Dude awak­en­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 1 feel, es­pe­cially when un­der the lee of those im­memo­rial hills. The best ho­tel is off the beaten track: L’Au­berge de Se­dona, where you stay in lovely wooden lodges with open fires and heavy wardrobes, and sip your bour­bon out­side, lis­ten­ing to the Oak Creek River run­ning by.

Se­dona is renowned as a cen­tre for cut-price meta­physics. In 1981, a fa­mous psy­chic called Page Bryant dropped by, said she’d ex­pe­ri­enced seven

vor­texes’’ of un­usual spir­i­tual en­ergy in the roads around the town, and called Se­dona the heart-chakra of the planet’’. Ever since, it’s lured New Agers looking for a vor­tex to stand un­der (all seven are marked with a squig­gle on lo­cal maps).

North from Se­dona is the hill­side ghost town of Jerome, a for­mer sil­ver and cop­per-min­ing town that went bust in the 1929 Wall Street crash and is now mostly in­hab­ited by artists. It looks a scrappy place, but has some very fancy shops. I spend far too long there, wan­der­ing the streets, buy­ing saucy post­cards at a for­mer brothel called the House of Joy, and break­fast­ing in the English Kitchen, the old­est restau­rant in Ari­zona. You must not miss Jerome: 500 peo­ple live there; two mil­lion visit ev­ery year.

In Flagstaff, where the snow-cov­ered San Fran­cisco Peaks loom over its tiny old quar­ter, I check into the Weatherford Ho­tel, a ram­shackle but charm­ing es­taminet with a wrap­around ve­randa, ev­i­dently pinched from New Orleans.

I later dis­cover few tour op­er­a­tors send tourists to the Weatherford be­cause of the freight trains that sound their ear-split­ting, grind­ing-metal klaxon all through the night. I think I’ll be com­forted, re­call­ing Paul Si­mon’s song

but by 4am I re­flect that only masochists like the sound of the bloody things close up.

Flagstaff has a nice 1950s diner, the Galaxy, some flour­ish­ing gun shops (in Ari­zona, you don’t need a per­mit; just keep it in a hol­ster and make sure it’s vis­i­ble when a cop pulls you over, OK?) and a jolly bar called the Mo­gol­lon Brew­ery in the his­toric cen­tre, where they dis­til vodka. Try the prickly pear ver­sion, which tastes, sur­pris­ingly, of pear drops.

There is only one place for my jour­ney to end: where Thelma and Louise wound up, in mid-air. But how do you ex­plain the Grand Canyon to some­one who hasn’t seen it?

Should I tell you about the fi­nal jour­ney in the Mus­tang, how the rain comes on just out­side Flagstaff and buck­ets down while huge trucks en route for Cal­i­for­nia hurl sheets of wa­ter over the wind­screen? How the rain ceases and the base of a gor­geous rain­bow shows in the dis­tance and in my pe­riph­eral vi­sion the unimag­in­ably mas­sive Colorado plateau be­gins to un­fold it­self like a wak­ing gi­ant?

And the dis­tant land­scape takes on an un­earthly, moon­scape qual­ity that makes me shud­der, but just then the other leg of the rain­bow ap­pears to my left, and I have to won­der if I’ve per­haps been a bit hasty about giv­ing up be­liev­ing in God at 15?

And sud­denly there is a road­side Scenic View sign and a walk­way pop­u­lated by Navajo In­di­ans sell­ing beads, and I park nearby and have my first, very par­tial sight of the colos­sal rocks, the 600m drop, the river snaking along be­low, and I think, gosh, that re­ally is some­thing.

Al­though I still have no idea what is ly­ing in wait at jour­ney’s end, and I get back in the car and drive an­other 48km or so into the Grand Canyon Na­tional Park on a never-end­ing road to some­thing called the South Rim, where I park the Mus­tang at last and stretch my legs, still in­no­cent of the im­men­sity nearby, and I clamp my new cow­boy hat fur­ther for­ward on my brow against the icy wind.

I take 30 steps for­ward and can feel my jaw grad­u­ally but in­ex­orably drop­ping to my breast and my heart pound­ing like jun­gle drums as I walk nearer and nearer to the South Rim.

I watch as the canyon rises in front of me at last, and it is like in­spect­ing a new planet, see­ing the great dwellings and stat­ues and pub­lic sculp­tures of an un­known civil­i­sa­tion of Ti­tans and all th­ese mighty struc­tures seem, ab­surdly, to be alive and brood­ing and wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen, a gi­gan­tic sub­ter­ranean queue of stolid mon­u­ments wait­ing pa­tiently for res­ur­rec­tion.

And as I stand there wrestling with the im­pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing words to de­scribe this amaz­ing sight, the bits of rain­bow that have ac­com­pa­nied me from Flagstaff ac­tu­ally come to­gether in the sky, like some cheesy sym­bolic wel­come in a sen­ti­men­tal movie.

I don’t know how they ar­range such things in Ari­zona. All I can say is, Billy Bob was right. You sure as hell are dif­fer­ent when you leave. The In­de­pen­dent


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