Hey! I'm back! Miss me?
Probably not, but like a bruise you can't stop poking at, you return to this page anyway. I'll try not to abuse your delicate state of disturbed intrigue.
While I was away I took notes. I often do this when we travel because I can barely believe what happens to me when I leave the relative safety of my apartment. After all, there are usually people involved in my travels. People that I have not had time to train and condition in the proper etiquette for dealing with moi. As you may have guessed, some instruction is required. I'm a complex (read: annoying and easily frustrated) individual.
Luckily, I have an equally complex traveling companion in my partner, Ume. She's able to translate to most people we meet. She tells people things like, "No, she's not foaming at the mouth because she likes you." And stuff like that.
In the telling of this tale you'll notice the tenses will flip between present and past, don't let it worry you too much. I also kind of bitch a lot, but it's mostly harmless - that is, if you don't have to travel with me.
Y'all are busy too and don't have time for this, so I put these handy highlight links in. The other stuff's not a waste of time, but that's my opinion because I wrote it. --Brulee
My Summer Vacation - Kindasorta early...
A hummingbird flits by - towering white cumulus clouds gather over the mountains in the distance - the sun shines down through palm fronds - damn - this is vacation.
No complaints here, I'm sitting in the lap of luxury. A pool at my feet - a house at my disposal. I'm beginning to see the point behind all of those, "When will a rich girl come rescue me?" fantasies. I wonder if I could convince Ume to get rich...
None of this opulence resembles our travels yesterday. Yesterday was much more like our workaday life. There we were, zipping along the highway, enjoying the scenery from the relative comforts of our trusty (or so we thought) rental vehicle. There was a loud and sudden thump type noise. Moving down the highway at a good clip, a loud bang is not what you wish to hear. But it wasn't followed my a burning smell or any other ominous sign. I looked over at Ume, she looked back. I said, "I'm going to consider that an anomaly."
We drove on a bit before stopping for a bite to eat. Upon exiting the vehicle Ume noticed that one of the headlights had attempted to leap to it's death and was dangling by some wire from its empty socket. Upon closer examination it became clear that the light had been duct taped into the socket, which was why it had fallen out in the first place.
Now, I'm as enthusiastic about duct tape as the next dyke, but I'm telling you right now - it's no substitute for a couple of nuts and bolts where a headlight's concerned. If I wasn't certain of that before I pulled into the next truck stop to purchase a roll of aforementioned magical adhesive tape and retape (a less dainty and more effective job than my discrete taping predecessor) the thing so that it would stay put - I became absolutely certain of it when the wind and pressure popped it out again. You can bet that after I set to work on it a second time it didn't budge. Then again, the entire hood of the car would have stayed put too if it'd been loose. Piece o' crap.
Ume called the rental place and was none too pleased (this was while I was cursing and grumbling at the light in the parking lot and people were staring at me - it felt just like being at home). She told the woman on the phone what had happened and the woman yelled, "Again?!" Now there's an operator that won't last long at that company.
After a tough float in the pool and some reading, Ume's taking a shower before our rigorous afternoon agenda begins. That's right, we plan to do some heavy duty napping. I think we're up to it. We've practiced some. I can't recommend this highly enough (not the headlight thing, of course).
P.S. Thanks to Ume's ace negotiating skills - she was totally suave, the rental agency gave us a good deal for screwing up a day of our vacation. I would have preferred not having our vacation interrupted, but the upgrade they threw in too helped to soothe my ruffled feather.
Tucson, AZ is a nifty town. What we were able to glance of it after our day trip was so rudely interrupted by the suicidal headlight.
It's a place where you can afford to actually live life and the people seem friendly. If living life and being around friendly people is what interests you. Ever read those books about Paris in the twenties and wonder how those people afforded to live that life? Cost of living was way cheaper - Tucson's like that. Very cool.
Between Tucson and Phoenix there's a wild place - Saguaro National Park. I definitely recommend it. I'm not the biggest fan of cacti - especially given my misadventures with one later in the trip, but this place is pretty nifty.
Upon entering Grand Canyon National Park we passed a sign, it said: Feeding and handling wildlife is prohibited!
Ume turned to me and said, "That means there will be no picking up of newts!"
Harass one damn newt in the hills of Pasadena and you're marked for life. I swear.
Who died and made her queen of the national parks anyway? And they already have that bear mascot, I doubt they're looking for a lesbian replacement.
That whole poolside thing sounded pretty cushy, eh? Bet you'd never guess I'd be freezing my ass off the next night, did you? No, Ume did not tire of me and stick me in the freezer in a fit of pique. She was freezing her own ass off right next to me. What's a partner for anyway?
We were camped at the Grand Canyon. The temperature plummeted to 32 F (0 C). Yep, we've never had a firm grasp on the concept of a relaxing, comfortable vacation...
We traded the bright, sunny and hot desert of central AZ for the bright, sunny and frosty at night South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Let me tell you a couple of things about me. First, I'm not a lizard. Second, I'm allergic to sage... apparently.
I've known about the lizard thing for a while, which is why I avoid sunbathing like I'd avoid the plague if I knew it was about. I'm not exactly a delicate flower (though I'm as pretty as one for sure...), but my skin is fair and you know how that goes. If you don't, it goes like this, "Ouch! Stay out of the sun you dope!" So getting a sunburn over breakfast is like an all-time record for me and a lesson that the sun in AZ is no joke, even if I'm way not awake enough to realize it.
And sage... Who knew? I've camped near it before and had no problem. But here, they grow an especially irritating variety. Causes sinuses to go haywire and nonstop watering of the eyes. I could bear it, only there's so much to see! Can't have snotty nose and runny eyes hampering my view.
What's to look at? What's not to look at? You look and look and look and you still can't fathom the scale here. It's too much. At first I saw it and said, "Well there it is. It's big." And that seemed to sum it up well and I felt like I had it all under control and could manage the experience. Problem was, the more I looked, the more I realized that something else was going on.
My first clue was one of the first people we met at the Grand Canyon. He was a middle aged guy here with his twenty-something son. He was holding onto the railing of the lookout we were gazing into the canyon from. His knuckles were white. He moved carefully and stiffly. He was terrified and told us that his son had talked him into a hike the next day and he wasn't all that sure he was up for it, but he'd give it a go. I asked if he usually had a fear of heights and he laughed and said that he was a pilot.
I found that kind of contradictory. Luckily Ume was close at hand to translate this curious phenomenon and told me that in a plane, he had the illusion of control. In the canyon, he didn't. I hope that it doesn't shatter that illusion for him, that would bite. His son seemed to be enjoying his father's newfound weakness (children are jackals, I remember doing the very same thing to my mother at the Twin Towers in NYC as a kid - that guy's father was a whole lot more forgiving...).
As I lost my grasp (which was it's own illusion) on the scale of the place over the next few days, Ume began to find one. We're like that. Unfortunately, as she found it - it expressed itself in things like her constantly telling me not to get too close to the edge and to be careful, careful, careful.
We did some low grade adventuring today. Hit the Bright Angel Trail - the topmost bit. Ume was nervous, but felt better when she saw the width of the trail. The views were stunning and we didn't even go that far (okay, they're stunning from the top too, but it's different as you descend). Every step revealed an amazing sight - not the least of which was Ume herself walking along at times not hugging the wall, having forgotten that precipitous drop over the edge.
Ume has jumpy nerves. She calls it common sense. Personally, I don't think its common sense to presume that disaster will befall you near the edge. Or that a rock slide will start if someone yells on the trail. This is not to say that I'm an extreme sports, hang off the edge of the edge of the trail, tempt fate kind of gal. At some point I think there is such a thing as sense, common or otherwise, and it dictates that you should respect nature and the laws of physics. But I will climb out to the edges of things and generally put Ume in a state if I think there's a good photo in it or an especially interesting view. I can't help myself.
To make things easier on both of us, I try to suppress that urge when she's around or do it when she's distracted by some bit of flora or fauna. That's a good deal of the time, so it works out pretty well.
I took me a hike today! Into the canyon. I'm telling you that it's no joke when they say it's harder coming back up. What they don't tell you is that it's twice as hard as you thought because of the altitude (okay, it's 8000 feet, but I'm from sea level, so there). Once you start up you are almost immediately aware that it's not the usual steep hill you're climbing - when you begin to do that panting thing. It goes away quickly if you rest a minute and start up again. It's worth every step for the sights and the amazing feeling of trekking the canyon - even as briefly as that.
On the way down the very narrow trail (nothing like the other one - Ume's pleased she didn't go) with precipitous drops down sheer cliffs and a gravely surface in some places that made for precarious footing (get the picture?)... this woman wearing a 50 lb. pack went running by me. To do this, she had to hop onto some stones that ran along the edge of the trail.
I cannot describe to you how very stupid that was. Especially because she miss stepped and nearly went over. I guess that's why she had one of those nifty hook thingies on her pack, so that people can grab her before she topples over the edge. I made a grab for the hook thing when it looked like she was going overboard, but she righted herself and continued running down the trail. The ranger who was leading the hike turned and said - totally deadpan, "Must be late to work."
The guy behind me asked what I thought grabbing her would have accomplished besides my own death? I'm on the small side (read: runt of the litter) and the weight of her pack alone could have carried me over the side. He was more experienced at this hiking stuff and has trained himself not to try to stop idiots from plummeting to their deaths. I shrugged and said that I thought that's what the hook thingee on the side of her pack was for. If I'd nabbed her, I could have gone back to the top and said, "Hey Ume, look what I caught on the trail!" But I doubt that she would have been too thrilled if I'd brought a suicidal blonde back with me. Ume is tolerant, but she has her limits.
When we got to our destination on the trail, the suicidal woman was crouched at the base of a tree measuring roots and taking photos. She was late for work! From the looks of it she was some sort of lemming conservationist.
I sat and communed with the overwhelming landscape, shot way too much film, and played with my sense of proportion and reality. This is a good place for that kind of mind game. I'm in some kind of stunned state of semi-disbelief at the whole thing.
On the way up I fell in with a couple of guys from Wisconsin who travel all over hiking great places. I felt comfortable enough to toss the prickly New England attitude for a while and chat and hike (chatting while resting, not enough air to do it while hiking). As we went along I figured that two guys of an age who hike all over the place together are, A: related, B: neighbors from birth or C: queer like me. After we'd walked for a while and reached the top, I concluded that their banter excluded the neighbor option. They were either related or married, period. So I asked if they were brothers - I remember thinking that their eyes looked similar and I also didn't want to be responsible if they freaked out and fell over the edge in shock at someone thinking they might be gay. They both looked at me and exclaimed, "We're twins!" And that they were, identical twins. Guess you'll never be going on any of my observations in the future.
But maybe you can understand my confusion, because I had thought earlier, "They're dressed so similarly, like a couple who've been together for a long time."
I realized afterward, when one of them pretended to push me over the edge as a joke (we were pals by then - apparently) that I'd eased up on the prickly New England attitude too much and he was getting frisky. Ume doesn't tolerate that kind of thing well either. I wished them well and headed off to gather my gal who was busy harassing the wildlife nearby.
Ume's out chasing ravens with her lens.
I've always wondered what kind of idiot they made all of those obvious, "Danger: Nature lurks nearby!" signs for. Like the ones near sheer cliffs with pictures of people falling off, or ones near logging areas with pictures of people running from falling trees - and the one I could never understand, my personal favorite, ones with people sitting on cacti. I ask you, what kind of idiot are they wasting our precious National Parks dollars on?
To be blunt, me.
Just yesterday, I sat on a cactus. I'm not proud of it. I'm left with a heightened understanding of my limited intelligence and the extent of my distraction when I have a camera in front of my face.
It took me a few minutes to remove the prickers from my butt. And as I did I wondered, do you tell your partner you just did something that will undoubtedly diminish your stature in her eyes? Well, my stature was shot to hell years ago in this relationship, so I let her have a good laugh at my expense. Then I reminded her how close to the edge of the canyon we were and we were even again.
You know Ume's not having a good time when she resorts to the expression, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." Neitzche's never a good sign in the morning.
But you'll sympathize with her sentiment - it had fallen below the 30 F point in our little camper and we had to do all of the things we're used to doing at 50 or 60 F, while shivering. Made Ume's contact lens ritual more bracing than usual. I got dressed under the covers. I couldn't figure out how to get my boots on in there too without making a mess (do you have any idea what those mules do all over those trails?), so I just sucked it up and we were able to start the day.
Call it a misconception, call it whatever the hell you want, but when I set out on a trip to the Southwest from the Northeast, I did not expect snow. I did not expect to wake up and find that it had been 20 something degrees the night before. I also did not expect that it would be 90 something degrees back in the Northeast. What is up with that?
Ume and I decided that we'd done the rigorous outdoor experience (read: we did not pack Siberian sleepwear), so we bailed and got a hotel room.
It occurred to me while I was photographing tree silhouettes with menacing cloud shapes in the sky and it began to snow in chunks - that standing in the middle of what had once been a lava flow, with snow falling on my head might be a clue of some kind... Like, get your ass into an interior heated space - you dip.
It's your basic, "not quite home" sterile hotel room environment, but it's got hot water! Yee-haw! I'm hitting the showers!
Before all of the plan changing, we were driving through the desert watching a snow storm over a nearby-ish mountain range. We figured that was normal, those mountains have white peaks. Later, we drove toward the mountains and looked back at the desert from a higher vantage point and watched the snow storm over the desert.
It was cool to drive through weather and to be able to watch it and follow it like that. You can't do that where we live, not without a helicopter. The wide open spaces here are wild. Like the ocean in many ways, but different...
I've never found a landscape that I've enjoyed so much. I'm such a New England, upstate New York fan, that I never presumed I'd like something as much or more. This may be it, it's so otherworldly. I've been to places and thought, "Wow! This is friggin' beautiful!" But home is home and there's more to beauty than meets the eye and place is a complicated thing and all of that. But the desert...
Don't worry, I'm not moving or anything. I'd die in the heat, even the dry heat. And all of those friendly people, I'm sure that after a while it'd get on my nerves and I'd say something inappropriate and get kicked out of the state or something.
Ume's late getting back. She and a friend went off to do an errand and now - I'm sitting in a parking lot waiting. I should have known better than to let her go off, even with a good friend. I hate losing track of her. It's the only reason that I could see that getting a cellphone would be a worthwhile encumbrance.
Not that keeping track of Ume is usually a problem. We're schedule oriented folk and don't have huge amounts of variety in our daily routine. It's not like there's a chance that she might be in Paris of an afternoon having lunch on a whim. More likely, if she's late, it means she stopped off for groceries on her way home from work. Occasionally she'll stop off and get me flowers too which is killer.
Other than that, I usually have a clue where Ume is and when she'll show up. I may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but I can keep track of my partner... generally.
But when she drives off into the desert on an errand - I'm at a distinct disadvantage. I know, I know, I shouldn't worry. It doesn't get you anything but wrinkles and all of that... But I can't help it, it's been two hours. Ume and I are birds of a particularly odd feather. It's not like weirdos like us grow on trees and I can go pick me another one if she gets lost in the desert.
So I'll sit here and wait and they'll show up soon enough with some explanation like there was traffic or they got a flat or Ume found an engaging bit of fauna to study... Something like that is always the case. But then again, it's a desert.
P.S. Yeah, yeah, I know, worrying was useless and Ume and our friend were fine. It was a combination of events that delayed their return. And HA! I was right, one of them included fauna - do I know this woman or what?
Flagstaff is a cool little western town. The old part anyway, the strip mall part has its fascinations (50's and 60's motels like the Motel 66 - way retro), but it's still a strip mall.
The old part has the feel of a small college town. Funky atmosphere and fun places to discover. Too bad we could only hang out for a short while. There's kind of a Burlington VT feel to it - could I be homesick?
The painted desert. This is something to see. I was stunned at every turn. The colors and shapes are phenomenal. My boots turned that rich red-orange moments after I'd stepped out of the car on one stop. It's not an experience I can do justice to with written word, you have to see it for yourself.
After we'd been visiting there, someone told us that if we enjoyed AZ - Utah was going to blow us away. "AZ landscape pales in comparison." I'm not sure I could stand it.
We met a guy named John who offered to show us dinosaur tracks at a place we'd pulled off the road. There was a sign for the tracks, but we'd pulled off to photograph the landscape. We took a look at the tracks too - nifty. He explained that his grandmother had begun to show people the tracks years back. They're Navajo Indians and she didn't speak english, so she would point out the tracks to tourists and sell her beadwork.
He gave us a good tip on a place to photograph some cool rock shapes from and we headed off.
Even though we had to deal with some skeevy guys at that stop, it was nice to have met John and his brother who were cool and knew their stuff.
It's funny, Ume and I are not nearly so open in the cities of the Northeast (understatement), and maybe we should have been a wee bit more wary at the end of that dirt road (those guys were pretty skeevy), but it turned out for the best and we ended up with a few extra cool views.
That's it folks. We're back and life has picked up and run. Piles of stuff to do. But I'm looking forward to getting my photos back so that I can see it all again in miniature.
And I still have red dirt on my boots!
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