For some reason sleep didn’t come easy and I tossed and turned most of the night. It was windy, which might have been the reason, subconsciously aware that things just weren’t right, I couldn’t fall into a quality sleep. The wind eventually had me up as I realized my table was left out and I didn’t want it flying like a kite into the side of the camper. So I jumped out of the camper, Mabel slightly disturbed, and I secured the table in the moonlight. Crisis averted.
We weren’t the only ones that decided to get up between 5:30 and 5:45 to watch the sunrise, as a number of us walked from the campground to the Desert View Watchtower. The tower is a reproduction, built in 1932, and designed by architect Mary Colter in the style of ancestral pueblo watchtowers. To my untrained eye it looked authentic, like it had been in place may years prior to when it was actually erected. It is closed this early in the morning so I can’t see what it looks like inside.
Most of those waiting by the tower on what looked like a cement deck, seemed to be tourists from Asia and Europe, their dress and mannerisms just slightly different from what I would perceive as Americans. I like how they pose for photos, some acting like little kids or flashing peace signs garishly dressed in American pop culture. But it was a good vantage point to take in the sunrise, and we had an unobstructed view of the small orange pinprick that was the early morning sun. It quickly grew bigger, rising higher in the sky and bathing the canyon in its orange glow. I was reminded of my time in Montauk two years ago when I drove out to catch the sunrise. The sun’s progression similar in fashion, just a different area illuminated. I guess each day offers the same sun, the only difference is where you see it rise.
We exit the campground and make our way westward along the South Rim, stopping for pictures at the many viewpoints. It is hard to describe the immense canyon, the actual distances difficult to perceive as you look out at the vista. At times it looks miniature, similar to an elementary school diorama, it seems like I can reach out and touch the other side. But that is illusion, according to the NPS, the canyon, at its extremes, can stretch for 18 miles at a depth of 6,000 feet. The colors pop in the sun, the soil striated, offering multi-color views of reds and browns and sands and grays. Small bushes, where seen, dot the landscape, their green pulling the attention, if just for second, from the canyons vibrant colors. The canyon is a constant picture, images and not words the only way to accurately portray its evolution as the sun dances on its sides.
At one of our stops I spot a woman standing along the edge painting a portion of the canyon. She is part of a group that paints exclusively outside and has come over from Colorado for her art. A former illustrator, she decided to go back to painting for herself instead of creating for someone else. This is her love, standing at the canyon’s edge, interpreting the canyon’s soul with a paintbrush. She creates her own structure, no one dictating her schedule and she loves the freedom that life outside of the corporate world provides. We talk for a while, telling each other our stories, and I feel like I am intruding on her time, the canyon calling for her to finish. But she is enthusiastic about what I am doing and offers an interesting piece of advice; “If your dreams aren’t scary, then they aren’t big enough.” I can relate as my dream has brought me halfway around the country and away from Sheri for almost two months. My life turned upside down when I pulled out of the drive way in July and I was banking on a small bit of talent that would keep people interested in my journey. I left the land of spreadsheets and emails to see America and determine my path for the next 20 odd years. The decision to follow my dream and throw responsibility aside affects my family and if I roll craps they suffer along with me. But the prospect of succeeding, winning at the game of life and not just surviving through the struggle keeps me driving down the road of uncertainty.
“They believe in me more than I do”, I tell her when describing my support system. “Then you are golden,” she tells me, “believe in those that carry the torch for you.” I leave feeling good, a person in tune with their true self, someone who took a chance and won according to their own definition, an addition to my support team.
I travel past the Visitor Center and the Market Plaza turning around at the end of the Village by the hotels. They look neat and I would like to stay at one, their proximity to the canyon allowing for a visiting experience different than that for most visitors. The search for souvenirs brings me to the Market Plaza and a combination of groceries, prepared food, and Grand Canyon memorabilia. A one stop survival shop for your Grand Canyon experience and it offers ample parking. I leave with my wallet a little lighter, guaranteed to remember my time here through my purchases. A visit to the nearby post office allows others to also enjoy my time at the canyon. Post cards, although low tech, are a fun and adequate method of sharing my trip.
We have seen what we needed to see, Mabel enjoyed the view but said there was a similarity at each stop. Did we get used to the canyon’s beauty in our short time here? Is it harder to amaze us and does present day society require a short-term attention span? Drive, stop, look, and drive some more.
Onto HWY 64, South to Williams Arizona where I would pick up my westward movement on HWY 40. One last try at Route 66 which is predominantly called out on my Rand McNally map, so we exit at Seligman. It is quiet and not much on the road we travel, the touristy places pop up but are well dispersed. No concentration of decaying American pop culture to gawk at as we speed by. Lots of land out here and we pass through a few small towns as we proceed to our exit at Kingman. There is a close-by KOA but my copilot advises we should rest our heads in California tonight. It will feel good to be close to another corner turn.
The temperatures increase the closer we get to California and we are soon in triple digits. I scribble 105 on my map as we proceed down the highway, but the temps will increase to 113 as we hit the Arizona/California/Nevada triangle. I am not a fan of the heat and was more than glad for air conditioning as we pulled up to what looked like a truck weigh station just inside the California border. A small woman in a government issued brown uniform stops me and asks if I have any fruits/vegetables/plants in my car. I claim the lone apple in the camper, not sure where I purchased it, but my seemingly honest face allowed me to pass. I guess an apple is on a different level than a pickup truck full of potatoes. Steinbeck mentioned the agriculture agents in TWC, their diligence preventing a family with intentions of selling their crop from entering. So, what did they do? According to the author they sat just outside of the border until their potato supply was depleted. Thankfully I didn’t have that type of trouble.
After a few twists and turns we find our stop for the night; the Needles KOA resting just inside of the California border. It is still hot when we pull in and talk with the host. She is nice and has owned the KOA with her husband for the last twelve years but not sure for how long it will last. This is their slow time and I can understand as I walk in the heat. They are shorthanded, only the two of them maintaining the campground until business picks up with the arrival of snowbirds. The watering duties alone taking most of her time.
Our spot is at the back end of the large gravel parking lot. This one broken up by a few trees so I don’t have the repeat feeling of camping at a drive-in movie theatre. We look out at the stretching desert as I set up camp in the 102-degree heat. Yes, it is dry, which is welcome after the heat & humidity we experienced on the East Coast, but, and it is a big but, the heat is still oppressive. The campground is almost deserted, only a few of us using the facilities and they on the other side. But it looks clean and we aren’t planning on staying for an extended period of time.
I “hit the wall” in Needles. Looking at it afterwards, I attribute it to the heat, the desert, and being away for almost two months. Thoughts of “is it worth it?” and “I just want to be home” creep into the forefront of my mind pushing the good thoughts to the back. I call Sheri and she talks me off the ledge, reminding me of all the cool stuff that awaits me on the trip, especially Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. I think of all the people that supported me on this journey, the words of encouragement, the gifts, and the prayers sent my way. I was over half way through when you look at it geographically and knew deep down that I had to go on, I just needed some support. In reality, it would have taken me almost as long to get back if I had decided on retreat than pushing on.
Camp was set and the trailer was cooling down via our little A/C unit. Mabel and I cooled off in the low 70-degree temps, a welcome respite from the heat. I decided on eating out and the camp host told me about the Wagon Wheel, a homestyle restaurant in Needles. We had passed it when we came into town, amazed at the price of gas, $3.99/gallon for cash. There were cars out front and isn’t that the first rule of travel eating? Choose the places that show a full parking lot! It didn’t disappoint as I walked past the small gift shop, the waitress saying to pick an open spot, all with a view of the TV. It was decorated in a 1960’s view of the old west and I ordered a large lemonade and the meatloaf after sliding into a booth. Hunger was averted and I returned to camp feeling better, even though I ticked off the lady in the gift shop. My map folding skills aren’t the best.
We settled in for the night only to be awoken by a driving rain on the camper. It sounded like marbles hitting the roof and we both became super aware. The wind picked up and the camper started rocking. The camper’s tail was exposed to the open desert allowing the wind to have its way with us. I worried about the clam shell door opening and flying off like a wing so I jumped out and verified it was latched. Disaster averted! My only neighbor, a motorcyclist tent camping a few spots away, looked to be okay but I didn’t invite him in from the wind. Thankfully the storm passed quickly and we could finally fall back to sleep.
Thankful tonight that I was able to call Sheri.