Enchanted Landscapes II
Humans are not the only species on earth, we just act like it.
Chief Joseph, Nez Percé Tribe
C’est beau! C’est magnifique! C’est grandiose! C’est immense! These exclamations by MariThé mirror the expressive joys of children opening presents on Christmas Day. As we traversed the Southwest, our friends, MariThé and Christian, marveled at the varied scenery, from the lush green terrains east of the Mississippi to the parched earth of the desert. Their appreciation heightened our enjoyment of the breathtaking beauty of the Southwest landscapes. Until their arrival, their images of the Southwest had been gleaned through Westerns. As we rode along the vast plains, we could envision the cowboys on their broncos, bandanas in the wind, rounding up herds in a cloud of dust, the cries of giddy-up and yippy-yi-yay echoing in the distance.
For them, and for us I suppose, the Grand Canyon was the definitive marker of this vast and distinctive region, the likes of which cannot be found east of the Mississippi. Like many tourists getting their first close-up glimpse of the Grand Canyon, we took a two-hour train ride to the South Rim. Before boarding, we were entertained by a Wild West show that was an amusing caricature of the rough cowboy life. Aboard the train, were tourists from England, Germany, France , India and, of course, Americans from across the States. En route to the Grand Canyon, we were entertained by a cowboy violinist; on the return by a humorous singer of folk music from the sixties.
The South Rim offered expansive views of the Canyon and I had trepidations about looking over the barriers. But I did and glimpsed the magnitude of the Canyon’s grandeur. Unlike some, I did not venture out to stand on any of the boulders. There are limits to my new courage! On my next visit to the Grand Canyon, I would like to be more adventuresome and hike in the valley below, perhaps even climbing to the rim.
That would give me a different perspective of the Canyon’s unparalleled grandeur. I got a taste of it back in the late eighties, as a Kellogg Fellow, during a rafting trip along the Colorado River with my other Class VIII Fellows.
Before visiting the national parks in Utah, we stopped at the Hoover Dam on our way for an overnight visit with our son, Paul, and daughter-in-law, Katie. Paul, who has developed an interest in cooking, grilled a sumptuous feast of steak, chicken, vegetables along with a green salad and a rich, cheesy pasta dish. Earlier that day, on the Strip, MariThé and Christian were thrilled to see the Eiffel Tower, a bit of the Strip’s tacky character. We were all disappointed that we did not get an Elvis sighting, but there were the occasional scantily clad young women who lured tourists for group pictures. After a short walk, we sat on the veranda of one of the bars lining the Strip and had an expensive Happy Hour beer at $7.00.
The next day, we headed to St. George, Utah, where we spent two lovely days at the home of our friends, Bob and Pat Kill, who had already left for their summer and fall stay in South Bend. St. George was our base for visits to Zion and Bryce. From the extraordinary beauty of these imposing landscapes, and the others we were yet to see, Utah rivals New Mexico as a land of enchantment. Even the rainy day at Zion did not dampen our enthusiasm. Strangely, the walk in a steady rain between majestic rock formations along a fast moving river seemed to heighten our sense of wonderment. Interestingly, we were greeted by a squirrel perched on a long boulder who did not seem to mind the attention from passersby.
From Zion we went on to Bryce, and as Bob Kill alerted us, Bryce was unusual. Called “Poetry in Stone,” Bryce opens up to wide panoramic vistas. Its geologic formations create interesting shapes and soft pink tones. What Bob referred to as unusual were the plethora of sculpted statuesque rock shapes, commonly named hoodoos. They owe their peculiar shape to erosion caused by melting snow and ice that seeps into the rock, and once the water re-freezes, expands forming cracks. The name itself evokes something eerie, but as we stood at seven thousand feet of altitude peering in the distance, these shapes captured strength and grace.
In all we spent five days touring Utah’s national parks. At Zion and Bryce we used the shuttle, stopping at interesting places for short hikes. At the other parks, particularly at Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches, we were able to explore the environs more easily on foot. When I asked MariThé what was her favorite park, she refused to choose, opting instead to embrace each one equally. My favorite was Capitol Reef because of its deep rich reddish hues that seem to envelop the entire landscape. Light seemed to gently caress the stately rock formations, changing in intensity as the day progressed from morning to mid-afternoon.
What is remarkable about Utah’s national parks is their distinctive character. No one is alike; each has its charm. Canyonlands is as different from Capitol Reef as Bryce is to Arches. Canyonlands is broad and immense, Arches more contained atop a grand mesa. And it is Arches, with its many arched openings in rocks, that is the most marketed and ubiquitous image of Utah’s national parks. Our only disappointment there was the road construction that prevented us from seeing some of the spectacular sites we’ve read about or seen pictures of.
Although there is diversity of landscapes and geologic formations in the national parks we visited, there is one constant, the admonition not to veer off the defined paths for fear of destroying the natural vegetation and soil sediments. Yet, often we saw footprints on forbidden terrain. So shameful that these sacred spaces were violated! As we traveled through the parks, placards strategically placed gave us insights into the scenery we were observing and educated us about the interconnectedness of the global ecosystem. Air pollution across the oceans can cause harm to the fragile ecosystems in the parks. What happens in Peoria affects the fragile environs of the parks.
Another indication of the broad reach of the global community was our encounters of people from all over the world. Besides meeting many European and Asian travelers like ourselves, Melanie happened upon a woman in Capitol Reef about twenty years younger than she, who was born in the same Massachusetts town and who graduated from the same high school in Auburn. Now that’s serendipity!
From Arches, we began our trek back to the Midwest, but not before visiting Indiana-transplanted-to-Wyoming-friends, Bob and Carol Mathia, who have a cottage in Estes Park, Colorado. There we spent two relaxing days. Melanie and Carol played Scrabble. MariThé was enthralled by the elk on the golf course behind their home. And we all took a leisurely stroll in the Rockies. We would have loved to explore more but several paths and roads were closed from a recent snowstorm. The chilly temperature and snow at the high altitudes were startling contrasts to the warmer clime and earth tone colors of the Southwest.
For MariThé and Christian, this journey is one that they will long remember – 5,900 miles total. It may not be the complete travels of Toqueville, but it was nevertheless, amazing! And it was for us as well!