Day 18
Saturday, May 30
       Grand Canyon      

Grand Canyon from the North Rim
You come down into Arizona from Utah. It's almost a miraculous change, from the red rocks and green upland valleys of Utah, to the vast expanses of buff/beige desert punctuated on every horizon by smoky-blue mountains. Not the great wall-like snowy mountains of farther north, but miniature mountains that accentuate without awe-ing. It gave me another one of those ineffable sensations of my soul expanding to it's proper size. There's nothing like wide vistas and huge skies, for me.

Grand Canyon
Since I was north of the Canyon, I had to see the North Rim, which Arizonans rarely see because it is so difficult to come at from the south. It's a long drive from the highway to the Canyon, but it is through the lovely Kaibab Forest so it was a pleasure. I got to see one of the special Kaibab squirrels that only live in this forest; they are essentially black with white tails, very striking.

There are a couple of rustic cabins, with rustic porches, that sit right on the edge of the canyon at Bright Angel Point. Let me tell you, that is the way to see the Grand Canyon! Sit on your porch with a cool drink with the entire swath of the Canyon at your feet, and watch it change as the light moves across the canyon as the day goes by. I wonder how many years in advance you have to reserve those cabins? Or are they only for super-VIPs? Gawd, I want to rent one for a day or two in the worst way.

Grand Canyon
I went to the North Rim first thing in the morning, and left around 11 AM on my way around to the South Rim (a mere 250 miles or so.) There were already very few parking places when I was there, and I passed absolute masses of cars heading into the park as I left it. Made me wonder where they were going to put all those cars? And why were there so many people here anyway? It's still May!

genuine purple hills
After leaving the Kaibab Plateau with its forest behind, I had one of those visual excitements that have made this trip so fantastic. I was driving along through buff deserty hills, winding my way down the plateau's foothills, when suddenly through a V in the hills I saw -- rich royal purple! A range of mesa-hills that were actually, honest-to-god as purple as an amethyst. Oh, it has been a convention for years to paint mountains purple, but they are never purple in real life, they are shades of blue. These mountains are

 the purple hills, AKA Vermillion Cliffs
As I drew closer I could see that the cliffs were actually a dark purplish red in color, and at just the right distance the distance-bluing turns them to true purple. A little farther away and they are blue; a little closer and they are maroon. When I reached the valley floor the colors became absolutely exciting. The camera hasn't a dream of reproducing them, so let me describe them for you. This is true, folks.

more Vermillion Cliffs
The dirt is a clear salmon pink. On it grow bitsy shrublets of dusty green, light yellowy green, and a striking medium bluish-green, in patches and bands amongst the dominant buff/beige foliage. It is wildflower season, and everywhere you look there are smudges of color -- a purple that exactly mirrors the purple of the mountains, tying foreground and background in an absolutely classical fashion; redorange; and yellow. These are tiny desert flowers that appear as smudges of color where they are in masse rather than as noticeable flowers. In addition there is a white flower that is larger and more flowerlike, that stands out sharply from the soft abstract of the other colors and gives some definition to the foreground. What a painting! But if I ever paint it, no one will believe that I hadn't fudged the colors out the kazoo. All I can say is go there, see it, be astounded.

Let me tell you something that should have been obvious to a thinking traveller. Do not attempt to cross the Navajo Reservation with less than a quarter tank of gas and an urgent need for a ladies-room. It was a tense, tense 2 hours. I was a-twitter which would happen first, I would run out of gas or I would flood the driver's seat. Fortunately I did make it to the next gas station, by the skin of my teeth, after crawling along at 45 mph for the last stretch in order to conserve on gasoline.

After the reservation, somehow I managed to miss the turn for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. By the time I realized that it must have been a ways back, I was practically to Flagstaff and I decided not to turn back. To tell the truth, a roadside stop where some Navajo women were selling handmade jewelry had whetted my appetite for shopping, something I have done just about none of this trip; and the notion of arriving in Sedona early and indulging in a shopping orgy followed by a civilized sit-down dinner was very seductive. My dinners have tended to be on the order of carrots, jerky, cheese, and nuts nibbled while driving through yet another batch of can't-miss-it-gorgeous scenery.

Oak Creek Canyon Road down into Sedona Sedona, like the Grand Canyon, was absolutely crawling with people. Where'd they all come from? The rest of my stops on this trip have not been crowded. Then I remembered something from my long-ago youth in Arizona; schools here let out for the summer by Memorial Day. The vacation season is in full swing and best not to wait another month or the heat will be too much! So they are all here, swarming over the place like fleas on a stray dog.

red rocks at Sedona
I didn't get my best look at the rocks, because the afternoon was overcast. I had been looking forward to sunset light on the red rocks. Oh well, maybe I will be lucky and it will be a clear dawn.

I swear the town's business section has doubled in size, a mix of fancy tony establishments, tourist schlock, and tourist schlock masquerading as fancy tony establishments. It's a shopper's dream town. I am daunted by the sheer number of shops and the obvious overpricedness of many of them, but I will be sure to hit some galleries. I hope they have the good sense to be open on Sunday morning! I have to hit the road before it gets too warm tomorrow, unless the day is overcast again. That's the problem with travelling with dogs, you can not spend an hour browsing galleries while your dogs turn into Crispy Critters in the car in the sun. I can't even enjoy a liesurely dinner until after dark, because of worrying about whether the dogs are getting too hot.

one of the Sedona spires Pat would say that God was looking after me when I missed the turn to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, because I felt completely exhausted by the time I reached Sedona, and I could not have handled another 3 hours of driving today. It seems I got a mild sunburn at the North Rim, and I am one of these pale Northern flowers who are absolutely metagrobolized by sunburn. I get feverish and uncontrollably sleepy. I have learned through unpleasant experience never to attempt to drive anywhere after I have been sunburnt. Another dose of sun at the South Rim would have been a killer.


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