Jay Meehan: A trip down south
“Red is this yielding land/turned inside out/by a country of hunters/with iron, flint and fire.”
~ Linda Hogan (Book of Medicines)
My turn as tour guide had finally arrived. Over many years now, that particular joy had fallen to family members on Kauai. Parading me from beaches to ridgelines (tropical jungle landscapes all), they provided a show-and-tell of island history that included a virtual graduate degree in all things “da kine.”
Well, with the ball now in my court, I had a chance to return serve at various southwestern National Parks and Navajo Reservation locales. With any luck at all, “Shaka, brah” will soon morph into, “Yah-ta-hey.”
My esteemed siblings, sister Mary Beth and brother McGee, not to mention my equally renowned son Smokey, were all chomping at the bit. As was their aforementioned guide. Being a selfish sort, the trip, as mapped out, had begun to resemble a “greatest hits” of his past exploits upon the red rock.
Jumping in the creeping line of vehicles entering Arches National Park just north of Moab proved to be not as much a test of patience as we originally thought, but although well worth the wait, wasn’t the quickest we’d ever seen. And, as advertised, parking at trailheads was an issue.
Of course, there’s a reason for all this, and the lights-out, over the top, geological splendor of the joint remains pretty much as good as it gets. A showplace for the eroded entrada strata, Arches had the crew packin’ cameras and giving it their best Ansel Adams at every opportunity.
We then moseyed down to Cortez, Colorado to stay with friends while giving the Ancestral Puebloan heritage up at Mesa Verde National Park a shout-out.
Not nearly as impacted tourist-wise as Arches, the remnants of the various stages of what we once referred to as “Anasazi” culture, from the earliest “basketweavers” of around 550 AD to the Cliffdwellers who would up and disappear around 1300 AD, were still as intriguing and haunting as ever, if not moreso. Mesa Verde captivates!
Of course, there’s not much anywhere that evokes the depth of both real and imaginary memory to the extent of Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley. We have the John Ford and John Wayne films “Stagecoach” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, among others, to thank for that. You want “magical,” well, here’s the cherry on top.
Next up would be what would become our deepest foray into the Big Rez, the mesmerizing and haunting ravines of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Although “Hózhó,” the Navajo concept of peace through balance, seems to radiate throughout these gorgeous canyons, carnage, also, once dwelt here.
Kit Carson and the U.S. cavalry saw to that as they put to a violent punctuation mark on what had become known as the Navajo Wars. Up in and around Massacre Cave in Canyon del Muerto, the northernmost arm of the Monument, ghosts now look over the site of the defeat that preceded their long walk to Basque Redondo in New Mexico.
We would put that destructive part of our colonial history on the back burner as easily as we would that of our ensuing destination, a boat tour out of Wahweap Marina on Lake Powell.
The collective above the waterline geologic beauty of the formations and sandstones of the lower and middle Jurassic period belie the murder of Glen Canyon precipitated by the construction of the “damn dam.” Many have called Glen Canyon Dam the “most hated chunk of concrete on earth.”
Additional beauty awaited our tribe up on the 9,000-foot elevation of the Kaibab Plateau and along the road that ended at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. “The good rim,” as Ed Abbey was wont to say. Stops at Cape Royal, Point imperial, and the Roughrider Saloon at the Lodge would second that opinion.
We wrapped it up with a “brush-by” of Bryce Canyon, a drive-thru at Capitol Reef and a scrumptious breakfast at “Hell’s Backbone Grill” in Boulder, which proved a nice bookend to an earlier one in Mancos, Colorado, at “The Bakery.” Memorize those names!
We also caught sight of all five Laccoliths: the Henry’s, the La Salles, the Abajos, Sleeping Ute, and Navajo Mountain. What’s not to love?! Got a feeling the whole “famdamily” will be back for more.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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