Sunday, October 19, 2014
Rounding the Corner
Our tour of the Southwest is over and, when I turn north this morning to follow the California coastline from San Luis Obispo to Carmel, I'm sure the rental car and I will begin to smell the barn. We are on the home stretch of what has already been 6,000 mile journey across America. It might be said that we've really seen the country, but that would be a mistake. Our wavy path on the map is like one strand of curly hair on a massive head. It covers so little. America is huge and, contrary to conventional description, except for a few spots, it is a land totally devoid of people and roads. Most of it still consists of open space covered by sagebrush, native grasses, rocky outcroppings, forests, or, over the former prairie, miles of corn or soybeans. Driving across these stretches, I am continuously struck by the country's beauty, including those areas what some people might refer to as wasteland, The scenery from these lonely, desolate places are serene, virtually undisturbed by the hubbub of human activity, and convey a vision of an earlier time in history. For those who appreciate the past intellectually or sense the magical aspect of nature aesthetically, seeing this vast emptiness brings a certain joy to the travel experience. It is much like the feeling a person has when he discovers a fossil in a long hidden rock. He has uncovered something special, ancient and seemingly timeless.
This sensation is revealed in the first photo showing two tabletop mesas from U.S. 199 just south of the Utah-Arizona border. The location is on the Navajo reservation and these monuments clearly served until recently as directional markers for indigenous people who wandered the countryside. Modern time has altered the view dramatically as seen by the fence and telephone poles in the foreground, but these monoliths remain steadfast and stoic in spite of change.
The second picture comes from the trail leading to the base of Canyon de Chelly near Chenle, Arizona. It shows the red sandstone of the palisade walls that line the canyon and a peek of its verdant green floor which once was lined with fruit trees. Its stillness and the soothing beauty of its texture creates a healing potion which pervades the air. I have sensed this essence when visiting cemeteries or, in this case, battlefields, before. This place marks the site that saw the end of the powerful Navajo nation. In 1863, aided by the famous explorer Kit Carson, the cavalry attacked and decimated the terrified remnants of the tribe which had sought refuge in the canyon. The frightened survivors were then rounded up, removed, and marched three hundred miles to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico to be sequestered on a reservation.
The third shot demonstrates that it is hard to take a bad picture of the Grand Canyon. Undeterred by the fact that the South Rim is inundated by tourists every day of the year or that the roads from Williams or Flagstaff are clogged with traffic, the pilgramage to our country's Mecca is worth it. The place defines grandeur pure and simple. Although geologically a young phenomenon, scoured out by huge flooding of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon feels permanent. Does that impression inspire a sense of security in its viewers that, in spite of everything harmful to the environment away from here, that this place will remain unaffected and preserve an aesthetically amazing world?
The last photo taken of the edge of a small lake near the entrance to Vernal, Utah, I saved for the end. I don't want to add words, Fill in your own description as you read this. Let the colors and shapes form your thoughts as a brief break from your daily routine. Become a traveler for just a moment.