Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To Tucson & Back in Ten Paragraphs or Less

Spring Breakathon, as my daughter calls it. We lit out for the open road on Friday, headed for our ultimate destination….Tucson, Arizona. That first day took us through some mighty fine canyon country from the Colorado/Utah border where we watched pronghorns grazing in open grasslands to the southeast corner of Utah and a comfy room at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff. Along the way we drove along the Colorado River through Professor Valley, took a detour up Kane Creek Road to view petroglyphs in Moonflower Canyon, and stopped for a while to check out one of the most enduring roadside attractions…Hole In the Rock, just south of Moab.

Bluff, Utah is a curious amalgam of old Mormon stock, artists, river runners, native americans, and other assorted desert rats. In recent years it’s taken on an almost-hip aura, perhaps the only Utah town to do so. Once we settled into our little room, Lindsay and I took a walk to the banks of the ol’ San Juan River, enjoying the warm sun and solitude. Later that evening we dined at the Twin Rocks Restaurant, about the only place open for business.

However, the next morning we were fortunate enough to be able to have breakfast at Comb Ridge Coffee on the south end of town. Funky, friendly and freewheeling, the Comb Ridge is full of good vibes, old books, neat art and sculpture and, of course, the best coffee in town. Andrea, the proprietress, has a real jones for actor James Mason and his picture graces several parts of the establishment. We shared some blue corn pancakes with Leo, a retired doctor from North Carolina who spends one month a year ministering to the Navajos near Tuba City. He was on an exploring junket for the weekend so we shared some choice spots.

The remainder of the day was spent driving across the Reservation, having lunch and checking out the tacky souvenirs at Cameron, then heading into the Grand Canyon from the east through Desert View. Lipan Point was appropriately silent and spacious, but Grandview Point was full of the typical tourists running amok on the rim’s edge and overwhelming any sense of peace or place. But we met up with our friend Palma in short order and she put us up for the evening at her place on the South Rim and graciously took us to dinner at the El Tovar. We were definitely not in Colorado anymore!

In the morning I took a short drive to the Grand Canyon Village where I had to park illegally in order to get out to a view of the canyon itself. I was disappointed at the poor air quality and quickly headed back to the house. We parted ways with Palma and decided to drive all the way to Tucson without getting on the interstate. We accomplished this by heading for Mormon Lake, just outside of Flagstaff, then climbing up the Mogollon Rim to Payson and Rye, then onward to Roosevelt Lake, Tonto National Monument, and Globe where we got temporarily lost. Eventually we found the road that drops down through Dudleyville and Winkelmann to Oracle and Sue and Jack’s house at the base of the Catalina Mountains. The entire drive took seven hours.

The next four days were spent reveling in the warmth of the Sonoran Desert , if not the glorious spring colors. This has been a dry year in southern Arizona and the plants look pretty stressed. Hardly a wildflower in sight anywhere. But we enjoyed a day at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, another day hiking in Catalina State Park with my cousin Irene, another day hanging out in Old Tucson and going through the Art Museum, and the final, fantastic day walking around Sabino Canyon. Even with all the tourists (like us) running around, it was easy to find secluded places to wade in desert pools while looking up at sere hillsides bedecked in saguaros.

All too soon it was time to head back home. We made a brief stop at Pinnacle Peak near Scottsdale, then drove to Flagstaff under increasingly cloudy skies. The next day drove all the way home through dust storms and buffeting winds in Monument Valley, and around the hazy Abajos and La Sal Mountains. When I turned onto Highway 128, the River Road, just north of Moab, I felt like I was practically at my driveway.

And now it’s back to long pants and pullover shirts again as the winter still hangs on a bit in Grand Junction, but the memories of basking on boulders in Sabino Canyon and sitting by the San Juan River in Bluff will last well into the warm season. Spring Breakathon is over but Spring Equinox has arrived.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Happiness Epiphany

Every once in a while I chance to recall some of those rare, fleeting moments when all was exactly right with the world and the heart was so full that it seemed as if everything was shining and that all of humanity had climbed aboard the Peace Train. Those moments, for me, are like the supernovas of memory - far flung, explosive, illuminating.

There are several that come to mind almost immediately like watching Katchina dancers emerging from a kiva on a cold midnight in March at Shungapovi on the Hopi Mesas; spending a Fathers Day walking through the mud of the Paria River with my daughter Alison; hearing Country Joe & the Fish play Section 43 in person at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco back in 1967 with the first love of my life; sharing a morning with someone special in a Durango, Colorado ski lodge as the narrow gauge train came rumbling by; or emerging cold and wet from the Colorado River having run the rapids of Satan’s Gut in Cataract Canyon as the final rays of sun dipped down below the cliffs.

But the one moment I think of most often occurred nearly nine years ago, not long after moving to our present corner of the world. It was late in May and my wife and I and our youngest daughter Lindsay were returning from a camping trip at my old stomping grounds at Canyonlands National Park. It was the first time I had shared this special place with one of my kids, and I had delighted in watching her climb around the slickrock at Squaw Flat and explore the potholes in the sandstone above Big Spring.

But now we were heading home, driving east along Utah Highway 128, “the River Road”, that magnificent stretch of asphalt that runs along the banks of the Colorado River from Moab, Utah to the Dewey Bridge through some of the most magnificent scenery on earth. We were traversing the Professor Valley, surrounded by free standing red mesas and in view of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. Both my wife and my daughter were asleep in the car as it gently rolled over the ups and downs of the lonely two lane road. A Mark Knopfler guitar solo was providing a musical backdrop for scenery that was so familiar to me and carried so many memories of years past. And I felt for several moments as if I were gliding through space and time, content with everything that I had and that I was and that I ever would ever be. And the tears welled up and the heart nearly burst at that one moment of absolute, pure nirvana.

But within a minute or so, I had to negotiate a sharp curve, and Amy and Lindsay woke up and began talking again, and we continued on past the Dewey Bridge and the old town of Cisco, to the fast lanes of the Interstate and the final leg of our journey home. For me, however, a cosmic needle had stitched all the threads of my life together on that one intensely familiar stretch of Utah road. And the power of that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life to be rerun through my mind whenever I need to brighten my day or put my life into real focus.