Friday, March 5, 2010

Tree hugger on left
Humphreys backside below

Just can’t start today anywhere other than to say that at left was the view as we ate lunch yesterday. I ask you, does it get any better than that?

We said good bye to the Pueblo Bonito in Santa Fe reluctantly as we loved the owners so and felt so at home there. But the wanderlust, the Canyon, and curiosity about the little ol town I lived in over 40 years ago beckoned.

At the end of a 6 hour drive south to ABQ and west to Flagstaff, and I enjoyed the trip – you can’t beat the scenery, and that feeling, once again, at times that just over the next rise you will fall off the edge of the earth at 6,000 feet — but I did not recognize my old town. I mean pas du tout! It’s been malled, as in .. . what a wild bear does to a human only without the u , but in the same spirit. The only identifiable remnant of my past life was the Grand Canyon Café (“chop suey”) on Main St. where I once waitressed - a brief career as I became impatient with the paltry tips, the 5 a.m. showtime and the strange oatmeal the cooks, descendants of coolies who built the railroad, made in giant woks.

The entire west end of town is just a snarl of traffic, strip mall after strip mall, all the usual stores, a crappy Starbucks, and hotel after hotel. Allow me to recommend the Café Ole on Beaver St for a good, cheap Mexican meal on the college side of town (south). My chicken enchilada was really good and the ambiance back in the dark bar is my kinda vibe – replete with ornate Mexican chotchkas, sombreros and blankets, worn leather barrel chairs, you get the idea. Quiet tv in the corner the owner’s kiddies are watching. We stayed at the Sleep Inn and did, indeed, sleep, considering it’s right next to the highway. The manager was nice, it was pretty clean but the place coulda used a good vacuuming. Still, it good to see the old town, and there is Mount Humphreys Peak, white and steady, all 12,000 feet of it, looming over the town. Mt. H is much more impressive from the back, as in, on your way to the Grand Canyon next morning early.

And what a day it was! This is the ideal time of year to see the Canyon. No crowds to speak of. The snow sets everything in glorious relief; AZDOT does a major Maine quality job (or better) on the roads, and it is actually early spring here (unlike Maine), little croci in town peeking out, 50 degrees or so. We drove through an area of high plains heading north out of town on 180 where the roadside snow bank was 8 feet tall. So they get plenty of it. This is a ski area as well. As we headed further north in the Coconino Forest and on into the Kaibab I saw my old pals the aspens and Ponderosa Pines. You see these trees in person and know why the Cartwrights called their ranch The Ponderosa. They are mighty trees, lean, massive, straight and tall, reliably so, no wonky side branches like Maine pines, and the bark is a deep burnt orange like the color of the earth here. They feel like the kind of man I’d like to find, and I just had to stop and hug them in gratitude for still being here to radiate their unique strength and energy.

The Canyon, well, how about just some pictures on that one? And a little info. It’s almost 2 billion years to the bottom, folks. That’s billion with a B. I particularly liked the Brahma Temple rock. Wanted to just climb on out there and live in it. It looked like the city of Lhasa out there in the middle of the Canyon.

You’re just not ready for the grandeur of it as you drive into the park. The canyon itself is concealed behind the low pinion pines along the road. You park, you walk a little, and WAALAA! There it is. I thought I would break down completely, couldn’t see for the tears in my eyes, and to be there with T… well. Wish Will was here too. (The last time I was here was with my Dad in 71 or so, sick as a dog with valley fever, and brother B. The Canyon cured me then, like Lourdes I guess, and I was fine by the time we got to Vegas, ready to rock and roll, very spiritual, I was then.) You just stand there and stare, completely and utterly awed by the beauty of the view, honored to be present, grateful to be alive to such a wonder. To witness it. Hang onto the railing, it helps with the vertigo as you get used to the… is there a word for it?

Someone threw a snowball and it melted before it got even halfway (4,000 ft is about halfway) to the bottom. The parking lot had license plates from everywhere, US and Canada (even Arkansas! And who can blame them?). We heard several languages spoken around us as well, and every face wore a look of relaxed serenity, some were giddy, that was a treat to see.

We ate lunch in the El Tovar Hotel, had a wonderful French onion soup, the real thing, and huge Greek salad to split. The restaurant is really a treat, looking out over the canyon, huge old stone fireplace (yes, a fire going) built to accommodate travelers at the new end of the Santa Fe trail in 1905 . Your quintessential lodge style hotel, friendly efficient hotel staff, nice appointments, white tablecloths, even a cozy bar. All with the view. We loved it, and lunch came to less than 25 bucks for both of us. Muted, classy place.

It’s on the drive back from the Canyon (we decided on a different perspective -- 64 all the way to Williams – a kinda sad town - rather than 64/180 back to Flag) that you really appreciate how high up you are and how gorgeous is Mt. Humphreys, the highest peak in AZ. Its snow covered backside reminds you of pictures of Mt. Fuji, serene, sleek, majestic. I guess that’s what 12,000 ft and serious efforts at preservation on the part of our -- hullo, Republicans! – Federal Gubmint can do for its citizens. Why don't all these never-heard-of-Teddy-Roosevelt self-styled Repubs git on a bus and come on out here where these amazing, vast tracks of mindblowingly stunning preserved land are, the ones that are paid for with our taxes, and then try tellin me gubmint is the problem. Ya’ll really need to get out more. And, hey, what’s with all that ranting on the right since Raygun anyway about how government is the problem? If those guys really believe that, what say we FIRE all of their sorry repubs asses as they’re on the payroll they’re always complaining is too “porky”. Pot and the kettle if you ask me, those jowly, sex obsessed, right wingers should just quit workin in the whorehouse they claim the gubmint is anyway. I mean, if they stay, what does that make them? Let me just get a breath...

If the nouveau- Reaganites had their way these beautiful, preserved forests and wilderness areas would be covered with corporate headquarter retreats and gated communities for the rich.

It is with reluctance we leave the park to head south, rapidly descending in altitude, toward Tucson via the Verde Valley and, later today, a side trip to Montezuma’s castle after a restful night at the terrific Territorial Inn in Camp Verde, a western type motel whose spare, clean appointments Georgia O’K would have loved as we did. T said the bed was so comfy it was the first night on the whole trip she hasn't woken up with neck and shoulder pain. So DO stay there if you're in the hood. The owner gave us use of the kitchenette and we got healthy frozen dinners at the market, milk and fruit and were glad not to have to spend another dime on iffy, weird food. Slept like a stone at an altitude I could appreciate, about 4,000 ft., easier on the sinuses and lungs. You need plenty of water and a dash of caffeine now and again to feel ok at 8,000 ft for any length of time. Takes about 3 weeks to get used to it and we only had 4 days.