On the bus ride from Denver to Saguache, Colorado, I met a young woman from England with three thirty-day bus passes to tour the USA. Her passion was photographing rainbows. When I bought her lunch, she said people felt sorry for her, not me. I admired her for living her dream and told her so. After our visit she went on to hike the Canyon from Rim to Rim.
Donna met me at the station with a mile-wide grin and a bear hug - her strength reassuring. She couldn't wait for me to taste her homemade pizza. I said it was good, but that wasn't enough. "It's elk meat pizza!" she exclaimed. This girl is full of surprises.
Early the next morning we drove south parallelling the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Donna pointed out Crestone Peak at over 14,000 feet, and related several instances when a climber made it to the top, and fell off. Was it the wind, disorientation, or something else?
My secret fantasy is to ride a purple Harley with a long-nosed, big, black dog in the sidecar. I'd tie a white silk scarf around its neck several times so it wouldn't get caught in the wheels, but still have some "Snoopy" flutter. Together we'd ride down California's Highway 1. Calendar material, don't you think? My sister insists we should ride up it. "Stay to the inside," she cautions.
Instead of driving straight to the Grand Canyon, we zigzagged. At Lunchtime we zigged to Chimayo, New Mexico. Our green at home is in the landscape. Chimayo's green is less but painted on tiles. We don't often eat outside at home, the flies do. Here we sat on the patio without flies and enjoyed homemade chips and salsa, and enchiladas. Lively music made us want to dance, twirl, stomp our feet, and shout, "Ole!" Black-haired waitresses in long, dark skirts and white blouses contrasted with our brown hair, blue jeans and denim shirts.
It was the weekend of a Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico - a bonus. Luckily we obtained a room as someone cancelled. Adobe buildings are puzzling. They remind me of crusty loaves of bread that ought to melt in the rain, but don't. They're sturdy.
We oohed and aahed our way through shops and galleries. The silence of the Catholic Church was punctuated by shuffling feet and coins dropped in the metal box at the vigil candles. The faithful lit them asking and expecting God to hear and take care of their concerns. My friend Frances says we need God in our "business." At 91 she ought to know.
Indians lined up around the Capitol displaying their finest wares; brightly colored clothes and baskets, foods, and shiny silver jewelry with brilliant hand set turquoise stones. Street vendors sold roasted sweetcorn in the husk. Peeled back it made a handle for our sweet, buttery,and spicy ear of corn. Delicious.
Day two we cut north at Gallup, New Mexico, to go through Window Rock, Arizona. It would save three and a half hours driving time. We didn't know Window Rock was celebrating with a parade. It took three and a half hours to travel three and a half miles through more pickup trucks than I've seen on a Texas car lot, and we didn't see a bit of the parade. Impatient drivers took off through the muddy ditch, and got stuck.
On the wide open spaces of the treeless Hopi Reservation two Indian women in long dark dresses and hats herded sheep. In the distance stood a lone adobe house without screens and with the door ajar - inviting. No, we couldn't stop for a visit today.
Late afternoon the pine scented breeze of the North Rim's Kaibab National Forest welcomed us. Ahhhhh. We've arrived. The Park clerk issued our three-day passes with a list of no-nonsense instructions:
"You have three days to go the seven miles to Cottonwood Campground on Bright Angel Creek and back, no deviation allowed.
"Leave no trace is the rule.
"What you carry in, you carry out, including empty cans, and used toilet paper.
"Feces must be buried 200 feet from water.
"Hikers must yield to mules by standing to the "outside."
"Do not feed the wildlife!
"If hikers aren't accounted for, a search party is sent out."
In unison we replied, "Yes, Ma'am."
"Let's have a look at our undertaking," Donna said eager to get a full view. Lodge ham and cheese sandwiches in hand, we headed for the Observation Deck. Left, right and ahead lay Canyon as far as we could see: deep, wide, multi-colored, drop-to-the-knees gorgeous, a fierce beauty, flat-out stunning. To survive we must bend to it.
No wonder over 4,000,000 visitors a year, many from overseas, make this a destination. It covers more than a million acres. The Colorado River flows through it over 300 miles. To say it's huge isn't enough. What have we gotten ourselves into? Papa was right, I'm nuts.
Foreigners looked through binoculars exclaiming over birds of prey. Come to think of it, we couldn't understand what they said, maybe it was something else. At dark I asked Donna if she was ready for our last supper? She nodded. Needing all the fortification we could get, we ordered hamburger steaks with potatoes and gravy, salad, and the two biggest pieces of chocolate cake.
As if nestled in the hollow of a big, old, safe tree that had endured all, our dark- wood paneled room coconned us. Prayers and sleep collided.
(next - the descent)
copyright 2005 Red Convertible Travel Series