My daughter and I, with Wee Jamie in tow, had to make a road trip to California earlier this month to pay a final visit to my mother. We knew that it would be a difficult visit, saying goodbye to her. We also knew that we couldn’t stay long as my sister’s house is small, and her life is complicated enough. And that we have clients, projects and pets at home, so that we ought to keep the visit brief. My daughter suggested that we come home to Texas by way of I-40, which follows the old transcontinental Route 66, famed in song, story, TV series and all. At any rate, my daughter insisted – it would be more interesting a journey than the 20-plus hour drive through desert, desert and more desert on IH-10. She was very tired of driving or riding the train along the same route and seeing the same old ugly desert for miles and miles. Good enough reason to drive along another route, enlivened every fifty or so miles with another small town, or interesting city … and then she suggested that we make a side trip to see the Grand Canyon, arguing that it would be a while before we were in that part of the country again, we would only be an hour drive out of our way to see the Grand Canyon … so why not? It had been a long time since we had a road trip adventure, she argued.

Why, yes – it had been a long time … and after I thought about it, I agreed. And it would be a chance to check out the splendid Fred Harvey establishment – the hotel that the company built at the edge of the Grand Canyon – El Tovar, which hosted kings and presidents and celebrities of every kind since being built more than a century ago. Maybe, if the lunch menu wasn’t that excessive and they didn’t require reservations, we could have a meal in the restaurant … just like my daughter and I had tea at the Brenner’s Park Hotel  in Baden-Baden, when she was only a year and a bit older than Wee Jamie. My only worries concerned how Wee Jamie would handle hours in a car, and the usual road hazards when it comes to long hours on the highways.

So – that’s how we came to be driving away from Flagstaff very early on a Saturday morning; it was cool among the pines at such a high altitude. We had nearly forgotten what pine trees and tall jagged mountains even look like. There was still snow on some of the highest crags – but in the space of half an hour  we dropped out of the pine forests and back into high desert. There were two or three cars in line at the front gates to the South Rim. My daughter flashed her ID and her veteran’s national park pass, and there we were in the park, following the directions on her phone’s GPS program to the visitor venter in Grand Canyon Village. It was still so early in the day that there were empty places in the visitor center parking lot. Got out the lightweight umbrella stroller that we keep in the car (because the regular stroller takes up too much room in Thing the Versa’s trunk) and walked up to the wall by the path which leads along the rim …oh, my.

I think it was a bit like walking into a holy place – vast and hushed. So deep. Banded with color, tones of rust red, dark pink, sand, dark grey. Fringed with dark grey-green vegetation, cracked and creviced, jagged peaks and crevices, and away down, down at the very bottom, a little patch of glass-green water. We walked along the paved trail, pushing Jamie in the stroller; a different vista around every bend. My daughter laughed – here we were, with our cheap Cocomelon stroller, walking among all those hikers with serious boots, packs, staffs and water bottles. Jamie stayed strapped into his stroller all the way; it made us a trifle nervous, as there were no barriers along the cliff edge, nothing to block the incredible view around every turn. And nothing much to stop anyone falling for about half a mile, too. Wild horses would not have moved either of us off that path, or onto the Bright Angel trail, which zig-zags all the way down to the bottom of the Canyon, not even to take a heart-stopping picture. This did not stop other people from doing so, which made my skin crawl to see. No, I so do not do heights. Not so much the heights – but the likelihood of falling from them which distresses. We did encounter a park ranger there, and I asked him straight-out how many times they had to peel idiot tourists off the cliffs, to which he sighed and replied, “Too many times!”

At the Yavapai Point vista there is a tiny stone structure with windows all along the front aspect – it was agreed by experts a hundred years ago that the very best view of the Canyon was at that place. There were exhibits along the opposite wall, outlining how the land evolved – millions of years of sediment, a vast lake, upthrust of the continent and finally how the Colorado River carved the canyon. The river is no larger now than it ever was, so the exhibit informed us. But the Canyon itself … it was so vast, and the way down so rough that it was a barrier to travelers and explorers crossing the American desert for decades. I’d be willing to bet that the unofficial and unrecorded reaction of the first non-native travelers to the Canyon were something along the lines of “Oh, f**k, no, we’ll never be able to cross THAT!”

We checked out the Hopi House, now a gift shop and art gallery, wishing that we could have afforded some of the genuine black-on-black Santa Clara pottery. That would have done us as a souvenir; my daughter has noted how many cheaper souvenirs of a vacation or a visit have turned up at yard sales or in thrift stores. We also wondered how often visitors taller than ourselves near-to-concussed themselves on low doorways within that very authentic building.  Alas, reservations were necessary for lunch at El Tovar, and the sample lunch menu was pretty pricy, although I am certain that the elkburger was awesomely tasty. We left the park, noting that the line of cars waiting at the gates was now at least  half a mile long, suggesting to us that we were leaving at a good time. We snagged lunch at a sandwich place on our way back to IH-40 and didn’t get to Albuquerque until nearly seven that evening. But Jamie was a magnificent traveler for all that – I assume that he derived a great deal of amusement and distraction at watching the scenery flash past at 70 MPH.

I still want to go back to Grand Canyon, though – my dream now is to spend a few days at El Tovar, and see the Canyon at sunset and under a moonlit sky.

4 Comments

  1. during the early part of the covid mess, we took the train to Tuscon, rented a car and went to the Canyon, staying 3 nights in Williams. I had forgotten probably from ancillary reading on the Harvey Girls from Sunset and Steel Rails, that El Tovar was an old Harvey House.
    You got better pictures than we did, though, on leaving, we were stopped by a few moose crossing the road. we also took the time to go out to the Petrified Forest (a lot bigger than I expected) and the Meteor Crater. On the way back we took a side jaunt down through Sedona. The trip down was worth it; we didn’t have time to spend in the town. But we made it back to Tucson in time to catch the train back to Houston.

  2. The Canyon was lovely – and I want to go again. On the way home, we did take a detour short of Winslow to see the Meteor Crater – but they wanted more than we wanted to spend to go in and see it from the huge new center.
    We felt a little bit potentially ripped off, after taking the turn-off.
    I still want to spend about a week at El Tovar – reading about the Harvey company for Sunset & Steel Rails was so intriguing that I do want to stay there.

  3. Those are gorgeous pictures. I have not seen the Canyon in years but hope to go back someday. Glad the trip went well.

    • It did go well – the drive back was longer, but breaking it into three days made it bearable. Jamie behaved very well, all throughout, which was a relief.
      The canyon was simply gorgeous – we were stopping around every bend to grab pictures on our cellphones. What someone can do with a high-grade camera … well, there are books of pictures of the Canyon at all the gift shops.
      I do want to go back, someday – stay at El Tovar and watch the sunset, and see it all under moon and starlight. I am glad that my daughter insisted on that visit!

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