“<sigh>Just show them to the Arizona Room, will you.”
In which the mooses explore a Sinagua plaza, sightsee their way north to the Grand Canyon, and are turned away from El Tovar by a brusque hostess with yellow eyeglasses and an attitude.
I awoke with the same excitement I’d felt both of the previous days, but this time some sorrow was mixed in. We were leaving Sedona already, just as we’d begun to grasp its odd rhythms and to make our list of trails and formations to explore. But this was a whirlwind tour, and we had many days of whirling left in us!
It’s not easy to find breakfast places near the Desert Quail, or perhaps we just weren’t looking carefully enough. In the middle of the Route 179 construction zone I spotted the word “Breakfast” on a building in a southwestern-style marketplace. I couldn’t make out anything more about the place until we pulled up in front. Hmm. The Village Griddle, with a cute griddle-shaped sign above the door and not much else to speak of decorating the neat, light beige exterior. Tourist trap? Evidently not, judging by the local-yokel types inside. Our meal of a burrito Martinez (stuffed with veggies!) and a Spanish omelette would give us just the energy we needed for our long, meandering sightseeing journey north to the Canyon.
Surprised that he didn’t mind going so far out of our way, I was nevertheless thrilled that Rich wanted to return to Tuzigoot. In our typical fashion, we spent most of an hour in the gift shop/interpretive center, reading all the exhibits in detail and browsing through the local history books. Rich bought a fascinating volume on the geology of Sedona, and I probably should have picked up the short history of the Verde Valley Railroads.
The ruins are piled above, crowning a hilltop. It’s just a short walk from the visitor’s center to reach them, along a concrete sidewalk that I’m pretty sure isn’t authentic. Actually, the majority of the pueblo rooms have been reinforced, but the original mortar still exists beneath the concrete, we’re told. The Sinagua, who lived here for about three hundred years and vanished around six hundred years ago, expanded their village by continually adding on new rooms to the existing structure. Now what remains of most walls are only a few feet high. The highest dwelling in the complex, however, is complete and we wandered through it, wide-eyed, on our way to the lookout platform on top.
What a view! I think our jealousy came through when we spoke with the ranger manning the lookout. What a fantasy it must be to stand in the sunshine and the breeze, with a view of many miles over the Verde Valley in all directions! He didn’t sound so enthralled, especially considering Summer days when the best relief the shade offers is 100°F, but we argued that it beats weeks on end of below-freezing temperatures. The ranger pointed out the lush freshwater marshland to the east, which provided game and vegetation vital to the Sinagua, and which was acquired by the National Monument just over a year ago. To the north, in the distance, projected the Mogollon Rim. We could see the creepy buildings of Jerome in the Black Hills to the south, the village of Clarkdale to the west, and their letters “J” and “C” on their respective hillsides. On the floodplain to the west was evidence of recent work by Phelps Dodge to cover the acres of mine tailings and slurry and all their associated toxicity. We felt like the King and the Queen atop our little watchtower, and probably could have stayed here for hours or days if we’d been able to take it over completely for ourselves.
As it was, plenty more adventures awaited us before nightfall, so we climbed back down through the old Sinaguan living room and emerged a level lower into the sunshine. We strolled among the remaining ruins, playful as usual, on our way out.
After restocking at Walgreen’s, we began our trip north in earnest. Our first stop, along Route 89A barely out of Sedona, was Midgley Bridge. We sailed into the last open spot in the lot and headed on foot beneath the bridge, dodging tourist hordes as we tripped (just a little) down the stone steps. The view down Oak Creek Canyon was an exercise in piecing together the geology we had learned from the Sedona rocks book. In the canyon hundreds of feet below, teenagers swam and sunbathed on the smooth slabs lining Oak Creek.
Lacking enough time to hike Mount Wilson from the bridge (though putting it on the list for next time), we continued north on Route 89A. I had hoped to stop for a little excursion into Slide Rock State Park, but the crowds already packing in and the fact that it would have cost us $8.00 just for a half-hour or so turned us off. I’m still intrigued by the park’s namesake “slide rock,” and Rich has never explored this area in depth, either. Again, on the list for next time!
After Slide Rock, Route 89A again became a winding mountain road, tracing the rim of Oak Creek Canyon until we came to another overlook point that Rich knew: Oak Creek Vista. It featured, according to the sign at the pull-off, a Native American arts and crafts fair. This could be interesting! Small tables covered with pots, carvings, and beaded jewelry spanned the distance between the parking area and the overlook to the south. We showed interest in a palm-sized black pot with a fine-lined red hummingbird design. “You can pick it up … if you like … ” drawled the Navajo woman behind the table, sounding exactly (we both later agreed) like Marilyn Whirlwind from Northern Exposure. “I made it myself …”
At the overlook, we spotted two unexpected but very familiar items—two survey mark disks just a few feet apart! Only the third day of our trip, and we had already found more “surprise” marks than marks we had known about and planned for ahead of time. The canyon was cut deep by Oak Creek, now hundreds of feet below, and the sides of the canyon are heavily forested. The view extends all the way back to the red rock country near Sedona. Except for the outer lookout platform area, the rest of the overlook is shaded by ponderosa pine and dotted with picnic tables, giving it a feeling very much like any state park in a mountainous region, even perhaps in the East. It’s a vast change from the high desert environment just a few hundred feet below. This is another example of the different climate zones created by changes in elevation.
Back on Route 89A, we headed north to Flagstaff, then northwest on US Route 180 to Route 64, which would take us directly to the Canyon. The San Francisco Peaks were a beacon to us from many points, and we eventually stopped to take a photo capturing the snow on the very summit. “That’s what Winter should be,” Rich reminded me. “A place you can go to for the day, have your fun in the snow, and then come home to heat and sun.”
My anticipation was growing by the minute, as signs for Grand Canyon National Park became more numerous, and as the remaining mileage decreased. Red Butte, a high cymbal-shaped formation rose out of nowhere as we approached, and just kept getting bigger and bigger. It’s the most prominent feature in this part of the Coconino Plateau, and as we realized what it was, we had to laugh. We had considered taking “a little hike” to the top in search of a 105-year-old USGS triangulation station. And this was supposed to be a rest day! We drove right on past, Rich both smiling and smirking, an expression that said, “Not on your life … what were we thinking?!” On another trip, when we have more time, Red Butte will indeed be a priority destination. But it was a rest day for us, we were headed to the Grand Canyon with hopes of having at least some time to explore there before dinner and bed, and the hour was already late.
Just over an hour past Flagstaff, we entered the park via the South Entrance and immediately parked near one of the South Rim overlooks. What can I say about my first view of the Canyon that hasn’t been said before? It’s more immense than your wildest dreams would ever allow you to envision, but it’s also so much more intricate. The colors were dulled by the harsh afternoon light and a slight haze in the air, so I was able to focus on the shapes. Layers of temples, buttes, both smooth and jagged, forested and bare, stretched out before us for so many miles. There were pastel greens, blues, light red (light red, not pink), the muted colors of an underdyed easter egg or a child’s toy faded by sunlight and age. Closer to us were the red rock layers, sharply cut rust and crimson narrow strata beneath smoothly sloping areas polka-dotted with pine green; brilliant beiges and were beneath our feet at the overlooks and were echoed here and there down in the Canyon itself. The river is the least impressive feature of a view from this rim. It’s down there, and a peek from certain overlooks will afford you a glance at its smooth green ribbon, but from here it doesn’t seem alive.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere was hardly conducive to quiet contemplation. A late-Spring Saturday afternoon is not a good time to expect relaxation at the South Rim, unless your idea of kicking back involves indiscreet, preoccupied New Yorkers commenting loudly on everything but the natural wonder before them; skipping and screaming Midwestern kids freshly popped out of their minivan; and half of Tokyo. We could only hope that when we stepped below the rim on the following days, the cast of characters would change.
After our slow stroll along the rim, we worked our way through the crowds to spend some time at the new Visitor Center before heading to our room. We bought two more benchmark replicas to add to our collection: a PHANTOM pin and HOPI zipper-pull. And then we were on to Maswik Lodge and our small but clean room in building 6, practically at the far edge of the village. At least it would be peaceful here!
Having dinner at El Tovar at least once during our stay was a priority, and as soon as Rich and I cleaned up and headed back to the Rim, we tried our luck for that evening. Waiting in line, I was already feeling skeptical of the hostess. The severely chopped ash blonde hair and yellow-lensed eyeglasses gave her at once an intimidating and pompous appearance. She made friendly comments to those in line ahead of us, but we were greeted with a stony stare. “We are all booked for tonight,” she said sharply. “Tomorrow, too.” She turned to a man standing next to her and with a snotty sigh, ordered “Jeeves, show them to the Arizona Room, will you.” Perhaps she didn’t say “Jeeves,” but the attitude was certainly that of a haughty socialite raising an eyebrow to her butler, who wasn’t getting rid of the riffraff with proper expedience. Well! To the Arizona Room it would be, then, perhaps … after a walk on the rim. Blessed with intelligence the hostess obviously had not sensed, we located the Arizona Room all on our own. It looked good enough to try.
A cool wind was blowing and in it, some small flies that neither of us could identify. I needed my wind shell as we wandered along the rim. Japanese tourists were fewer as the day grew darker and cooler, allowing for a more peaceful exploration of some of the overlooks we had bypassed earlier. Without someone shoving into us by the second, we could at least imagine a sense of solitude among the swarms. Saturday is far from the best day to visit the South Rim.
For the unfamiliar, it is now forbidden to drive to many points along the South Rim between March 1 and November 30. You know, the only times of year anyone would really wants to visit the Canyon. This creates the unfortunate need for shuttle buses and the scheduling and human-logistical nightmares that they always entail. Park Service endeavors are usually well implemented, though, and without any other options we decided we’d give the bus a whirl and go to Hermit’s Rest for sunset. Perhaps there we would find some solitude.
It was 6:40pm. The sign at the bus stop said “Last bus to Hermit’s Rest for sunset: 7:15pm.” The sign on the bus, when it arrived a few minutes later, said “Hermit’s Rest.” The bus driver said, as soon as we alighted, “Anyone going to Hermit’s Rest? Well, you’re not,” as Rich raised his hand. Figure it out! We haven’t. Contrary to all published information, the buses apparently do not run the entire route until one hour after sunset.
The shuttle was loud and crammed and rickety, and it was a real relief to our ears and backs when we were dumped off at Hopi Point. We walked west until we reached an area far from the densest crowd, and then stretched out on the cool rock, our feet just hanging over the edge. I felt tingly from the height, especially when I looked to the distance, but safe leaning against Rich. Clouds came in to cover my first Grand Canyon sunset, and the reds and oranges were hardly more spectacular than I see at home. I didn’t get to see the shifting colors of the canyon in slanted light. But I have more than those who take their snapshot of the sunset, check it off the list and run on to the next obligatory vacation task. The most colorful memory of my experience was to be in Rich’s arms that evening, in relative quiet, beneath a small pine whose fallen needles poked into my hands as I propped myself up, our toes together just slightly dipping into the world of danger and adventure before and beneath us, where our feet would take us tomorrow.
There was a long wait at the Arizona Room by the time we returned for supper. With our square “beeper” (that reminded me of some kind of handheld electronic game from the 80s) we were free to roam outside—or at least onto the adjoining patio—until our table was ready. We each ordered a pint of Mirror Pond Pale Ale, took them outside, and sat close together in the darkness and wind, trying to keep warm. The ale helped.
Our meal began with a smoked chicken and bean quesadilla, topped with lime sour cream. Rich, in the mood for BEAST, ordered the strip steak. I couldn’t decide between the baby back ribs with prickly pear sauce and the chili-crusted salmon with melon salsa. Despite my attraction to cacti, I couldn’t resist the lure of the melon salsa and spicy fish, so I chose the salmon. Most likely to Rich’s surprise, I managed not to knock over my martini tonight.
Each day is more like a dream, a good dream, than the last.