On The Road

Wednesday: We are taking off for a few days to rendezvous with Justin and his crew near Page, Arizona. The purpose of the trip, beyond just getting out of town, is to put Robin and two delightful grandchildren together for two days. Of course we will not completely ignore their parents, but … you know. Zoom is just not where it’s at when it comes to keeping tabs on rapidly changing organisms. It’s a problem of scale.

Page is at the western end of Lake Powell, which was the reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam and against Edward Abbey’s will. Mr. Abbey even wrote a book about how what a good thing it would be to blow up the dam, a book that was called The Monkey Wrench Gang. Did I mention that he could be cranky at times?

When Abbey died, he left instructions for his friends to bear his body out into the Arizona desert somewhere, wrap it in his old sleeping bag, and to bury it there. Allegedly the only marker is a stone with these words written on it:

Edward Paul Abbey

1927-1989

No comment.

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It may well be that climate change will achieve Abbey’s goals. Right now the water levels are at record lows with no real hope that they will improve, as the western mega-drought continues. There are serious discussions about taking the dam out of service altogether, and allowing what water is stored in the reservoir to flow downstream to Lake Mead. I can’t say whether that would make Abbey’s spirit happy, that might not be possible. But it probably wouldn’t hurt his feelings any.

Notes: In our first hour of driving today we passed numerous small herds of elk, which taken together probably numbered close to 300 animals. In the small reservation town of Kayenta we went to lunch at Amigo restaurant, which had the most pleasant wait-staff we’d ever encountered. And they were deadly serious about Covid! You signed in when you entered with your name, address and phone number, and then you were ushered back outside. When they called you back in, a woman sprayed your hands with disinfectant and then seated you. Masking was required outdoors and in.

Much of the country we’ll be traveling through in Arizona is tribally owned, and they control access to many of the prime hiking and viewing opportunities. To get to these places now requires getting a permit and hiring a guide, which seems okay until you get to the price tag. It can cost from $65 per person to take a 90 minute walk all the way to $2200 each for a whole day and a chance to visit with one of the few remaining code talkers.

I hate seeing fees this high. There is no denying that the tribes have the right to charge what they will. After all, we’re all happy capitalists, aren’t we? But what it does yet one more time is deny most Americans, people who can’t fork out this much money for a brief walk in the desert, access to some of this country’s most spectacular scenery. That’s not okay.

Mahk Jchi, from The Native Americans

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From The New Yorker

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Thursday: The Glen Canyon gorge is absolutely beautiful. Perhaps even more so now that features formerly under water are emerging as the lake level declines.

I find myself feeling sorry for all those whose livelihoods will disappear as the lake draws down. In the sixty or so years since the dam was built a whole ecosystem grew up that depended on a large body of water. Boating, fishing, luxury homes, tourist lodging … basically the entire town of Page AZ. If this area returns to being the Colorado River there will still be rafting and canyon explorations for the adventurous, but not in the numbers supported by the more passive recreation that a lake provides.

Even if history decides that building the dam was in hindsight a mistake, it was not a mistake made by these working people. The owners of those triple-decker houseboats will pack up and move their toys somewhere else, but a job gone is just … gone. And a home that can’t be sold is a sadness and a burden .

Later today we will seek an area to do some modest hiking, since our crew is a modest bunch. Except for Justin, however, who is immodest in that regard. Thirty years ago I took Robin and her family, along with boyfriend Neil, on a backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area of the Rockies. On our first day we pushed it a little hard, and we were not altitude-adjusted as yet. When we reached the place we were going to set up camp, everyone quite literally collapsed on the ground, cradling their heads on their packs.

Everyone, that is, but Justin.

He wanted to continue on, go over to that ridge a mile or so away and look down on the other side. He was very insistent, but eventually disgustedly resigned himself to our overwhelming horizontalness. I think it dawned on him that if he did get the group up there, he would probably have had to shoot a couple of us, like horses pushed past their limits.

But today we will hike, as one does when in such a group, to the pace of the one person who really would rather not go hiking at all. Today that person is Leina. Our youngest and smallest. But she is also the possessor of one of the loveliest smiles in all of Christendom, and when all is said and done, the smile triumphs over any mere inconveniences encountered while walking together in the out of doors.

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From The New Yorker

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Friday: We moved on today as a convoy to the Grand Canyon area. At midday we will separate, as Justin and company drive south to the Phoenix airport to fly back to California, and Robin and I begin our return trip home.

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon only once before, and truthfully had no particular wish to see it again. You know how you go there with your camera the first time, snap dozens of photos, and then you go back home to rummage through the pics and find nothing worth keeping? Your camera couldn’t begin to capture the immensity of the thing. The canyon is amazing, but not nearly as interesting to me as something smaller in scale. Something more approachable. It’s as if a friend took me to the edge of a cliff and said: “There it is … Indiana!” And all I could respond was: “Are there any towns there we could look at?”

I have now been to the Grand Canyon twice. I have been to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison a hundred times or more. I much prefer the latter. In mid-afternoon we said goodbye to our friends and drove to our motel in Kayenta.

Saturday: Up early and a short drive up to Monument Valley Tribal Park. There is a 17 mile red dirt road that travels through the park and exposes one to some of the most inspiring scenery I’ve even seen. Much more moving than the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t take much more than an hour to do the tour, or you can linger as long as you like. The valley has been used in several western movies, so in a way it was like not my first visit. If you’re interested, here’s a Wikipedia list of times Monument Valley has been used in the media.

In terms of trip planning, we wouldn’t call it a destination, but if you are traveling within a two-hour drive of the Park, it would be shame to miss it. This following gallery contains some professional photos as well as a few of mine. Just didn’t get many “keepers” this time.

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When we returned to Kayenta we went to lunch at Amigo Cafe. Our unfailingly polite waiter brought us chips and salsa as we waited for our entrees. Robin and I each took a chip and dug out a scoopful of the salsa, which will be thought of from this day forward as The Green Death.

Within a millisecond of my hand placing the chip into my mouth I knew that I had a serious mistake. It was as if a blowtorch had been applied to my oral cavity. Gasping, I looked up to warn Robin but I was too late, as I watched her sliding down the banquette and disappearing beneath the table.

All of my extremities began to tremble, my eyes lost focus, and the next thing I knew I was being dragged by my heels to the outdoor patio and laid in a resting position prone against an adobe wall. As I looked about me I saw other patrons, including Robin, who had been lined up along the same wall to recover. Apparently this sauce is locally famous, and even among hardy Navajo citizens there have been one or two who had been similarly afflicted in the past.

In an hour or two we were able to sit up, brush ourselves off, and dazedly finish our lunches. Even though we have temporarily lost the ability to taste, and our upper and lower lips no longer match one another, we have been reassured that given enough time all will be well. If that doesn’t happen, the proprietor has promised that we can come back and have another lunch … on him.

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Our new cat-sitter, Howard, texts us each day to let us know how the cats are doing without us. It’s a nice touch and we appreciate it. Yesterday’s message is reproduced below. (He calls our kitties “the kids” and Howard is a man in love with emojis.)

Jon – kids are doing real well this morning! They are sooo sweet! Hope your trips going well! Your trash was picked up, put trash can backπŸ‘alls good here!πŸ˜»πŸ˜»πŸ‘πŸ˜€πŸ˜€

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