Thursday, 3 July 2008

Ten Days in the Desert - Part 2

Yes, this has been a year of travel for me so far, more than I've ever done before and way beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. To see such magnificent places which I'd only ever read about, or heard about at school was a real treat on the US trip. I remember first hearing about the Grand Canyon - that it was massive beyond imagination, that it was a mile deep, that it stretched over a huge area etc. and when younger had often thought I'd like to go there. So to have the opportunity to do so and visit so many other spectacular places was like multiple icing and cherries on the cake!

Squirrel at lunch
Canyonlands - but don't walk on the arch or go near the edge...!
Canyonlands is aptly named. It's no small national park - it's vast. It would take a good 3 days to see all of it; as we had but one day, we opted to take the "Island in the Sky" circuit, driving to view the canyon from cliffs 1,000 ft high and getting the most amazing overviews at every stop along the way, including views of the huge and meandering Green River. We hired a CD at the visitor centre which directed us to a succession of viewpoints and gave an explanatory commentary on what we were to look for. A bit like having a speaking tour guide in the dashboard! High up we stopped for our picnic lunch and saw chipmunks. There was an enormous natural arch on this circuit, which I've included here and in the slide show below. I innocently yomped up the path to see it, reached the top and felt my tummy taking part in Olympic tummy flips. . . it was high!! but oh so photogenic too, from a safe distance! From Canyonlands we made a detour to the nearby Dead Horse Point state park (it deserves to be classed a national park - it's spectacular). The colours are muted reds, and it's so-named because a group of horses being rounded up would not cross to a safer plateau, and you can probably guess the rest of the story from the name of the place. By this stage of the trip I'd got to the point where I didn't expect anything else could be even better - but it was!

We stayed in Moab that night, a bustling pleasant town without the more "sensible" feel of other places in Utah. No drink restrictions here (too many tourists!) and some lively bars and restaurants. We ate at the quite trendy Eddie McStiff's ( that was the name - I kid you not). Next day was the Day of the Valleys - Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley. Maylis bagged the off-road drive around the Valley of the Gods, which had large weirdly-shaped buttes (pronounced "beauts") : a group of sailors, a lady taking a bath in a bathtub, a large chair. You do, of course, have to use your imagination. Bizarrely, a group of caravan trailer and RV's (American motorhomes called "recreational vehicles") had set up camp in this valley in a hot, sunny, dusty area with not a tree in sight.

Momument Valley with a real tumbleweed - never seen one before!
Then it was on to Monument Valley, famous, well-known, the scene of many westerns directed by John Ford. He even has a view point named after him because he did a lot of filming from here. I was really looking forward to this, having seen it so many times in films, but there's truly nothing like seeing it for real. I was knocked out and just loved it. We did a 17 mile off-road drive around the valley. Many of the Navajo live there. Their homes look dilapidated and quite makeshift, but there are TV aerials in evidence, and some of them earn a living making and selling Indian crafts. Maylis and I were bought hand made necklaces by our other halves, and the Indian who made them explained that he also taught and performed tribal dances and music. He gave me his card (his name was Ron!) with a photo of him in full ceremonial garb and headdress complete with eagle feathers. He'd inherited it from his grandmother, and it was clearly a highly prized possession. There were notices requesting respect for the Navajo and their land. We had to stay on the road and photography of any of the Navajo was not allowed without their permission. We saw the famous left and right Mittens, Elephant Butte, so called because it looks like an elephant, and the biggest tumbleweed we saw all holiday came bowling along the road in front of us. I connected strongly with Monument Valley - it touched me deeply. I made a few notes each day on the places we saw. The entry for Monument Valley says "Mighty, magnificent, vast, superb".

Could it get any better, or were we getting a bit blase? The Grand Canyon defies any chance of being blase; it left me speechless and moved to tears. At first, my eyes simply couldn't take in what I was seeing. At the south rim, I raised my binoculars and looked towards what I'd thought was a bird flying over the north rim, saying "That's a big bird". It was a helicopter. OK, so I then estimated the distance to the north rim as being a couple of miles. Wrong again, it's 10 miles. My brain couldn't cope with this at first so I had to add some context. I thought about home and the next town which is 10 miles away. Then I got it in spades! That's why I was speechless, even more so when looking down into the canyon to see the Colorado River and it's rapids, and a distant mountain down the valley, 60 miles away. It was a humbling experience. How can humankind be so arrogant, so destructive, and ultimately, so temporary in the working out of our own petty powers and ego needs in the face of such awesome majesty.

 BIG saguaro cactus in Arizona
The Rough Guide said go to Sheshone Point, ignore the sign saying "No entry past this barrier" and take the short walk through woods to this triangular outcrop of rock and viewpoint. The Rough Guide does not speak with forked tongue - it was a superb vantage point which we had to ourselves, and we sat there for a long time taking in the extent of the canyon and watching red tailed hawks flying overhead. Later, we saw a coyote and an elk in the woods. The coyote, for me, was special as was seeing huge condors flying over the canyon the next day.

Then it was on to stay for a couple of days with my student Diane, who lives near Prescott, a Victorian Wild West town and on to Pheonix to catch flights back to Houston for Hugh & Maylis, and to New York for us, stopping en route to take a few photos of the giant saguaro cacti which grow abundantly in Arizona.


barbara said...

Hello ladies,
Joyce, I'm just speechless again. I understand your excitement in front of such scenery.
Mother Nature is the most talented architect & artist :) I agree that all of this demands respect & humility.

Do you also feel like some places do connect emotionally? I've been to places where it was just nice; others give you a gut feeling.

Great slideshow !!
Have a nice day ladies & hugs to Joyce & Barry.

Mellow Yellow said...

Hi Barbara,

Yes, the emotional "kick" is definitely there and I felt it strongly with Monument Valley as well as being knocked out by the Grand Canyon.

All I can say is that I could happily line up to do it all again...!

Joyce x

Jackie H said...

The comment about connecting with some places is very interesting. I have always felt a strong connection with Cambridge, England - I have not been to Cambridge, Massachusetts, wonder if I would feel the same connection. I know you and Barry have a great fondness for Cambridge, Joyce, for obvious reasons, but I feel really at home there. Mind you my birth certificate does say that Cambridge is my place of birth, as my mother had me in a maternity hospital there.

Our whole family also felt a real connection with our current house. We had been searching for about two years before we found it and knew it was the right one as soon as we stepped through the door.

Mellow Yellow said...

Hi Jackie,

Interesting what you say about Cambridge. My connections with this city are obviously laced with happy memories, and although I'be not been back fro some time I'd be very happy to rediscover old haunts from way back! Special places I connect with strongly include Chartres and Vezelay in France, both because of the cathedral in Chartres and the basilica in Vezelay, where the atmosphere in the crypt is very special. Chartres cathedral for me is like walking into a giant picture book which contains the answers to all the questions I'd ever want to ask, and I feel extremely comfortable and at home in this place.