Day 12. Wed, 10/2/19. Monument Valley Navajo Nation to Zion Ponderosa Ranch – 182 miles
On the way to the Ranch, we had a leisurely lunch at the Wild Thyme Café in Kanab where our good food was brought to us by an older waitress with lots of gold sparkly glitter eye shadow, large false eyelashes and shock of all shocks, she was a real she. It was upside down confusing and a bit odd considering we were in Mormon territory. But I’m all for free expression.
Many miles later, we found ourselves in front of our Conestoga wagon accommodations. Picture an old timey pioneer wagon with a canvas roof and instead of a door, a zippered opening. What was a fun, folksy great idea in Jenner was not such a brilliant idea now. How will we survive? Thankfully, there is electricity and with it, air conditioning and heating. The temperature went from sweltering hot to frigidly cold in our little wagon. The heater? Insufficient. We have three nights here.
More than half of our trip is done. We’ve seen mostly Anglo and Asian tourists. Literally three African Americans and two Hispanics. This trip was not the diversity tour. Whether it’s interest or economics, the demographics does not speak well for our already divided country.
Day 13. Thu, 10/3/19. Zion Ponderosa Ranch to Bryce Canyon – 152 miles round trip
After days of relentless heat, we woke to a 37 degree morning. From sea level in Jenner to 9,000 feet in Bryce Canyon, the changing colors of aspen trees called for warmer jackets and an appreciation of the Moab heat which we recently left.
Bryce Canyon has magnificent red peaks of varying states of erosion. Intermingled in these tall columns of stone were spots where a pine seed settled and began to grow. In 1000s of years, the canyon would be covered in pine trees and the wonderful edifices would be a part of earth’s history. As we age, it ages. Consciously or subconsciously it reminds us of our mortality and the persistence of a sapling to adhere to any bit of earth is simply inspiring. Life is in a changing state of impermanence.
In between fantastic panoramas is devastation – vestiges of blackened trees from fires. Felled pine trees and scrubbed earth which is trying to recover. It is a cycle of death and renewed life.
For the Native American tribes Bryce canyon is a gift from their ancestors. For us, often it is a selfie stick portrait and an “I was there moment”. We are feeding the Id rather than our true higher selves. A place can resonate with one’s being if only we allow it inside. And if we are distracted by the other, how can it resonate?
Day 14. Fri, 10/4/19. Zion Ponderosa Ranch to Zion and Grand Canyon North Rim – 112 miles
Tired of our zippered door and the cold nights at our Conestoga wagon, we decided to skip the 3rd night and improvise a night’s stay instead. But it was morning and time for another adventure – to Zion! On the way to the park, we saw a fox go into the road and then do a quick turn about, a rafter of turkeys were grazing as well as deer, two pheasants and a herd of wild bison. As we entered the park, I saw the unmistakable curves of big horned sheep! A herd was grazing not too far from the road. Francesca was able to capture the moment.
Zion traffic and congestion was a mess. A bit like being in Disneyland. It didn’t suit either of us and instead of spending more time at the park, we opted to drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
After miles of scrubland, Francesca stopped at LeFevre pull out so I could survey landscape opportunities. I got out of Tiny walked around and got the absolute creepiest vibe. No photo op here. Just a profoundly creepy vibe. We left.
Closer to the Grand Canyon, we found a campsite – De Motte Campground in the Kaibab National Forest. For $10, we got a campsite. A place to sleep secured, we went towards the North Rim and saw cattle grazing next to the road with yellowing aspen trees. We then saw our second herd of wild bison of the day. This time, the male bison was near the road while the females were in the field with the young lighter colored calf feeding. The male bison strutted onto the roadway. Tiny was a respectful distance away when the bison looked both directions as if to cross the street. He was the boss and he knew it and we did too. Once that was firmly established, the male did a happy hippity hop away from the street and back toward the field. The females did not notice.
Entering the park, Smokey Bear had a sign which said the fire danger was “Very High”. He was right. After dinner and sunset, our drive back was very smoky. Undoubtedly an active fire was in the valley. Sleeping proved difficult. Francesca thought it was because of our particularly active day but I think it was a flight or fight response to danger. It’s smoky outside therefore you should be leaving the premises and not trying to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, my flight or fight response succumbed to slumber.
Day 15, Sat, 10/5/19. Grand Canyon North Rim to Grand Canyon South Rim – 197 miles
After a smoky evening, morning at the campground was thankfully clear. The yellow aspen leaves shimmered in the breezy morning sun. Driving into the South Rim, we were greeted by a large white raptor who flew overhead. A hospitable sign! A few campsite loops later, we had just parked Tiny at our new home. I went to the front of the van, when I cried “Moose! Moose!” Only, they weren’t moose, they were elk! A gang of elk were scarcely 10 feet away from me. And there was a younger elk who was crying like a high pitched, loud bird. The gang lumbered slowly but purposefully away.
I like the Grand Canyon.
Day 16. Sun 10/6/19. Grand Canyon South Rim
In driving through the canyon, we saw a small coyote slink across the road like a cat; two Abert’s squirrels who have white backside tails they use to hide their bodies from predators in the snow; and a couple of violet green swallows.
I spoke to Gretchen the ranger who told me I might see hoards of tarantulas – apparently it’s mating season and rattlesnakes were in full force and of course, scorpions. Gretchen was a kindly negative Nancy. And no, I did not see any of these creatures.
I went up to see the Desert View Watchtower which is several spiral staircases high all festooned with artistic interpretations of ancient Puebloan art. I was greeted by a Raven who sat steadfast in a tree while throngs of tourists went about their day all around him. I saw “milk duds” strewn on the parking lot. And then we went to the laundry mat to wash clothes and see Tom and Jerry cartoons.
The evening was spent chasing fire smoke in the canyon and watching the stars.
Day 17. Mon 10/7/19. Grand Canyon South Rim to Lake Mead – 255 miles
We were having coffee in the morning when Francesca saw a female elk. I then spied a younger elk who cried like all little ones when trying to figure out the world. This one was contemplating a “one way” traffic sign.
Stopping at the visitor center on the way out, Francesca got me a big horned sheep plush toy which I promptly named Beatrice.
The drive to Lake Mead was uneventful and mostly scrubland but we were surprised to see Joshua trees with flowers still on the stalks. We arrived at Lake Mead, enlivened by the placid water. A gray hummingbird with a red dash across its neck swept around Tiny and greeted us. At night, we slept with the back doors open to let the breeze waft across us. Murderers be damned. Coyotes yipped through the night to warn bad actors away from us.
Day 18. Tue 10/8/19. Lake Mead to Furnace Creek Death Valley – 143 miles
The gray hummingbird came again today, this time to say goodbye. Coyotes yipped excitedly along the low hills surrounding the lake. Early morning is a beautiful time of day even when I have to work.
We learned of fires in Yosemite which may change the trajectory of our trip. And learned of red flag warnings and a possible PGE shut down to our home in Jenner. But we can do nothing about any of these things. Instead, I worked though I would have liked to stay an extra day to go on a boat ride and possibly have a popsicle.
While I am on work email, we travel through smoky fire ridden lands and go through the sprawling sameness of Las Vegas and my heart sinks a little bit.
Then the landscape changes – leaving Pahrump (got to love the name), the undulating hills are striped with green, brown and beige. Dirty pebbly earth with greenish, brownish scrub. This is our Gobi desert, our Australian outback. It is our Furnace Creek Death Valley.
I can’t imagine being the first to cross here. It is other worldly especially for a coaster like me.