Going West with Mom (part 3)

After a stunning day at the Grand Canyon, the first day of October marked a literal turning point in our journey. The day began with a re-entry into the National Park and a slow drive east before turning north into Utah. But on the way, we would be stopping at the place that Mom had looked most forward to when the trip was taking shape: Monument Valley.

The fastest way from Tusayan to the Utah border was on Highway 64 and through the Grand Canyon National Park. Once more, I was treated to views of the Grand Canyon I had not experienced on my previous visits. It’s incredible how the shape of the canyon changes, even just from our views along the south rim. At Lipan Point, a large crow stood on the ledge and stared at us. It reminded Mom of her brother’s pet crow, George, back when they were young. Mom’s amazement was just as fresh and authentic as it had been the previous day.

Mom was content to stay in the car as I explored the Desert View Watchtower near the eastern edge of the park. It’s four stories tall and looks much older than it is. The tower was built in 1932, one of several structures designed by Mary Colter for the park. It provides a beautiful view which includes the eastern edge of the canyon and a vast expanse of desert beyond the rim. I wondered what the pioneers felt when the saw this landscape for the first time, unprepared for the indescribable splendor.

Between the Canyon and the Valley, we came across an old Standard Oil service station. I’d seen this station once before, back in 2013 when I was first starting to find my artistic eye. This time, I lingered a while and took photos of the graffiti on the crumbling walls. The old stone fireplace had a small block of text stenciled on one of the rocks. “Let’s be better humans,” it suggested. Another bit of writing said, “Remember who you are…” with Native America scrawled beneath it. It’s a unique spot that won’t last forever. But, then again, what does?

Monument Valley is certainly a place that FEELS like it’s been there forever. It’s my favorite place on Earth. Not just because of its majesty and undeniably Western aura, but because I have so much memory tied up in it. First and foremost, I remember my father. Dad admired John Wayne’s cinematic image, going so far as to collect a great deal of art and memorabilia. I grew up SURROUNDED by imagery of the valley. It continues to be a filming location for movies I adore, but my mind always goes back to the classic movies that made the world aware that the valley was even there.

I remember my first visit with my friend, DeeDee, and the tour we took with a Navajo guide. I remember bringing Samantha here in 2016 and spending the night looking up at the stars, shining brightly above the darkened outlines of the landscape. And now, added to those memories, is Mom smiling broadly and gazing at natural wonder with pure awe.

Although we didn’t take a formal tour, the SUV we’d rented was hearty enough to brave the dusty trail. We spent the afternoon dodging tour vans, appreciating the quiet moments nestled between those spectacular red buttes. I felt so thankful to be in that place again, with the opportunity to share it with someone that is so special to me. We stopped on the way out just to be in the moment and admire the singular beauty of the valley again before continuing our drive.

Our destination was but an hour away in the community of Bluff. When we arrived, it was easy to understand where the name came from. Our hotel was at the base of a long, beautiful rock formation and the nearby cafe was at the base of another one. Combined with the cooler temperatures, it made for a relaxing evening.

Just before bed, I went outside and looked at the stars. Even though we were in town, I was blown away by the sheer volume of celestial representation. I went inside and brought Mom back out with me. When she looked up, she gasped.

On the back porch of that motel room, Lory Martin became little Lory Grim again. It was the sky she saw when she went camping with her family and when she stayed out too late on a school night. The sound of her Dad’s fiddle and her mother’s singing voice came out of the open window of her memory. It was a step back in time before things got so busy and complicated. She put her head on my shoulder and said thank you. It was just a moment, but it was everything.

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. In 2018 he published his first book, Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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