Day 9, part 2: Grand Indeed

Catching up now, since we have safely landed at Pleasant Hill, here is the:

Grand Canyon report from Day 9

We considered passing the Canyon by in order to save time, and dismissed that idea within seconds. Our hearts were clear. I wanted to see Flagstaff, to satisfy a nostalgic itch I was having, so we fueled up at Starbucks and also put gas in the car. What a sweet western town, plenty of hippie vibes, and that mountain pine scent in the air.

We chose the more scenic route that took us across the shoulders of the San Francisco Peaks through the Coconino and Kaibab national forests, and were well rewarded with towering pines and views of the mountain turning blue-violet in the afternoon. Lo and behold the engine light came on again once we passed 7,000 feet in altitude. This time we knew why.

San Francisco Peaks

We arrived at the park gates to find three lanes of visitors, checked in (thank you Senior Park Pass!) and were guided to a particular lot. Steps from our car was the storied abyss, glorious in late afternoon light. I oogled, I snapped pics, walked, then sat and filled myself with canyon beauty.

When I sat and allowed the scene to fill me with color and light and space and beautiful air, I began to “see” things. My mind embellished the natural patterns with order that was unlikely to be there: Tibetan monasteries, stupas, temples,  arches and windows. There was even a pyramid!

It’s true, the pictures just don’t do it justice. Maybe it’s the lack of vertigo? 😉

I felt like I was an instrument being played by the landscape. It was sublime, splendid, spectacular, and special, and I will commence a plan to return with the time to contemplate, to paint, and to invite the Grand Canyon to make music with me.

The Josephine Report:

Grand Canyon, Take One

How many beautiful calendar pictures of the Grand Canyon have I ingested in my lifetime?  Cliche # 2: no picture captures the overwhelming “whatness” you’re reaching for as you approach the experience itself.
I think I expected a straight-down-from-the-rim-to-the-bottom visual, and what I discovered was a complex system of canyons stretching over many hundreds of twisty square miles. Looking down, I could barely discern the Colorado River (and only a tiny glimpse from one vantage point) that created this majesty. Looking across, the other world of the North Rim was unimaginable, and the Painted Desert beyond, unfathomable.
I’m so accustomed to be able to focus and that’s just what this landscape refuses. Here’s what friend Glee Bartlett has to say about that:
“I remember painting at the canyon. I spent the day at it, but the canyon kept changing — every I’d time I’d look up I’d lose my focal point. So, I also painted — in great detail — the large green fly that lit on my easel and rested a for a longggg time. I love that painting.”
The distances, colors and perspectives were constantly evolving as the late afternoon light and our position changed. Distances? The faraway to the North Rim is just that, until I read the placard saying it’s 9 miles away. And  the Painted Desert behind THAT — the same desert we’d visited (admittedly in a different part) several hours earlier. There is definitely something mind-bending going on here.
Glee, I remain in gratitude to your large green fly, who helps to ground us,
Josephine
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Day 10: Welcome to California

A few days ago we were worried about crossing western NM and eastern AZ, and remarking on the desolate desert landscape. What the hell did I know, innocent Easterner? That was a trip through green pastures compared to today.

Leaving charming Williams, AZ after breakfast we rapidly descended from 7,600 ft to less than 400 at the Colorado River. The terrain changed and changed again, from tall pines to arid red rocks to scrub desert as we spiraled down out of the high land of the Colorado Plateau.

Looking at Needles, CA across Goose Lake, Havasu Wildlife Refuge, Topock, AZ

Seeing a watery wildlife refuge, we exited Route 40 just before the California line. Tango got to wallow in water from the Colorado that fills Goose Lake, a huge wetland surrounded by white sand desert. It was hot and windy, and a very strange place. Even a few dozen yards from the water and the landscape was unforgivingly harsh. Still, there was the scruffy town of Topock there, touting its recreational benefits.

After lunch we excitedly crossed into the Golden State and began climbing uphill again. Soon it was apparent that we were in a monumental desert world. The adjective ‘lunar’ worked its way into the conversation. Almost all the greenery disappeared and the colors grew muted. Some cactuses, a few small yuccas, tumbleweeds. And rocks, sand, wind.

Mountains were toothy and varied in color and form. Sometimes there was a totally black mountain. Later we saw more ‘malpais’ – recent lava erruptions of grainy black stone. There were no signs of life, no living things, no houses or power lines. For dozens of miles.

The Mohave Desert is over 25,000 square miles of daunting desert, stretching from Vegas into Arizona and California. It felt like the surface of Mars, only less colorful. It’s the first landscape where I couldn’t imagine surviving on my own. I like to think I am comfortable in the wilderness. But this environment was deeply hostile in my book, despite the long list of creatures who live there.

Jose and I have been on the road for over 3,200 miles and ten days. We’re tired, and so is our vehicle. Today, while watching the engine light and the temp gauge, one strap holding the bicycle broke, fortunately we caught it before it got completely loose. Later, in 30+ mph winds the cartop carrier began rattling ominously, so again we were on the hot, windy and dangerous highway fussing with straps and buckles to cinch it tighter.

After the blasted feeling of the Mohave, climbing up into the Tehachapi pass with all its windmills was exhilarating. But then the high winds had whipped the dust into a haze, and the sun was low. All those twirling pinwheels spinning on the mountainsides were mesmerizing.

After that, the rugged hills softened to a leathery tan, more green appeared and livestock to dine on it. Trees other than Joshua were a sight for sore eyes. And when we hit the first orchards in Caliente, it was like being in candy-land. The colors were so intense!

Here in north Bakersfield The air smells of flowers and manure, and its relatively humid. there are vineyards and orchards just outside of town, and they will line our route home tomorrow, the Garden Basket of the US.

Welcome to California, a huge, strange, rugged, lush state. What a first day!!

Thanks everyone for following along on this wacky adventure. There are many more tales to tell, and tomorrow, more miles to go. Stay tuned!

Day 9, part 1: Across the Desert

On this amazing day  we traveled over 450 miles and through many amazing types of terrain. We are pretty bone-weary and happy, since we ended our day with the Grand Canyon. That story is for Part 2.

This morning we left ABQ after fueling up at Starbucks and heading out old 66 for a bit. The empty desert stretched out forever before us, powdery sand and shriveled sage baking in the sun. As bleak as it was, soon there were bluffs and mesas, and we passed by Acoma Sky City as I read the amazing tale of their civilization (on Wikipedia, natch).

Whizzing along Interstate 40

Later we were sweeping through big curving red rock landscapes, passing impoverished Indian settlements and eccentric tourist traps as we ate up the miles. We got gas at Gallup, near the once-famous Hotel El Rancho, favoured by movie stars in the days of the big Western pictures: John Wayne and the like.

We crossed the Continental Divide and then the Arizona border. Somewhere our phones decided we had crossed into Pacific time as well, so the day became even longer.

Arizona brought less arid landscape: some breath of green to the range, and cattle appeared, grazing upon it. Lunchtime was a wonderful picnic at the Petrified Forest NP. Our shaded picnic table looked out over colorful hills dotted with petrified logs.The wind literally wuthered: around the rocks, the shelter, the scrub pine and sage.

Petrified Forest NP

There were lizards skittering, and birds. A few wildflowers were blooming including a cactus with orange blossoms.

After lunch, once again we were climbing. We were approaching the San Francisco Mountains and Flagstaff, gateway to the canyon lands beyond. But that’s tomorrow’s story. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, here is today’s

Josephine Report: Desert Thoughts

Patrise and I have an ongoing conversation about how we feel about being in the desert. Both of us have lived our lives in various parts of the country surrounded by water, woods, and green growing things. Today we spent a good five hours traversing the New Mexico and Arizona desert, so that gave us time to think about being in it. I find it forbidding, inhospitable, bringing up survival fears. No leafy cover, no humidity, the sun so aggressive. I know I will never choose to live in such an environment.  For Patrise, her body responds with a big “yes”! But let her speak for herself.

And yet, it’s not as simple as that for me. I’ve now participated in three retreats over the past several years in the high desert near Abiquiu with White Eagle on her sacred land, Star Dance. Although the environment of the desert there did keep me on edge, it also sharpened my senses and mental faculties. I gained an enormous respect for the living creatures there who manage to thrive in such adversity; the sparseness of the landscape did not have the same emptiness I experienced crossing the desert at 70 miles an hour.

I’m waiting for the Desert Elders to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

My two cents on the desert is that I feel a tremendous joy when in New Mexico, that seems in conflict with the lack of water. I’ve been a water person my whole life. But something literally enchants me in the Land of Enchantment. More on this later.

San Francisco Peaks

For now, zzzzz.