If our recent month-long trip were reduced to a single phrase it would be "Bummer!" I won't bore you with details; just assume that the Casita wasn't on its best behavior, and in the end, neither were we. We did make it to Death Valley, where we camped for two days in a dust storm, and to our favorite places in the Mojave Preserve, where the wind blew so hard we honestly feared the trailer would overturn. Then we headed east as far as Grand Canyon before giving up and turning north toward home.
But even bad trips have rewarding moments. For me it was finally setting eyes on the great canyon. As a child I frequently traveled with my parents between California and my grandparent's home on an Oklahoma farm. Sometimes we took the train, but most often we drove Route 66, with a guaranteed stop at the Squat & Gobble cafe where I inevitably ordered a hamburger and a Squirt. Every trip was a replay of the one before, though the passengers varied.
Often my aunt and uncle accompanied us, which was a drag on activity because they resisted stopping except for bathroom breaks. My aunt would pack enough sandwiches and other food to last throughout the trip; sightseeing and 60-mile detours to see the Grand Canyon were definitely not on her agenda, nor consequently, ours. And, as my father often said when I would beg him to turn north, "It's just a big hole in the ground."
No wonder I grew up so curious about the world.
Ray and I made three or four trips to Arizona back in the 70s and 80s, until our friends there moved to Florida. I could never get him to make the detour either; time was always too short. But this time, maybe because everything else was going wrong, he gave in. We camped in a quiet Forest Service campground north of Williams, AZ, and rose early the next morning and drove to the park, arriving about 7 a.m. The sun was still low in the sky and a slight morning haze drifted over the canyon. We entered the parking lot to find only a few cars, and followed the path to the edge of the south rim.
It didn't disappoint. It's one thing to see photographs, it's quite another to see in three dimensions. My acrophobia found it terrifying, but I managed to conquer it long enough to walk a good chunk of the south rim trail. It's a truly spectacular hole in the ground.
Yes, it's too commercialized, but as the morning progressed and the crowds great thicker we were impressed with the Park's ability to handle so many people. But I'm very glad we saw it in mid-May and not mid-August.
Throughout the trip we were surprised by the number of European tourists we saw, and talked to. We typically see many in the southwest, but this time they often outnumbered Americans. We saw/heard British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Czech, Italian, Russian, German, and Japanese travelers. On a touristy section of Route 66 we met a group of black-clad, Harley-riding Swiss, who were making the typical circuit: LA, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. In a central Utah grocery store we talked to a Dutch couple who were making their sixth trip to the U.S., mostly to visit our national parks.
I'm sorry we didn't get to complete our trip, and visit our friends, and visit (again) more national parks, but I'm determined to be satisfied. It's not often you get to fulfill a life-long dream—and that's worth celebrating.
(Photos by Ray Gilden)