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June 22, 2018 / annakpf11

At Nature’s Mercy

 “Adopt the pace of Nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

DAYS EIGHT & NINE: June 11 & 12: Grand Canyon

Being on the road again after two nights at Bryce Canyon feels right and good, like a pair of shoes that have molded to fit our feet.

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At lunchtime, we park at a scenic spot, avail ourselves of our in-house kitchen, and then resume our drive through a surprising and ever-changing landscape. A cliff face dripping with brick-red streaks looks as if Jackson Pollack has spilled gallons of rust-colored paint. Pink swirls of color embedded in the rounded contours of white stone bring a strawberry parfait to mind.

In the town of Kanab (or Kebab, as Dave likes to call it), we stock up on groceries at Honey’s Market, and then begin the 40-mile approach to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The road leading to the national park entrance rolls like a long green hallway through a seemingly endless series of broad meadows bordered by pine and aspen trees. At the park gate, we wait in a brief queue and then show our pass to the ranger, who waves us through. The valley narrows and the trees march closer to the road, as if escorting us the final ten miles.

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Eager for our first sight of one of the seven wonders, we bypass the campground and drive all the way to the lodge, perched, it seems, at the very edge of the world.

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A small lobby leads to an observation lounge, and then, beneath and beyond us, we see the patient handiwork of the Colorado River.

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A mind-boggling array of layered cliffs created by hard and soft substances eroding at different rates.

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This place is like a staircase through time, a testament to the transformative power of incremental change.

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After gazing our fill (for now), we make our way to our campsite, a gently sloping piece of ground shaded by slender aspen trees. Not a breath of wind ruffles their heart-shaped leaves, and the temperature pushes towards 90 degrees.

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Dave positions our folding chairs in the shade, and we relax with a cold beer. I try to check the weather forecast on my mobile phone, but the signal is too weak. We know the occasional data blackout is to be expected—even relished; we are camping, after all—and so without the ability to check local weather, research the area, stay in touch with loved ones or keep abreast of current events, we do our best to surrender to the mercy of what we don’t know.

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For dinner, Dave hooks up our portable propane barbecue in preparation for grilling steaks. He opens a bottle of Côtes du Rhone and pours us each a glass. I stand at Suzy’s two-burner stove, gratefully basking in the steam from simmering zucchini and farro. The high desert climate has left my skin feeling as withered as shed snakeskin, and as rough to the touch.

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There are no bears here, and we are able to sleep with Suzy’s back doors wide-open, cool breeze on our pillows. Stars as bright as spotlights shine through gaps in the trees. I think of the long river of geologic time, the brief span of our mortal lives, and how glad I am to be here now.

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The next morning, before the sun becomes uncomfortably hot, Dave rides his bike to the lodge for lunch, a little over a mile away. I elect to walk (better for building bone density), and prepare for the trek by dousing my long-sleeved cotton shirt with water. For about five minutes, I feel blissfully cool and damp.

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After an hour, I return to our campsite covered with a thin veneer of trail dust, every cell in my body sucked dry. I pack a bike pannier with the requisite washing supplies and bicycle to the shower hut, only to realize I have forgotten the most vital ingredient: cash. Six quarters for six minutes. I cycle back to Suzy, grab my wallet, ride to the campground store, procure change for two dollars, and finally pedal back (uphill) to the shower house. Out of four stalls, one is occupied and two display hand-written signs declaring “OUT OF ORDER”. I scurry into the available cubicle, lock the door, and dutifully insert quarters into the coin tray. A short pause, and then the blessed sound of splashing water. The faucet is turned all the way to HOT, but the water temperature never gets past warm. Never mind. At least it’s wet. I quickly shampoo, condition and rinse my hair, finishing just as the water goes cold, and well before six minutes are up. The automatic shower keeps running, an unfortunate waste of resources, but there’s no way to shut it off.

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Late in the afternoon, a text from a friend somehow crosses the data blackout zone. There are wildfires, she writes, road closures and poor air quality in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. This is where we are heading tomorrow. She includes a link to a news article that I cannot access with the minimal phone signal at our campsite. Seeking enlightenment, Dave and I hike to the campground store and join other tourists with heads bent to their phones, patiently attempting to use a public wifi signal about as speedy as the forces that shaped the Grand Canyon. Eventually we manage to find out some bad news about the fires. We also learn that temperatures in Denver and the Moab area are predicted to soar into the upper 90’s and 100’s. On a more inspiring note, we make the acquaintance of a seasoned canine traveler.

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Back at Suzy, we weigh our options. We consider changing our route, but we’d have to go to Alaska or South America to find cooler temperatures. Or San Francisco, but the idea of cutting our trip short feels like giving up. Besides, we’re looking forward to pre-arranged meet-ups with friends in Moab and Denver. “We’re in the middle of HOT,” Dave says, punctuating his statement with a sip of chilled Chablis.

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Both of us are enjoying the rhythm of the road, and yet if we carry on, we fear we will spend most of the next two weeks avoiding toxic smoke and punishing heat. For now, we defer making any decisions. It is our last night in the Grand Canyon, and in this moment all is well, and we have everything we need.

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One Comment

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  1. Ollie / Jun 22 2018 7:26 am

    I’m in awe of the scenery you two are getting to see! Loving the updates. Much love from me and the boys x

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