April 16, 2016

Southwest 1: Joshua Tree & the Grand Canyon

Written November 4, 2015
It's 5 o'clock (somewhere, I think here, my phone has been lying to me off and on and we've gone through so many time zones/daylight savings time shifts/etc/augh my internal clock is shot to hell but right now it's not dark but it's definitely thinking about it so we'll go with 5).

It's 5 o'clock, and I am supposed to be at the Grand Canyon right now.  Instead I'm in Williams, Arizona sprawled across the orange and tan comforter characteristic of a Motel 6, watching the snow fall and fall and fall, an hour south of the American landmark I was most looking forward to seeing.  Two days ago, I could gladly walk around outside barefoot.  Today, I can't even drive down the road for a takeout pizza.

My weather app tells me it's 28 degrees and the high tomorrow is only 37.  It's not going to get above freezing until 10 a.m.  The Grand Canyon may have to wait.
I am so glad though, so so glad, that I got to experience Joshua Tree.  I guess I remembered the name from the U2 song, and the name - Joshua Tree - just sounded so romantic.  And it was conveniently between LA and the Grand Canyon, so that's where I stopped for a night.
I left Los Angeles with the windows down, my left arm out one side and Bixby's head out the other.  Nobody else's were open, and I pictured their little LA heaters blasting in the 60-something degree weather.  We drove east, really east, not just a little side jaunt on a connecting highway, for the first time on the trip.  Got gas in California for the last time.  Bought food for camping at a store called Food 4 Less for the only time.
When we got to the park, I went into the visitor center first thing, where the ranger recommended Hidden Valley Campground for the wind cover and, when I told her I was traveling with a dog, warned me about the coyotes.  She'd seen them stalk a small dog while its owners set up camp, completely unaware.  But there were no bears in the park.  Mountain lions, sure, but I was promised I wouldn't see those.  And I tell you what, worrying about coyotes is a piece of cake after worrying about bears.  The only thing you have to do is put all your food stuff in the car and not let your dog off leash. Check and double check.
Joshua Tree was stunning.  Almost comically stunning, because joshua trees are some of the ugliest plants I've seen in my life.  They're like stunted, furry palm trees, or maybe like the trees in The Lorax but muddy-colored.  They're actually not trees, they're some sort of plant related to the yucca, but they're as tall as trees, short trees anyway, and they stretch out across the desert until the flatlands spike up into mountains.  Joshua trees don't grow in clumps, which I found odd, but are spaced fairly evenly apart.  Each gets its own muddy, furry, joshua bubble.
Rising up between the joshua trees are enormous rock formations.  Now take what you're imagining and double it, at least.  HUGE.  Eighty feet tall?  A hundred and twenty?  I'm awful at estimations.  You'd look at them and see a rock climber or two and then you'd look harder and see five more, climbing up the crevices, perched in the nooks and crannies of these boulder skyscrapers.  And the sky!!  We had some clouds, but they crouched near the horizon and didn't interfere at all with the crisp, clear blue or, later, the blanket of stars blinking down at us.  
We heard coyotes a few times after dark, and Bixby got all worked up each time they howled.  There were lots of them, some closer than others but none close enough to see, and their cacophony was a thing to behold.  Bixby answered them, barking and shaking and refusing to stop until they did.
Written April 16, 2016

Spoiler alert: I got to see the Grand Canyon.
We got up the next morning and peaced fairly early.  It's funny, I remember my bootprints in the snow at the motel, but I don't remember the drive from Joshua Tree to Williams at all.  We stopped at gas stations, I'm sure, and we probably listened to a podcast or two and some musicals and inevitably Girl Talk, but once we got out of the park I don't remember anything except the snow.  It was a novelty at first, a few flakes on the ground, but it quickly turned into a full-on snowstorm that was dangerous to drive in.  Like I mentioned in the entry I wrote and saved months and months ago, I was supposed to go to the Grand Canyon, but I had to put it off because I didn't trust my driving or my car to get me there safely.  So instead we went to a Motel 6 and watched cable tv.
By the time we had to vacate the room the next morning, the snow had cleared enough for us to drive the two-lane road due north that led to the Grand Canyon.  I thought about skipping it, since it was an hour in the exact wrong direction and going would put me in Tucson after dark, but for goodness' sake, I was about to be an hour from THE GRAND CANYON, so I called my couchsurf host to let him know I'd be later than anticipated and turned left instead of right off of I-40.  
And oh, it was worth it.

We didn't stay long.  I was eager to get on the road, eager to see people I knew and to settle in a place for more than a night, didn't want to get there too too late.  But the parking lot filled with cars, the air still brisk from snow, the stubby pine trees, the sidewalks and signs pointing the way, and the canyon laid out in front of us - it was the most exciting thing.

They have fences at the Grand Canyon.  It makes sense, but I didn't realize for some reason, I thought people just didn't get too close to the rim.  But everyone was pressed up against the fences, goggling over the edge of it, using selfie sticks and chattering.  I felt strange being there alone, but it was just me and Bix for all the small moments, so it made sense that it was just us for - not the biggest moment, maybe the most renowned moment - too.  
There's this quote from a book that pops into my head whenever I am awestruck by nature.  Nicole Krauss is describing an event, this terrible but incredible event, and she says, "How can I explain that we took this personally?"  There is nothing personal about the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree.  They are ancient and established and have nothing to do with me individually.  And yet.  I stood there, in both places, and looked at the landscapes and felt small and amazed and - knowing there was absolutely no reason to - took everything so very personally.