Southwest Odyssey

I have been dreaming about the Southwest for years, staring at books of Ansel Adams' and Georgia O'Keefe landscapes and trying to imagine what that space would feel like.  I finally got my chance to see this land in person and it was more captivating than I'd even pictured! I'm back in the congestion of chilly Boston, but my mind won't let go of the roomy shapes and warm colors of Arizona and Utah... here is a taste of what I saw.

skies near Chinle, AZ

skies near Chinle, AZ

After landing in Phoenix, I couldn't wait to see the Grand Canyon, as advertised on all the Arizona license plates. Navigating the little red rental car through interstate traffic was daunting as my husband and I got our first taste of the modern American West: sprawling highways and eighteen-wheelers struggling through the rocky valleys to deliver oil and goods to surrounding states.

As we neared Flagstaff, we couldn't resist driving down iconic Route 66 where people still walk the shoulder and wave their thumbs for a ride. We stopped by the historic Music Club where musicians like Willie Nelson sang their hearts out on the little wooden stage. You can feel the heartache and wistfulness of their melodies in the dusty air blowing through the parking lot.

Back on the road, tall evergreens replaced dry sand and signs marked 7000 feet elevation as we neared the Canyon. We arrived just in time to see the rocks washed with pink and purple by the setting sun.

The next morning we ventured down into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, trying not to look down on the more treacherous icy patches. The Grand Canyon in the late winter gets to upper 60 degrees during the day but will drop back down to the 30's at night, so many of the trails are still covered in sandy ice. We were joined by an international panoply of enthusiastic hikers; I was particularly struck by a hardy Amish couple twice my age who quickly passed us both descending and ascending!

It felt like we were walking for hours and the views in all directions were dizzying, although we only made it about 3 miles down. The Canyon is so vast, just when you think you have gotten your bearings visually and physically, the space opens up and swallows you again.

Later on, at the Yavapai Geology museum, we saw exhibits describing the Canyon as a kind of encyclopedia of geologic time as snapshots displayed the earth's history from over 1800 million years ago. It's hard to wrap your brain around that kind of time volume, but staring out at all those rock layers I saw people become quiet and kind to each other. Being in the presence of something so monumental and bigger than our modern material life seems to help us tune into the better parts of ourselves.

This family drew together as the sun began to set, lovely to watch as another day came to a close on the beautiful South Rim.

Coming soon: more drawings from our Southwest trip including adventures on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, and a hike across Utah's stunning Monument Valley!