Forty-five miles to go and forty five minutes to do it.
Now, on an Interstate or a solid US highway, this would not be a problem, of course. However, this time we were in Jacob's Lake, AZ and the goal was to be at the Grand Canyon in time for sunset, both to see the Canyon while it was still somewhat light and also to experience what we were told was the most dramatic moment of the day over this mile deep gorge which extended miles to the west.
In what has become an all too familiar experience and which has been surprisingly so for two people who are traveling cross-country for 5 weeks, a few minutes in one place where we dawdle or linger ends up having a big impact at some point at the end of the day.
Waking up in Vegas after a big night on the town (plus the fact that I had woken at 7am in DC on Sunday morning, flown to LAX, entered a car with Tamar, driven to Vegas, and stayed up until 2am=5am on the East Coast. In other words, 22 hours awake), we were a bit slow in getting out on the road.
Eventually, we arrived on I-15 which took us out of Nevada, across the most northwestern tip of Arizona and back into Utah.
At the welcome station, the woman gave me (Tamar and my dad were in the car) some great suggestions about how to make the most of our time in southern Utah and arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico by about noon on Wed. (approx. 48 hours later-this was all done so that we can be in Nashville, TN on Sunday where we will visit with one of Tamar's closest friends).
Her suggestion: Go to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon for the sunset on Monday, then take the scenic route through Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley to the Four Corners and into New Mexico.
The challenge in every place we went, including every convenience store, bathroom break, scenic overlook, and tourist center was: just how long can we afford to stay here?
We had a few more challenges facing us on the way back East than the road out West.
First, it was Daylight Savings Time. I am not a morning person. The idea of getting on the road by 7am was tough for us. Second, by heading east, we were losing time in terms of sunlight. Third, with the shorter daylight hours in the evening coupled with a desire to avoid night driving (both for safety and scenic reasons). Lastly, though we knew the distances in terms of mileage, we really couldn't accurately assess the time because the roads varied from 65mph highways to 35mph mountain passes (and less as well).
Further, I've learned that when it comes to time estimates, you need to ask at least 4 people to get a rough average, since no one really knows how long things take. Go ahead…test this theory out.
Plus, with the addition of my father (which gave Tamar an up close and personal opportunity to understand the origin of some of my neuroses, mannerisms, and habits) for the Las Vegas-Santa Fe portion of the trip, we had a third travel style to integrate.
Traveling with my dad is always a wonderful experience. This is the 7th year in a row in which we have taken a trip together. He's my travel mentor, having taught me how to navigate, to make educated guesses, deduce information about tourist sites, find the unexpected, appreciate the journey as well as the destination and provided ways to enrich the trip with things such as books on tape. What's more he is an overwhelming source of knowledge. Ask him a simple question and he can expound (in an interesting
manner) for hours about subjects ranging from the Anazasi Indians in New Mexico (the pueblo ruins from 1000 years we visited in NW New Mexico) to the history of Las Vegas, the Mormons, the issues surrounding Eisenhower's decision to dam the Colorado River and create Glen Canyon in the 50's, and thousands of other topics. On the one hand, it's enjoyable, on the other it's intimidating. How can someone acquire that amount of knowledge? He's always reading, asking questions, pursuing knowledge for its own sake. He is my greatest teacher and role model.
When you're on the road with him or anyone for that matter, things such as how long you want to read in an exhibit, browse a souvenir store, or take in a vista are all different. And when you have a goal and you have no idea what the variables in front of you are, it's quite complicated to figure out how to manage your time most effectively.
The highlight of the mid-day on Monday, by far, was Zion National Park.
Named Zion because it is a place that is supposed to provide its visitors with a sense of 'serenity, security, and peace' (the name was probably influenced by the Mormons), it quickly made a case for the most beautiful part of our trip.
At Zion Park, which is a red-rock canyon (by the way, the National Parks'
Annual Pass is a GREAT deal), you drive along the base of the canyon and are surrounded by majestic walls of layered red rock, which naturally take shapes that look vaguely familiar. Remember when you were a kid and you'd look up at the clouds and imagine that you saw familiar shapes? Well, the rocks in Zion and all throughout southern Utah, for that matter, provide you with a similar sense of familiarity.
You can't go directly from east to west across the southern part of Utah.
You have to go around the mountains. In fact, the whole four corners area is on a plateau, the remnants of an age when North America had an inland sea on today's Great Plains and the subsequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which helped form the Rocky Mountain chain.
Four Corners is the place where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico come together and which we tried to visit, but it was dark already and the Monument, which is administered by the Navajo nation, the largest reservation in the US, was closed for the night. However, we did manage to go from Utah to Colorado to New Mexico to Arizona and back to New Mexico in a matter of 15 minutes. It, arguably, is also one of the most remote places in the United States. In fact, there were points during our drive through Utah where the signs on the scenic overlooks would say something like 'at night, if you looked out from here, you would not be able to see any light.'
What was so special about this part of the trip was precisely the solitude and lack of human involvement.
In addition to the vistas of up to 60 miles, it was the night sky that was most spectacular. The Milky Way was clearly visible and we stood outside of the car, with the lights off, with no noise around us, just staring up at the stars shining down on us.
Well, maybe it's not fair to say that the stars were 'most spectacular'
because by saying that, I am diminishing the raw beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyons and the numerous parks and vistas in between.
What you have here are earth-red rocks which take the most unique shapes. In Bryce Canyon, the formation are called 'hoo-doos.' What they really look like are thousands of red-rock hot dogs of various lengths covering the mountainside. In Zion and throughout, you'll see some that are naturally formed arches or bridges, a wall that has a fluted look to it, a solitary butte in the middle of a blain that looks like a large cabin, others that look like enlarged crowns, one of a king and one of a queen next to each other.
They are stratified, if that is a word, with different colored layers of rock extending horizontally across the faces of the rock, or in some cases, diagonally. The vegetation varies from trees to shrubs to nothing at all, just dirt.
Sometimes you are looking down upon a mazelike structure where you have no idea how you will enter or exit and sometimes you are surrounded by high walls on either side where daylight can barely penetrate.
Depending on the angle, the rocks take many shapes, varying in their impressiveness, and within moments being forgotten (save for the 130 digital pictures Tamar took on this stretch of drive) or better yet surpassed by the view you get as you round the next bend. The clouds, the shadow, and the snow all interact with the faces of these red monoliths to create natural works of abstract art that leave you aghast at nature's beauty, and blown away at how the apparent randomness of it all could come together in such a harmonic presentation of light and color.
The drive continued to amaze. At one turn are ancient Indian drawings
(petrographs) on a wall depicting a bighorn sheep. At another, you find out that Bryce is named for Ebenezer Bryce, an early Mormon settler who needed timber and thus built a road. His neighbors rewarded him by calling it "Bryce's Canyon."
Somebody told me at the beginning of this trip that southern Utah was "God's country" and now I know why. I guess I feel like there is just no way I can do justice in words to the natural beauty of this part of the country, no matter how hard I try.
We actually did most of the driving in southern Utah and the visit to Bryce on the 2nd day in that part of the country. It was Zion and the little hiccups along the way (the extended visit at the Ranger station, stopping to eat instead of eating in the car, and an occasional wrong turn) that put us in the position we found ourselves at 5pm on Mon. afternoon in Jacob Lake, AZ.
I don't know how many of you remember the old "Alcoa Fantastic Finishes"
from the NFL games back in the 80's, but the basic concept was that the little feature would show the viewers a highlight from a game that had an amazing ending.
Well, as we set out on the drive to the Grand Canyon, I announced that we, too, were in store for a fantastic finish. I had opened the day's driving and Tamar had provided some middle relief (over some narrow, winding mountain passes), so we were lucky to have the services of our experienced closer, my dad, to help us get over the necessary distance in the requisite time.
As the light began to diminish and the miles did not seem to pass quickly enough, the crowd in Mudville got silent (namely Tamar), but I was confident. We have been so blessed on this trip that I just knew we would make it in time.
With each turn we said 'ok, here it is,' but alas, it wasn't and we would need to press on.
At last, and with the sunlight almost gone, we pulled into the parking lot of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Like an adolescent, I shot off, shouting something like "I'm going to see the Grand Canyon" (it was about 100 yards off) and I left my dad and my wife behind. What's more, I didn't bring our dedicated communication devices (Motorola talk-abouts-don't laugh, they prove to be extremely valuable when on the road).
This tarnished the entire experience and I didn't earn any responsibility or sensitivity points with my co-travelers.
I did make it to the Grand Canyon to see it during the last vestiges of daylight. One friend had told me before we left that the average length of visit to the Canyon was 7 minutes, a seeming knock against Americans who can't appreciate what they have. I now felt guilty because our visit was about 7 minutes as well, because after that, you really couldn't see that much.
Well, maybe a few more minutes than that, but not that much. I did see the sunset and took in the vastness of this absolutely huge canyon. I appreciated the way the light change ever so slowly as the sun set and dusk and then night finally settled in.
I headed back to the car only to find my dad and my wife very concerned about my whereabouts and safety. They were right. I had blown this one.
Neither Lewis nor Clark would have left their travel companions for so selfish a mission. I had learned a valuable lesson about teamwork.
Here are some comments on the email on Los Angeles
>From Shai Franklin
Until the Fauvistes or maybe even the Impressionists, artists generally did not paint in "plein air", and if you look back at the Italian masters the light is generally studio light or -- as in the case of Caravaggio -- the Dutch coined the term Kellerlicht for the sweeping light that cuts across pictures like "The Calling of St. Matthew". Landscape artists, especially in the north countries, did depict outdoor light although most probably did the painting indoors. Vermeer used the device of camera obscura, working in dark room illuminated by a pinhole lens to the outside that projected the real image onto a screen of ground glass -- hence the early photo-realism of his secretive technique.
It's interesting that, although Getty's home (now a museum in Malibu) was on a hillside near the beach, the new museum built after his death is atop a high hill -- much like Hearst's home. Art for the masses...hmmmmm.
>From Aliza Zuckerman:
Another thing I keep noticing every time we go to LA is that so many cars don't have actual license plates. They just have the a piece of paper with the dealers name on it instead of an actual plate. Some of these cars look new and may actually be new cars, but some are definitely old and cruddy so I just can't figure it out.
And on Las Vegas…
>From Rick Ezell
Did you notice that in the casinos there are no clocks? It is truly a timeless, unchanging environment they create. 2AM and 2PM are no different in a casino.
As to Shakespeare, historically he was middle-brow at best. The pit was full of the hoi polloi whom Shakespeare had to satisfy. His genius lies in the fact that he offers hearty fare for every taste.
And Josh Sharf…
What about the Bellagio? How could you possibly not mention the Fountains at the Bellagio?
My response: (We missed the last show and left before the first show. We heard it's amazing)