New Mexico

June 25 - June 26


Saturday - Day One

On the way to Barstow, the first town on the way to New Mexico, we watch the moon rise. It is 1:05 (a.m.), and the moon comes up slowly, looking like a distant wedge of orange, a perfect half-circle. "Imagine camping under that," Philip says. By 1:40 it is still perfect, but bright and dime-silver, and we are driving towards it. The road is straight and flat, and from what we can see of the vegetation on the verge and in the centre of the highway it has the stunted, brown look of desert plants. The air outside is cool, not cold, and we have passed a sign telling us not to use our AC to avoid overheating (it holds true, I presume, for the day). We are nearing a town called Ludlow, and between it and Needles (the last stop before Arizona) there are no services, we are warned. And after that, we will drive into the sunrise, and head towards the Grand Canyon.


At 3:25 we cross the Arizona state line. The AAA map tells us that we cross into Mountain Time, and so we put the clock forward to 4:25. Between 6 and 7 we turn onto the road that leads up to Tusayan, a small place just south of the Canyon. The sun is rising and the world has that freshness that it has at that time of the morning. We get to the Holiday Inn that we have booked for the night, and though the AAA tourbook tells us that we can't check in till 4 p.m. Our first thought is to have breakfast. There is a larger hotel opposite the Holiday Inn, and it seems to have a dining room, so we follow two early-bird elderly women out for a constitutional walk as they march inside. Nothing seems open. We ask at the front desk whether breakfast will be served, and we are told that the dining room will open at 6:30 (our watches say 7:20). Then Philip asks: "Does Arizona use Daylight Savings Time?" and it turns out it doesn't (all except for the Navajo Indian Reserve in the north-east, which does). So we decide to go over to the Holiday Inn let them know we are here anyway (both of us would be glad to see a bed). They tell us we can leave our luggage if we want to, and that there will be something ready by 11 or 12, and so we go across the road and have some breakfast.

The place where we stop, Tusayan, is named after a Native (Indian, as Americans would say) village that is found inside the Grand Canyon National Park. Where we are, though, is by no means a village. It is a resort stop, with one single highway heading towards the Grand Canyon, lined with motels, one big hotel, and various cafes and fast food places. Oh, and a gas station or two. It has a pretty new look; the highway is recently paved, and the big hotel, the Grand Canyon Star, looks as though it was just unwrapped. This time, when we enter, the restaurant is open and we have breakfast.

The people who enter the restaurant as we do, and after us, all have the sleek, well-oiled look of guests in a murder mystery. You know the kind - the Murder-She-Wrote kind, the Agatha Christie kind, where a group of people gather in some exotic location and then one by one they begin to die off. As we sit, being served by people who are Spanish-speakers or Natives, the others who gather (and who are obviously part of a tour group) sit together and have the cheery sorts of conversations that people who are about to be bumped off in movies have with one another. They are all of an average age of about 60, many of them white-haired and vigorous, but there is at least one 'Ooh I Married A Rich Man' type (imagine her played by, for those of you who know this person, Dixie Carter) as well as a family of real Indians (from India). Philip and I begin to weave our own plot for them.

After we eat, we set off north for the Grand Canyon. It is 7:10 on a Saturday morning, there are no clouds in the sky (we are, after all, on the edge of a desert), and a clear road. The road ends at a toll booth which marks the entrance to the park. We pay $20 for the privilege of entering, and then follow the road until it comes to a parking lot. We pull in, and there, in front of us, IT IS.

Philip at the Grand Canyon

Let me try to describe it. Imagine yourself on the edge of the earth. Before you the ground falls away not neatly, but reluctantly, thrusting itself up here and there, its blood showing. Forget it; there are no words. I'll try again: The sun is not yet up high enough to illuminate the whole canyon, which descends for a mile from the rim to the Colorado River on its floor, and the cliffs and rocks and hills that the river missed as it wore away the land on its journey were all subtly red and brown and gold, with dark green bits on the rims and at the floor where vegetation grows. But as the sun rises, the canyon burns more and more brightly, and the shadows cast by the sun outline its beauty more and more sharply. It is a clear day, and we can see (it seems) forever; there is a little mist or smoke to the east, where the sun still hasn't really reached, but to the west we can see the juts and formations of all the rocks.

In the tour book it says that people leave this place and don't really have the words to describe it. It's true! All we could say as we got to each different lookout point was WOW.

I don't even know if the photos or video will do it justice but we will see in due time. We walk for a little over two miles looking at this amazing canyon from different angles but we have not even seen half of it. We then drive for a few miles for another view and realise that we could drive for two more hours for yet another view but we decide that that will have to wait for another visit at another time when we are only doing Arizona. The thing about this type of road trip is that you can't spend as much time in each place as you might like but at least you get to see a lot of different places.

The Grand Canyon at dawn
So we FINALLY pulled ourselves away from the canyon, as it neared eleven, and drove back to the hotel congratulating ourselves on having got there early. It was a bright, clear Saturday, and as we left the cars were crowding into the park. We returned to our Holiday Inn and slept.

back to los angeles
 on to day two


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los angeles
new mexico
new york city
quebec city