There is something wonderful about driving away from Phoenix, but not in the movie, Psycho, sense … Janet Leigh’s scene titled, “Driving away from phoenix,” (Movie Clip Link,) nervous, anxious, guilty and fleeing, but in the sense of exhilaration, of getting out of the city, leaving urbanity behind if only briefly, being sucked northward on open highways, out of the low sun valley at 1,124′ to high mountain country and heady elevations of 7,400′. Leaving Saguaro cacti, Burro Bush, rough scrub lands for the lush and grassy landscapes of high country, higher mountains, yellow flowering grasslands, Juniper and Pinyon pines. An easy route right out on 17 directly north to Flagstaff, then along winding Rt. 180 to junction at Rt. 64 and finally the Grand Canyon National Park and the South Rim, Mather Camp Ground. A good five hours clear and open driving.
A brief stop at the Museum of North Arizona, (Link,) to peacefully wander through this cool and quiet, natural rock building roadside on Rt. 180, tucked under tall pines. Arizona Anthropology, Geology, Biology and Hopi, Navajo and Zuni native history and crafts. Textiles always fascinates me and I was curious to see early vertical looms, crude woven fabrics and intricate basket weave. Those smarter than I observe that humans are pattern seeking people, and I wondered if it was that inheritance that led these early crafts people to innovate with basket and weave patterns … one over two, two over two … let’s try three over two, miss one … etc., to ‘invent’ patterns that are endlessly perennial and modern. Surrounded by all this ancient geology and reading exhibit labels emphatically stating that our planet is 4,000,000,000 years old, I wondered again about those with faith. The other pattern seekers. Those who myopically believe that the planet is biblically 6000 years old despite this evidence summed up succinctly by comedian Lewis Black with his single word proof, “Fossil !!!” (Lewis Black Link – Language Warning.)
Most of everything “Grand Canyon” is at the South Rim. The extensive and many camp grounds, RV parks, log cabins for rent, the railroad and grand hotels. The North Rim, in contrast, is smaller, quieter with few accommodations booked a year in advance. So the South Rim is an obvious and annual choice for Desert Adventures (link) and my first outdoor, “camping” adventure since my bush war days in Africa. And I wasn’t sure that this was going to be a match. Me and hard earth again, dusty ground, open skies and fear of rainfall. But, Mather Camp Ground has great, 1/4-slot, hot showers and laundry, a huge General Store with free WiFi and everything else that you didn’t haul along with you. (Wise to bring bottled water, however, as the National Park Service has banned small plastic, bottled water, but not banned the sale of countless sugared water and energy drinks in the same plastic containers.) And despite being English, I seemed to have carried with me the good weather from the valley and its infrequent rain. This turned into a mostly dry, September weekend with perfect temperatures and abundant sunshine.
I observed that Americans don’t go camping. They move house. Literally. Whilst I was content with borrowed equipment; an air mattress, perfect pop-up tent, one collapsible chair, battery lamp, my cooler box, a line of twine strung from tree to tree to hang out a bath towel … my fellow campers arrived with large portable kitchens, living rooms, outdoor parlors, at least two bedrooms and food, food, food. Each camp site complete with “necessary” accessories, fresh flower vases, fairy light chandeliers, object d’art, ceramic cookie jars. Everything, “just in case.” Comparing my twenty-minute set-up to their two plus hours, I had to question … ‘you guys do know that this is not relocation, you are not moving house, right? That this all has to come down in four days time?‘ This being met with nonplussed expressions. I began to wonder if there wasn’t something simply childish about camping? This shifting of geography and altitude. Like playing ‘housey, housey.’ The need to set-up a complete play house outdoors like a tree house or ‘Wendy’ house. What happened to spending time in nature … simply?
Unlike Phoenix, the Grand Canyon is truly international with a constant gaggle of diverse languages all spoken at once. Russian, Polish, Dutch, French, Japanese and the most unintelligible, Irish. Despite my acrophobia and putting aside memories of that fated balloon ride in Albuquerque last year, I did venture down into the Canyon for at least 3/4 mile. The folk-lore is that if you pass through one of the cut-away, trail tunnels, you have officially “gone down into the Canyon.” I passed through two cut-away, trail tunnels cautiously walking leaning inwards towards the cliff side on the way down and up with bended knees and wobbly legs. These narrow trails are all loose gravel and rough rocks filled with tourists mostly dressed without concern or care for the unguarded sheer drop right at trail’s edge. These are not trails for town shoes and flip-flops and uncaring, hurried passage nor brazen bravado standing on cliffs edge to get a better view risking seeing that same view up close and personal. Not surprisingly, nearly 100 Canyon visitors have lost their lives here since 1925.
But, hiking the Canyon, whether it’s simply ‘board-walking‘ along the trail heads at Bright Angel, taking in the car-free roads via shuttle bus to promenade along western most Hermit’s Rest, eastern most Yaki Point, or adventurously hiking 1 mile down into the Canyon, I consider that visitors fall into two distinct categories. Those who see life as a glass half empty and those who see life as a glass half full. Those who see the Canyon as just an enormous hole in the ground and those who observe the enormity of the Grand Canyon with wonder and awe and never tire of standing and looking and looking. Perhaps the ‘half fulls‘ are luxuriating in an artwork five million years in the making.