It is the last day of November! And itās twenty minutes until guests may begin arriving for my tree-trimming party this year.
I could leave the wrap-up for later, and honestly a real wrap-up probably will come later. I think blogging every day has really helped to point out the value of doing this more often once the challenge is over. Never fear: Iāll never stick with a daily pace. Making time for it for a month is one thingā¦every day of the year? Nope!
Itās been fun and interesting. There are a lot of things going on in my life that Iām happy to share here, and lots of things going on in my life that I donāt want to share here, for various reasons. I am very grateful that I finally got down to really writing about my trip, and I will definitely continue that. I canāt leave the whole thing hanging in the Grand Canyon, can I?
For now, though, Iām going to thank Laura again for suggesting it. And Iām going to leave you with a little holiday treat – this song has been a holiday tradition for me for years. This year, have the Swayziest Christmas of them all!
Today is my fatherās birthday. He would have turned 74 today. I go around and around on where to use the past tense around his birthday – November 29 is the anniversary of the day he was born, and that didnāt change when he died. But heās not here to celebrate or add more years, soā¦ today is his birthday, and if he were here for it, heād be 74.
A few years ago, during that strange adrift-at-sea first year after Dad passed away, I talked to a friend of mine who had lost his mother a few years before. I was wondering what to do with those anniversaries, the new and the old – the day he died, his birthday. My friend said that he tended not to dwell on the anniversary of the day his mother died, but that every year he took off work on his motherās birthday and celebrated her life by doing things she would have loved to do, by remembering all the good times he had with her. I thought that sounded like a fantastic idea.
Dadās birthday usually winds up being pretty close to Thanksgiving, so I tend to just celebrate it then. It was his favorite holiday – time for a big meal with the family, a meal he loved cooking even while he complained about it. The first year or so after Dad died, I was really tripped up by the anniversary of his death, but as the years have gone on it has become easier to set that troubled time aside. It so happened that this year, I got home from my cross-country trip just a few days before the anniversary of his passing, and I was in a decidedly un-mournful place. It was a little strange, but it was also a vast improvement.
Grief is very strange. It arrives when itās not expected and leaves earlier than you think, sometimes. I very distinctly feeling guilty the first time I didnāt feel mournful after Dadās death: was it too soon? Was I trying to banish grief? Would it double back around on me and really take me out? How am I handling it? How are we all handling it? How are we doing? How is the rest of the world not stopping? What is even normal anymore? Is it okay for me to be smiling now? Laughing now? Please can someone tell me when itās okay to be happy again?!
That first year. It was all like that. A bit adrift. Uncertain if the face I was showing was the ārightā one. I didnāt yet quite understand that grief doesnāt leave. Itās there, all the time. Like a weight that Iāve grown accustomed to. There are times I shoulder it happily, part and parcel of what makes up who I am. There are times I feel its weight keenly. Those times mix up together, rub elbows all the time. Itās just life as I accumulate it, and I try to be thankful for it all.
Today I stayed mostly off the grid. I took a long walk, then I came home to shower and head out into the day again, bright and cold. I got a small holly-bush to put on Dadās grave and drove over to the cemetery in Bowie. The small bush tucked in snug by the stone, I stood there, not crying. Today was the first day Iāve ever visited my fatherās grave and not cried. And sure enough, there came doubt. āWhatās wrong with me?!ā part of me tried to say, and I almost cried because I hadnāt felt like crying. Then I smiled, then I outright laughed. Dad would have been thrilled I wasnāt crying! I stood there a few more minutes, patted the headstone, and headed out.
Today was spent in shopping and planning for my little Christmas party tomorrow. I ate a big lunch and then didnāt eat dinner because I was baking cookies. Honestly the more correct thing to say is dinner was cookie dough. I got a ham and some cider and baked a whack-ton of chocolate chip cookies and all of that would have made my Dad really happy. Almost as happy as not-crying.
Miss you every day, Dad. Itās as much a part of me as your eyes and your smile and your weird sense of humor.
The month is winding down. It is Thanksgiving Day, the 28th of November this year, and I am barely to the halfway point of writing about my trip.
It has been an incredible year for me, and I can only hope that my sense of gratitude has managed to keep up with it. In the past year alone, Iāve been able to take this long-dreamed-for trip. I have connected with friends far and near, old and new. I have been given amazing opportunities and have even gotten up the courage to seek out more for myself. I have been supported by my amazing family – my born family and my chosen family, outstanding people one and all. I have found growth in my new spiritual community and started to make it a home. I am working – learning to work – beginning to learn to work on creating myself as the person I believe I was meant to be. There is a lot to do, but I look at the tremendous blessings I have already been given, and think with these tools, with this support, with this love, how could I not do it? How could I not try?
Part of learning to be a better person, a self-aware person, is facing the things about myself I know to be wrong. To need improvement. To need my attention.
Today, Iāll talk about one aspect of my trip that bothered me. To drive from my hotel in Flagstaff to the Desert View entrance of Grand Canyon National Park, Iād go about 20 miles or so north on Arizona Highway 89. Then I would cross over onto the Navajo Nation lands, still on 89 heading north. Another 20 miles and then Iād hang a left on Highway 64, still on Navajo lands, and 30 miles of that would bring me to the park entrance back on US Federal land.
I drove on many reservations and designated native lands on this trip, but none so much as I drove on the lands of the Navajo Nation. I made that trip on 89 and 64 a few times more than Iād originally planned (more later!).
Like much of the trip, the scenery floored me. Stopped me flat. Iād get out. Iād take pictures. And as Iāve mentioned before, I would feel guilt.
This land, I could feel and understand on some level, was sacred. Of course! My heart would cry out, Look at this beauty! Who would not revere this? Who would not sing its praises?
And yet on many levels, I did not understand. I stopped at a few Navajo stands. There are many, ranging from weather-beaten stalls with a few rugs for sale, to elaborate stores with many fine wares. Including jewelry.
Jewelry is a huge weakness of mine. I have tried, in recent years, not to focus much on accumulating new things. I donāt need to constantly buy DVDs or books or electronics or shoes or any one of a thousand other things it would be so simple to over-consume. The one thing I am having the hardest time letting go is jewelry. I donāt buy as much as I used to – Iām getting better, but. Iāve only got five fingers and one neck and two wrists and two ears (though admittedly those have a few holes each). I can only wear so much jewelry. And itās nothing that can be called a need. It is just a love. Loving it isnāt a weakness, but loving it too muchā¦Well.
Driving out to and through the Southwest and the Navajo Nation, I figured I would buy jewelry. Itās my favorite, and itās a noted native craft. Once there, I hesitated. Was this okay? I looked at the bare-bones stalls set up on the sides of the highway, hand-painted signs giving you plenty of notice: āNative crafts ahead!ā āJewelry!ā āRugs!ā āBison jerky!ā
Those highways werenāt in the best shape. The towns werenāt in the best shape. I was only moving through, one of many tourists, but I could tell that things on the lands of the Navajo Nation were not as they should be. There are many parts of this country that are struggling. There are many people who are struggling.
But it is Thanksgiving Day. I have no contention with a day set aside to honor gratitude, to sit and be in grateful awe of blessings, to spend with our nearest and dearest, to think of those not-so-near but still so dear. But that is not all that is behind our Thanksgiving. The tales we tell, the way we create a narrative out of the Thanksgiving story in this nation that glosses over what was truly done.
This land, all of it, was sacred to someone, was home to someone before we came here. My family has been here so long I find it hard to self-identify as anything other than simply American. But does that mean I should close my eyes to people who have been here even longer? Who have struggled to maintain their sovereignty, their identity, their pride in the face of centuries of hardship, hatred, struggle, prejudice?
I already wrote about privilege once this month. Iām a middle-class white girl. An educated, straight, cisgender, middle class white girl from the suburbs. I walked into that Navajo store all right, and I bought that ring. But I tried to be aware of what I was doing. Money for their economy? All right, yes sir. But is that good? Or am I advancing marginalization? Where is the line? What is right? What is needed? What can I, and my tremendous privilege, even hope to do here?
I havenāt got the answers to that. Listening to the stories that donāt get told, trying to understand the experiences of those who donāt have what I have, donāt come from where I come from, I hope that is the beginning. I hope I can keep reminding myself that my own voice is senseless prattling if I donāt give the same time, the same respect, to voices not my own.
It is a good start to see their land as sacred. But their current lands are sacred for more than the old, timeless reasons. They are made sacred by sacrifice. An old idea we donāt like to think of as being current today – but it is. There is blood on that land, and it is right to feel shame, but even that is not enough. I donāt know what is enough. Maybe it begins by not hiding from it.
When I started planning the trip, I knew I wanted to go right after Labor Day. I didnāt want summer-vacation crowds but I didnāt want to push any later into the year because of the possibility of snow in the mountains. It wasnāt my intention, when I started mapping it out, to spend September 11 at the Grand Canyon. When I saw that was the way it was working out, though, it made me really happy.
In the intervening years since the 9/11 attacks, the day has become Patriot Day. There is often good talk, stirring talk, talk of service, talk of the future. But too often, there is digging at the wound. There are the pictures, over and over. There is the moment in the past. The moment things changed. I remember it well, I was working in Arlington that day myself. (I wrote up my memory of 9/11 on the fifth anniversary, here.)
Day to day life is pretty loud. Itās busy and unrelenting and there is a lot of input available, more than any one person can take in, so I take in what I can and the rest flows by in a noisy stream. Every year on September 11, that noise ratchets up. It fills with good and bad ideas, good thoughts and bad images, bad memories and sometimes-noble hopes.
This year, on September 11, I celebrated with silence. It was marvelous.
Not that there arenāt people at the Grand Canyon. There are lots! Knowing I had only a day, I didnāt make grandiose plans to climb down and back up, or take a mule ride, or anything. I got a park map and picked a visitor center (with accompanying parking lot) about midway through the park. I drove there from my first stop, where Iād been when the clouds moved in. It happened to be the center with the geology museum, which made it extra cool. I went through the museum. Then I simply started walking the Rim Trail. A mile or so west, I thought, then I could cut back east and get lunch a mile in the other direction.
The Rim Trail is paved for most of it, but you can walk about 10-20 feet away from the trail and on the actual rim itself quite easily. With the cloud cover that day, it was actually fairly easy to feel isolated. Sure, sometimes conversation would pop up behind me, or some kids would run by shouting excitingly. But I wasnāt being a Bad Attitude Tourist. I was simply walking. Sometimes I would climb down a bit. When the fog rolled in, as it inevitably did, I would sit. Just sit, and even close my eyes. I never thought I would want to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon and close my eyes, but I couldnāt see the canyon anyway, so it was okay. In that way those clouds were a gift.
Off the grid, out away from the things of man. Yes. There was a museum and cafeteria and yea gift shops and walking tours and presentations and people speaking in every language. But there was sky and cloud and the formations of millions upon millions of years of slow steady change.
Sometimes on September 11, it seems the focus shifts to things that donāt last. This building. That life. Those ideas. But that, I think, is wrong. I want to think of things that do last. This sky. That friendship. This song. That waterfall. This ground, this place, where so many gather, in awe and love and admiration and learning and joyful noise and silence. Instead of hate or bad attitude or bitterness or bad memories, I sat and I breathed and I walked and I smiled and I loved and I got rained on and I got exhausted. Hiking all day at elevation (South Rimās about 7000 feet) also makes you hungry. I got lost finding the cafeteria. I took a picture of a possibly-plague-bearing squirrel. I laughed at a kid asking his mom for a peanut butter sandwich, because that would totally have been me if Iād been at the Grand Canyon at that age. āHey, Mom, yeah, the Canyonās cool, did you pack my peanut butter sandwich? Can I have it yet?ā When I found the cafeteria I got too much food because I felt like I could eat everything in the world but I was mistaken.
The thunderstorms came up eventually, but the park is so big I could simply head east ahead of them. I kept stopping at places Iād skipped on the way in, taking pictures when I could. The westering sun and the shifting storms filled the Canyon with rainbow light on several occasions. I saw majestic soaring birds that turned out to be crows but looked no less magnificent for all that.
I spent September 11 off the grid this year, caught up in things that are more lasting than most things we humans can create. And there were a lot of other humans there with me. But we could all find space there, and quiet.
Day nine was Wednesday, September 11, and it was the day I finally went to the Grand Canyon. My hotel in Flagstaff was about 70 miles from the Desert View park entrance. I had heard of the marvels of sunrises and sunsets at the canyon, so I checked the sunrise time: it was around 6 a.m. The park is open 24 hours a day, but to get up, showered, dressed, and actually in the park before 6 a.m. would have required feats of getting-up-early that defied even me. I wound up leaving the hotel around 8 a.m.
When I got to the park entrance, their credit card reader wasnāt working, and I once again thanked my ever-practical mind for having cash along as well. I paid my $25 and drove in.
The Desert View entrance is on the South Rim. The South Rim is where the actual National Park is – the North Rim is on Navajo lands (which I also drove across about 30 miles of before coming to the Park land). I pulled into the parking lot very excited – but also needing to heed the call of nature. When I left the ladiesā room I checked my phone and sawā¦a voicemail from my boss? Iād taken great care to leave everything ready when I left, and Iād been gone over a week already. What could he WANT? I listened to the message and it was actually a very simple question. I called his cell phone back and left a message with the answer. In the meantime, as I listened, dialed, and talked, I noticed fog coming – up? – around me. I am sure I had a puzzled expression even as I left the message for my boss. I am used to fog descending, and being a cloud come down.
At the Grand Canyon, clouds sometimes come up. And sometimes they fill the Canyon to the point where you canāt see it. Because you are inside a cloud.
I was THIS CLOSE to calling my boss back and giving him hell because his voicemail message made me miss the Grand Canyon!
I laughed. Nope, not this time.
I have been, I am ashamed to admit, the Bad Attitude Tourist. In 2006 my parents, after a weird financial windfall involving a delayed inheritance from my great-aunt, took me on a Mediterranean cruise. It was an amazing, astounding trip and I was so lucky, so gratefulā¦except the day we were in Rome, when I had a Bad Attitude. No, I didnāt start with it. Yes, bad things happened. Yes, there were delays and lines and 104-degree heat and crowds and missed meals and other frustrations. Ultimately, though, do you know what happened? We got to the end of the Vatican tour, to the Sistine Chapel, which is honestly one of the most marvelous works that has ever come from the hands of human beings – and I sat. There. And. Fumed. In the Sistine Chapel. My hand to God, I sat there and pouted. I would try to marvel and then something would set me off and Iād be staring daggers at whatever (or whomever) dared disturb myā¦.
Oh, do you see? What a waste! What a ridiculous, awful waste of time and energy! What time we spend in petty emotions like frustration! This wasnāt even as grandiose as hatred or anger, deep and important emotions that can be stirred at great cost, to herald great change. But to spend any energy, any time, on frustration and annoyance WHILE sitting in the Sistine Chapel? It was the most ridiculously ungrateful thing I have ever done, I think.
So: not this time. I laughed. I went and took some funny pictures of āscenic viewpointā markers that faced gray nothingness. And in about 20 minutes the fog lifted. It would come back – that was a strange day, with the froth of clouds spilling up and out of the Canyon continually, sometimes punctuated by heavy rain – but never for all that long.
I hiked off down the Rim Trail to start appreciating.
Tonight is our last book club meeting of the year, or at least the last one where we actually discuss a book. Weāll have our holiday party, where weāll just enjoy each otherās company without the pretense of talking about a book. Though one of the best things about our book club is even though weāre all friends, and even though the book club has existed for almost 13 years, talking about the book isnāt a pretense. We read them, mostly, and we talk about them. Our book club works because we love books. And because everyone in book club is awesome.
But! I am not here solely to sing the praises of book club. Iām here to use it as an excuse: I donāt have time for a lot of words today. And Iāve hit the point in my travelogue where itās time to talk about the Grand Canyon, and thatās going to take a little bit of talking.
What Iāve decided to do today, before taking on a big task, and a big place, and a lot of big feelings and maybe even a few big thoughts – is concentrate on the small.
The camera that my nephew loaned me for the trip, so Iād have something a little meatier than my iPhone, was really great. In the middle of the Sunken Gardens in Lincoln I learned its special strength: such a powerful optic zoom and excellent macro focus that you could take beautiful close-up pictures of things you werenāt that close to.
In lieu of more grandiose words, please enjoy some of my favorite āclose-upā shots from the Grand Canyon. It was very cloudy that day and that wound up being a blessing all its own, because it gave me the ability to focus small as well as large. (Note: I’m shrinking them down a bit for display purposes but you can click on them to view them larger.)
On my way out of Arches National Park, I did stop in the gift shop for some postcards and fridge magnets and that sort of thing. Then, time to head out!
I gassed up in Moab. Utah gas is tricky. They do octane levels differently. You see a reasonable price on the regular gas, but then you pull in and realize that is 85 octane, so you have to buy the 88 octane mid-grade for your car which should not take a lower octane rating than 87. SNEAKY, Utah! Anyway: as I noted, Moab is totally adorable. If anyone wants to investigate a weekās vacation flying out to Salt Lake or Denver and driving in to Moab for a week of cute accommodations and hiking in the park every day, let me know. Iām totally serious. I like traveling by myself but I like traveling with other people too!
Since Iād just had a snack not long before in the park, I pushed on out of Moab without lunch. I simply wasnāt hungry yet! Driving, driving, driving. Audiobook, sunnier skiesā¦ever more isolated-feeling landscape. Iām not sure, really, if it was that it felt quantitatively MORE isolated, or if it just kept changing so much and still seeming so empty. Nothing in the mid-Atlantic is that isolated. You can hit some isolated-seeming spots here, yes, but then you drive for an hour and boom, itās crowded again. In the desert southwest, that is simply not the case.
And then I hit the lands of the Navajo Nation.
I had been warned not to speed. I had not been warned that once again, I would need to just pull over to steady myself once in a while, in the face of so much overwhelmingā¦.everything. Sky, land, all of it unquestionably sacred, resoundingly empty, full of wonder, aweā¦and shame. Shame at the poor conditions. Shame that this, glorious as it is, is only a small portion of the nation as it once existed, before the greedy nature of other settlers came in and destroyed it. Knowingly and unknowingly, it was taken apart, taken away, diminished. It was hard to stand in that greatness and think of it as something diminished, but it was there. In the poor roads. In the flashy casinos standing mere blocks away from pitted schoolyards. In the sense of a wary, uneasy peace.
I kept driving. Then stopping. Taking pictures. I gave up on finding a place for lunch – no giant rest stops full of fast food restaurants every ten miles in the Navajo nation. I pulled off on one of the wider bits of road and ate more cheese-and-crackers and trail mix and drank water. I took pictures.
Approaching Monument Valley, I was gaping in marvel at the sights when I had something new to gape at: a somewhat terrifying-looking thunderstorm. The sky is so big out there itās sometimes pretty hard to tell quite where a storm will go, but the further I went the more apparent it became I was going to have to drive through that sucker. At one particular scenic pull-off spot, I joined a half-dozen other motorists also pulled over and marveling at/worrying over the storm. Eventually, after trying to capture it in pictures, I shrugged and figured it was time to move on. I could sit out the storm or I could try to drive through it. I had no idea quite how long it would take to get to where I was, so I thought I might as well drive until and unless it became too dangerous to do so.
It never got quite that bad, but it got close. The roads were flooding, the visibility was poor. But there were very few other vehicles out there, and those that were out there drove slowly, sensibly, sanely. I tried my best to do the same and came out the other side of the storm safe and sound.
I passed a town, which did have some fast-food type stops, but I just didnāt want to eat that stuff. I was getting hungry, thoughā¦then I saw a sign that said āFlagstaff 70 milesā and thought the heck with it. I made a bathroom break and then decided to press on. Since I dodged thunderstorms and deluges all the rest of the way, Iām glad I made that decision. At last I rolled into the Howard Johnsonās in Flagstaff, which definitely gets the Best Motel of the Trip award. The bed was huge and comfy, the room was huge and comfy, there was a desk AND a table for writing, lots of places to stretch out, plus a fridge and a microwave again.
By the time I got settled in, it was 8 p.m. but felt to me like 9 p.m., because Arizona doesnāt participate in Daylight Savings Time, I suppose because they like to mess with people. It was dark and drizzly and chilly and I was hungry, with zero energy for exploration. The closest restaurant to the HoJo was a Dennyās, so I by-God went to Dennyās and had a turkey burger. I also talked with my very pleasant waitress who was working a double shift to have the next day off to celebrate her daughterās first birthday. I think we could each see how tired the other was, and came to a pleasant understanding. She mostly left me alone with my book and I tipped somewhat extravagantly, feeling another surge of gratitude for my job that allows me to take time off without doubling my shifts up beforehand.
Then I went home and crashed, hard. That was Day Eight. That was Tuesday, September 10. Day Nine: Grand Canyon Day, and a chance to write about something other than driving.
My cunning plan worked, and I was the first one in the Legacy Inn lobby for continental breakfast the next morning. I think I woke the dude and his dog up, frankly. But he shuffled around and turned on more lights and the TV, so I could hear about some of the flood warnings. It sounded a little scary but also like I was going to be driving out of the worst of it. I packed up my car and was on the road by 8 a.m.
Iād made a decision: instead of just stopping randomly all along the way to Flagstaff, I would go to Arches National Park which was right on the way. I made great time and got there by 10 a.m.
It was a gray, chilly (never really got above 60 F), rainy day and there was still a big line of cars waiting to get into the park. What would it have been like if it was actually a nice day? I rolled up, paid my $10, and parked at the Visitor Center.
There was a brief moment of panic when I couldnāt find my regular (non-phone) camera, but then I realized Iād put it in my purse at some point. I had visions of calling the Legacy Inn and having to drive back and losing all my exploring-time, but nope, I was fine. I went into the Visitor Center because it is the first and last thing. Arches National Park has a loop road with turn-offs for viewing the most famous formations. There are also TONS of hikes to do, and camping and stuff. Most of the park is not accessible by vehicle, but some good bits are. The Visitor Center is the first thing you pass on the way in (and the last on the way out). I paused to use the ladiesā room, and scope out the gift shop for later. Then, onward!
And, dear readers, we have arrived atā¦Beauty Fatigue. Natural Wonder Sensory Overload. Or maybe just my own curmudgeonly feelings about being shepherded through experiences. When I was showing my family my trip pictures after I got back, my brother remembered that when heād been at Arches in the early ā80s, there hadnāt really BEEN a road. Certainly not a loop full of scenic picture-taking stops. It was mostly just a place to go to hike. I told him one thing I really wanted to do was to go back out there, stay in Moab (an adorable little town right outside Arches) for a week, and just go into the park every day for hikes.
Part of it was that I hadnāt really researched the place and knew I only had an hour or two. I perhaps should have picked one or two stops and really gotten out of my car and done some exploring. Instead, I drove around the loop, stopping sometimes, realizing that stopping at every possible turn-off would take forever. The low clouds meant some of the rock formations were obscured, too.
Anyway, it kind of got to me. Here I was in this vast beautiful otherworldly placeā¦and it was getting hard to get pictures without other random tourists in them. And I was totally a random tourist myself. All I had time to do was drive around, snap pictures, and move on. I was very glad to get an experience of that national park, but I know I would do it differently next time (should I be so lucky as to get a next time!).
I also hit Selfie Overload. Seriously. For a while I contemplated posting 8 straight selfies in a row to Facebook and labeling the album, āMy Gob Obscuring Famous Rocks.ā Sweet Christmas, was I ever tired of the angles of my face you could see from one armās-length away. Iāll hand this to being shepherded through Arches, though: for the first time there were usually other people handy to hand my camera to and ask to take my picture. And so I did!
Around 11:30 a.m., I got hungry, but I was smack in the middle of the return half of the loop. I wasnāt sure when Iād get out/have lunch, but I figured I should listen to my body, and the next time I stopped the car to take a few pictures I also had some cheese-and-crackers and a handful of trail mix. This would ultimately wind up being a strategic misstep. As weāll discover inā¦Day Eight, Part Two!
Eventually, after my 350 or so miles on Rt. 70 heading west, the GPS piped up with my exit. 60 miles on Rt. 6 W/Rt. 191 N and I would reach Price, Utah, and my next hotel.
There wasnāt much of anything on that 60 miles. Except more gorgeously otherworldly scenery, several canyons, and a dinosaur quarry. How often do you get to drive down the road and see a sign that announces the dinosaur quarry on your left? I looked up the quarry when I got to the hotel; unfortunately it wasnāt open to the public except on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and I was driving in on Monday evening.
When I got to the Legacy Inn in Price, I must admit a little quiver of trepidation. It was a battered-down motel with an RV park in the back. I laughed at myself. Here I am, the brave and bold solo traveler! Quaking in my boots at my first non-chain hotel. Silly. As soon as I walked into the lobby I realized how silly I was. Everything was homey and clean and comfortable. There was a tray of cookies on the counter for guests. The woman who checked me in was very friendly, and we talked about where I was from, and the trip I was taking, and the terrible weather (more flooding all around in Utah as well). At last I took my key card over to my room and let myself in. Again: clean, comfy, andā¦is that a microwave?! Iād stayed in rooms with dorm fridges, but none of them so far had had a microwave.
This was good news because I was about done with fast food. And when Iād asked about places to eat in town the woman had recommendedā¦the grocery store. Seriously. So after I spotted that microwave I headed across the way to the supermarket, and got some Amyās veggie enchiladas to make back in the room. I also got some chocolate, because that doesnāt travel that well in the car over long periods and boy, did I need some chocolate.
Another spotlight on my brilliant packing: I knew I didnāt really need much in the hotel room each night – toiletries, old t-shirt for sleeping, clean outfit for the next day. So I packed a huge suitcase, and a few other things in small bags in the trunk – but I kept my toiletries and jammies in the backpack I use as carry-on luggage when Iām flying. Each night I picked out the next dayās outfit and stuck it in there with the toiletries and jammies and boom! One bag in the room! (Plus my tote bag with book, notebook, GPS, maps, and phone charger. Just In Case.)
Standard operating procedure in hotel rooms was just to figure out which TV channel was the USA network and park it there. It makes for companionable background chatter and mild entertainment. I had a relaxing night in Price, with a magnificent sunset.
I wrote about the different kinds of isolation Iād seen on the trip. Out in the middle of nowhere in that little room, I did feel pretty alone – but not particularly lonely. Loneliness did strike me on this trip several times and in several ways. There were times I wanted to tell a story or share something with a friend, times I just missed having someone to talk to, times I actually missed (!) the cats waking me up at some ridiculous hour. Mostly, though, I had my notebook, and good books to read, and Iād check in with my friends online when I could, and I had my audiobook, and people to say hello to everywhereā¦and I was fine.
My last paragraph from the notebook, that night in Price:
āThere is risk and hurt and unfairness in life. Then there is wonder and joy, and the places that are, without question or reason, sacred.ā
There were different kinds of isolation on this trip. There was the emptiness of western Nebraska, which was a little deceptive. The roads were busy and there were farms everywhere – all that corn! – and of course farms mean at least some people are nearby. But the cell signal was so nonexistent, it felt very cut-off. In Colorado, many of the crops shifted, but there were still cattle, often, and the tell-tale fences. Fences mean itās someoneās land, at least. Someone looks after it, even if not too closely.
As I settled down out of the Rockies, I realized they hadnāt felt very isolated. Because I stayed on a major highway AND because of how dramatic the scenery was, I never once felt very far away from anything. If nothing else, I thought, I was near those mountains, and those sure were something!
Hereās another direct quote from my trip notebook: āWhen you get to Utah on Interstate 70 heading west, you get a rest stop āview areaā almost right away. Because the Utah Department of Transportation knows that otherwise – if they do NOT give you a safe lookout stop, complete w/bathrooms – people will simply be so stunned they drive right off the road.ā
Itās not that there arenāt fences or cattle or crops in Utah – Iām sure there are, somewhere. But in that portion of the state, they seemed rare. As I drove into Utah I continued my drive out of the rain, though the clouds remained low.
I stopped at that first āview areaā and a few more times besides. Those spaces were true oases – not just in this desert land, but in what felt like an alien landscape. Rolling hills, mountains, those were things I could relate to – things we had āback homeā although not in the same way at all. But we have nothing like those Utah flats. That canyonland. Those strange wind-sculpted trees and scuttling dry low brush.
When I tried to write, in my notebook, some of what I felt, I kept coming back to the word āsacred.ā Not just because they are native lands, held sacred by native people, but because it is so self-evident. A place in the world where you can know, intimately, all the things bigger than you in the world, and outside of it. There are forces beyond us. They are often unnameable. God, fear, love, windā¦the very passage of time. At times I just stood still, staring, putting the damn camera down for a second, and knew my heart to be full. Full of mystery, life, and wonder.