Back to the Canyon

Friday brought with it the last big destination on my trip west:  The Grand Canyon.  After decided to just wing it on the day of, my attention turned to the possibility of getting a picture of the sunset at the canyon.  Since the sun sets at about 7:40 PM this time of year, that would mean not leaving for the canyon until much later in the day.  I had most of the morning to mill about and do a whole lot of nothing…which was nice!

During that downtime, I reflected on my previous trip here.  It was a stop on my trip to California, where I would board a cargo ship bound for New Zealand.  I was with two of my best friends and my wife.  Interestingly, the hotel I stayed at in 2009 is right next door to the one I’m in now, so it was really easy to put myself back there.  I’ve changed a lot since then.  I’ve been single for nearly three years now, my father and all of my grandparents are gone, and I work in a job that’s similar to the one I left back then, vowing never to return to.  But the changes are not all losses; I’ve gained friends, a greater sense of self, a wonderful appreciation for my home town, and my skill as a photographer has increased.  My previous two-week road trip to California has less than 120 pictures to catalogue that journey; not counting today, my one-week trip now has over 540.

I’ve also learned to let more things go and enjoy the journey, rather than the destination.  On our way to the Ramada last night, we missed a turn onto I-40 here in Flagstaff.  By this fortuitous error, I found myself driving on Route 66, which cuts right through the heart of Flagstaff.  That happy accident lead to my plans for the day before going out to the canyon; seeing Flagstaff’s contribution to old Route 66 culture.  DeeDee and I walked through the old downtown district and drove up and down the Mother Road, seeing old motels and diners along the way.  Once we left town for the canyon, I was met with ANOTHER wonderful surprise:  Route 66 continued on to Williams, AZ and they REALLY held onto their roadside heritage.  Considering how important Route 66 is to Tulsa, it was wonderful to see another town that made 66 into a big deal.  I wish I’d have been hungry so I could’ve eaten at one of their many retro diners.

After that fun detour, it was on to the Grand Canyon.  Highway 64, which runs north to the canyon itself, is peppered with small touristy roadside attractions that grabbed more of my attention on my second go-through.  The several stops we made soon brought me a new realization:  the sky was darkening.  I didn’t realize we even HAD a monsoon season in the US, but we do.  And Arizona was in the midst of it.  The time I’d taken in downtown Flagstaff, Williams, and along the road had threatened the time we’d dedicated to the canyon.  Although I’d been before, it was DeeDee’s first visit, and I didn’t want it to get rained out.  We pushed on as I quietly muttered against the weather.  We arrived at the park and attempted to find parking.  I grumbled as I drove up and down the lot near the Visitor’s Center before I decided to move on to another view point.  Thankfully, I was rewarded for this shortly and we found a spot just east of Mather’s Point.

Even though I’d seen the Grand Canyon before, it was no less awesome.  The human mind cannot comprehend the depth of the canyon at first glance; it looks like a painting or a trick of the light.  But it isn’t; with time and attention, you begin to truly see the layers of rock, the distance between the rise and fall of the chasm, and you cannot help but be amazed.  Like last time, I felt panicky when I or anyone near me got close to the ledge…and EVERYONE seems to think it’s a GREAT idea to hop the little stone barrier (or go to one of the many places where there is no barrier or guard rail) and get close to the drop-off for pictures.  I can’t even think about it now without my stomach clenching.  I just have to walk away and not think about it.  Even so, I was able to get closer to the edge this time without going bananas.  At one point, a nice couple asked if I could take their picture.  Of course, I said yes and made sure their photo was to their liking.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “We are from Rome, Italy.”  I excitedly told them how much I enjoyed their city, and they asked where I was from.  When I said Oklahoma, they remarked, “Ah, a local!”  Even though I don’t consider fifteen hours away ‘local’ I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.

After we’d been to a few viewpoints and outrun the sprinkles by the skin of our teeth, the storm finally set in.  And what a storm it was!  It began raining torrentially; the huge drops of water were mixed with hail and high winds.  The temperature dropped from the lower 90s to 57 in a matter of minutes.  We debated leaving right then, but decided to try and find a place near the main Visitor’s Center and see if we could wait out the weather.  We were rewarded once again when the storm let up about half an hour later; we were able to enjoy Mather’s Point and the main area of the south rim.  Though the wind had kicked up rather fiercely; I was afraid my trusty hat was going to blow into the canyon.  As we toured a few more viewpoints, rangers and police were out handling fender-benders and directing traffic away from flooded roads.  Like I said…it was a heck of a storm.

We headed back to Flagstaff by taking the scenic route through the San Francisco Peaks.  It was a lovely drive through the Coconino National Forest and we didn’t run into much other traffic.  The clouds in the distance remained menacing, though, and once we made it back to town they unloaded once more, bringing localized street flooding, lightning, and more high winds.  It was the first day that any kind of rough weather showed up, and I am thankful that in spite of that the day went well.  Tomorrow brings a long road day, driving from Flagstaff to Amarillo, and Sunday brings me back to Tulsa.  Although I don’t expect anything nearly as exciting on the last few days, I do have a few stops that I’m eager to experience and share.

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