside these were pueblo ruins. Getting out and walking, the grass sea that seemed unbroken, down at my feet was actually sparse. Pottery sherds littered dry, gravelly soil. Here and there were small, sharp bits of chert and obsidian debitage from ancient tool-makers right on the surface. No wonder westerners find artifacts so easily. Here in New England, they’re covered with accumulated soil from decayed leaves and pine spills.
Nearby was Sunset Crater, formed in a volcanic eruption less than a thousand years ago — very young in geologic time and still in the traditional memory of nearby Hopi, Sinagua, and Navajo Indians. There were lava bombs strewn around and incorporated into the limestone walls of pueblo ruins. Black cinder covered entire hills between which were rivers of solidified lava that looked as if it hardened only yesterday. A Wupatki Park Ranger said Clovis points from 12,000 years ago were found in the region indicated a human presence then to now. What’s buried under that lava? I’ll never know.
Pueblo on the rocks

Lastly, we went the giant hole in the ground that is the Grand Canyon. It was warm and sunny when we got to the south rim and we walked along for a few hours until it got crowded. I heard many languages spoken and Asians were everywhere taking pictures of themselves and each other. We had to stop often so as not to walk between photographer and subject and that got tedious.
Neither of us would get close to the edge of the mile-deep canyon because it drops off sharply. It’s not as if you’d slide down an incline should you fall. It’d be more like a free fall until that thud at the bottom — although you might bounce off a stone spire here and there depending on where you fell off.
The Grand Canyon is aptly named. I’d call it awesome if that word hadn’t lost its literal meaning after decades of misuse. The views are truly awe-inspiring. We allowed two days to see it and were even ready to take a helicopter ride across. We didn’t go back though. It was the crowds.


Mike Corthell said...

Nice article.

Caroline and I will be out there next year. Can't wait!

Uber_Fritz said...

Tom . . . very nice piece suitable for National Geographic. Ironically, my wife and I traveled to Bermuda; we had not been in more than thirty years. And, we spoke with a couple from Maine. They, too, had not visited the island since 1980.

P. C. Poppycock said...

I remember visiting the Grand Canyon in '94, I think.

Got out of the parked car and walked up to the first broad view. I remember it literally taking my breath away in its magnitude and grandeur. I almost could not believe it was real; it had to be a Disney "diorama," right?

Mesa Verde, Bryce, Zion come close. But nothing can match the awe and scale of the Grand Canyon. I didn't know how to absorb it all, anymore than holding my newborn baby daughter.

Anonymous said...

How very bizarre that some people are proud about not being organic or sustainable. I guess as goes the hair, so goes the soul...

Anonymous said...

" I’m just not organic enough, not sustainable enough, and I eat gluten. I like preservatives and I’m free-range only in an intellectual sense that’s threatening to both hippies and hipsters."
Fear not. Sedona has a McDonalds. Just look for the Turquoise Arches. They're on Main St. between the Vortex sites.
I wonder if any aging celebrities in Washington have chosen the Sedona mindset
to call home?

Anonymous said...

I love your travelogue, and it makes me sad that I don't travel any more, so I have to be content with articles like yours and National Geographic and PBS. Thanks for an interesting article, Ann McGarity

Sami Gay said...

LOL. Yeah, right. You're "intellect" is sooooooooo threatening.... Jeesh, what a boorishly stupid comment surrounded by insipid tripe.

Tom McLaughlin said...

You don't sound very gay today, Sami.

Anonymous said...

The Grand Canyon is a great metaphor for the hole that Trump is digging himself into!