Driving American Southwest, looking for reboot
Over a recent 10 days, your local columnist has been careening around the American Southwest in search of an attitude reboot and increasing amounts of wine as the passenger (hostage?) in an SUV piloted by her daughter.
I found it. Maybe the kid — should I stop calling her that? She’s 26 — did, too.
Anyone who has toured the Southwest cannot help being awestruck by the grandeur and majesty of the land. The amazing geological formations are breathtaking. (Literally, since the elevation is 6,000 to 8,000 feet higher than here.)
Our first stop after an overnight stay at a less-than-impressive motel next to a strip club in Phoenix was the Grand Canyon. Talk about contrasts. Daughter Eleanor, who grew up in Florida, never had seen the canyon as a child and could utter only one particular word over and over. The word is not one we typically print at this family newspaper.
She was expecting something along the lines of a big ditch, not the mile-deep and 10-mile-across Canyon splashed by rocks of oranges and reds with the green Colorado River rushing through the bottom.
The coming days were like successive punches to the senses, sparking even more wonder.
There was a float trip through Glen Canyon with its 1,500-foot sheer cliffs on either side and its 46-degree water contrasting with temperatures of 115 or higher in the boat.
There was bizarre Bryce Canyon National Park with its wind-carved stone structures that must have left frontiersmen gaping in astonishment and left your own columnist with a heart rate of 174 beats per minute while hiking up and out. Turns out that hiking into the Canyon is a snap. (“C’mon, Mom!” Is the kid trying to kill me?)
And there was Mesa Verde National Park, the home of cliff dwellers who were making the transition from wandering tribe to farming society and who built homes that still stand today, even though they abandoned the cozy cliffs for reasons unknown about 1,300 AD.
The nation’s national parks in the Southwest make it easy to see why the people who lived there, before America was “discovered” by Europeans, found their God in nature. Vista after showy vista captured the eye, contrasting with the stark realities of living in a desert that gets fewer than 15 inches of rain a year.
Native Americans lived with the everyday reality of knowing they were at the mercy of forces far greater than themselves, forces that could and did change their lives in a twinkling. No wonder their deep brown eyes speak of long-ago civilizations in times no one can remember. No wonder their outlook is so different from the phone-obsessed generation back East whose goal is to find the perfect coffee blend.
The deep roots of the natives whose ancestors lived in New Mexico for thousands of years before the Jamestown settlement, the first English colony, stretch into the soil at the longest continuously inhabited UNESCO World Heritage site in North America, called Taos Pueblo. It’s just outside the northwest New Mexico city of Taos, which is Mount Dora on steroids, all wonderful art, shopping for free trade items and hand-spun wool. And wine. Turns out that local ones are unexpectedly wonderful.
This vacation took longer than most for the reboot to kick in. First, one must get used to the sweeping splendor of the American Southwest, and that takes some time. Here in Florida we’re reminded of our powerlessness and mortality only occasionally, such as when an alligator eats a clueless human or a Category 5 hurricane threatens.
And then, your columnist had gotten more than the usual dose of Trump-preoccupied Facebook posters whose internet diarrhea filled the soul with more mean-spirited nonsense than is customary.
Eleanor hikes through Bryce Canyon National Park while her mother struggles behind with a nearstroke heart rate of 174 beats a minute.
Daughter of local columnist Lauren Ritchie explores the ruins of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, where the earliest ancestors of the Pueblo people lived until the Middle Ages.