It’s been three days since anybody threw up. I’m sorry we wrapped up everybody’s favorite storyline already; if you don’t bother sticking around, I guess I understand.
We drove from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, AZ. The moment we passed into Arizona was thrilling; the border is flanked by massive rocks, and hills rose up around us. It was a brief thrill, though. We soon reached high desert, where it was flat and lonely.
We keep thinking back not terribly long ago in history when the wagon trains crawled along this land. Hot skies above, unfriendly ground beneath, and nothing but an empty horizon in the distance. A good day’s travel was 10-20 miles. We, of course, get in our van and knock out 300 miles in a day, over smooth highway with signs to tell us where to find water, food, and shelter. Obviously we owe a lot to those people who ventured out this way. Obviously they were slap crazy to do it.
We saw the Painted Desert and some petrified trees (didn’t see the Petrified Forest, though). The kids have been gratifyingly impressed with the scenery, and the Painted Desert inspired their awe. Ranger, in fact, said it was “slappin’ wolf tails” good. I mean, what more is there to say?
I saw dozens of beautiful rocks at the overlooks. But I didn’t take any. Because the National Park Service is kind of like a bad boyfriend. He really, really cares about his stuff. He lets you use it—even smiles when you ask and generously shows you how—but underneath that friendly exterior, he’s not playing around. You mess with his stuff, he messes with you.
I’m not saying that if you get caught stealing rocks from the Painted Desert, the NPS will dispatch a team to eliminate you and throw you over the edge… because they definitely don’t want your dead body spoiling their desert.
But they did hand out a lime-green card with our map. It explained the many violations of NPS laws in the park (including taking “any park resources” which includes rocks, you closet lawbreaker, you). On the back, it provided a form for you to fill out if you saw somebody else do something wrong.
(I filled it in for Smeogol, who killed Deagol and stole his ring.)
(I added to the cheerfully menacing wording about how National Parks are for all of us to enjoy and take care of, “Tattling is patriotic.”)
(I didn’t turn it back in.)
After the Petrified Forest, we drove a lot more. Right past Flagstaff, in fact, where our hotel was. DJ died a little bit, knowing we’d have to retrace 75 miles to get back on route, but the rest of us had our eyes fixed on the distance, where we knew that we’d eventually see the Grand Canyon.
For something so storied, pictured, and hyped as the Grand Canyon, you’d think it would be at least a little letdown. Maybe it was. Maybe I need to go back someday and block out a quiet morning just to look at it. Then maybe it will be a disappointment. Until then, I really have to say it was what it promised to be: grand, beautiful, and incredibly appealing to the imagination.
I would never do anything to upset the National Park Service, of course. I don’t want a lime-green X by my name in their databank. So all I did was pick up a pebble and toss it into the Canyon. Well, first I made a few marks on it with a sharpie from my purse, then I tossed it in. Well, several marks. All our names. And we all stood together and watched it disappear among the millions of other pebbles far below us. The Joneses now have a rock in the Grand Canyon.
We finished off our day by driving back to Flagstaff. DJ introduced the kids to The Phantom of the Opera. Bookgirl liked it. Gamerboy was mildly interested. Sparkler and Ranger suffered deeply through the five songs. DJ finally relented, and we listened to Taylor Swift after that.
In Flagstaff, we had supper with friends who drove up an hour just to meet us. It was our first time meeting “the wife and kids” in person. But the magic of Facebook is that we were already well-acquainted. Plus, she and I have actually written real letters back and forth. So, gold stars for us. It was a very good meal together.
From Flagstaff to Bakersfield, CA. Nothing about the desert was familiar to our Eastern eyes. Not the colors, the landscape, or the hot dry air. In fact, when we finally made it through the Mojave and found ourselves among the high brown hills and houses again, we all sighed in relief.
Even the rivers look different. In the East, they have water in them.
I wouldn’t want to live in the desert, but a drive-through kept me captivated the whole way. It wasn’t barren and ugly; it had its own beauty. We admired the mountains, saw fields of black lava rock, and pointed out hobbit-sized forests of weird twisty trees that we called “zombie trees.”
Now we’re settled into a vacation apartment for a few days in Bakersfield. The kids have a pool and Disney Channel. DJ and I went grocery shopping, and the first song I heard when I walked in was a Carbon Leaf song. It matched my t-shirt.
So we’re all glad to kick back and relax for a bit. Plus, we’re in California, where everything is just a little better than everywhere else. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from my many Californian friends.
Meanwhile, if the NPS would like to discuss the Grand Canyon with me, they’ll need to find a certain rock first so I even know what they’re talking about.
Pictures and Stops:
Four kids at the Painted Desert in Arizona. Note Bookgirl’s “cape” billowing. She highly approves of the desert wind.
The Grand Canyon: Five people I love best, a native pebble with markings on it, a selfie with the Canyon.
As these two bathroom signs indicate, even official government symbols can benefit from a whole-foods diet, regular exercise, and replacing one meal with a nutrition-packed shake.
Zombie trees lurching their way across the Mojave Desert. They moan “Raiiiinnsss”
All tuckered out, but happy.