September 1990. I think. Not really sure but I think I remember the Big Chill in Alberta at the end of August and Craig & I going south to New Mexico from there. Colorado, Utah and Arizona too. The “four corners” where the state lines meet.
We drive the van. Count 6 break-downs, three requiring a tow truck. One lands us in front of the Bug Shop, where the owner is out at lunch and will be back shortly. He has a poster on his wall that says: VW REPAIR KIT. Under this is a large elastic band. Haha! We wish.
A few hours later a bent, browned, wrinkled guy with a stringy grey pony tale – can’t recall remember his name – returns. Does something to the carbeurator that gets the van going. YAY!
One morning after it won’t start even though we had replaced the starter two days ago in Provo Utah (tow job, for sure), Craig got it started by banging the engine with the ax while I turned the key and gunned the gas. Every morning, as soon as we get the coffee going, one of us starts it. Tries to. If it won’t start, we need to call for a tow truck and better sooner than later. Or try ourselves, like with the axe, to get it going. Again, the sooner the better. It is a source of some anxiety on the trip.
The landscape is stark and gorgeous. Simple. A few colours: orange, yellow, red, blue. A bit of green, but not much. Large rock formations and gorges. An place of oversized geographic features. We are dwarfed.
At Zion we hike in craggy peaks. The rocky overhangs protect us from frequent cloud bursts. They are spectacular. Darkness, then lightning and thunder, then rain. The rain emerges from the mountainsides in the form of rushing waterfalls. Soon the sun comes through low in the sky, giving lots of side light – the best – and the mountains are illuminated. Maybe this is seeing god?
The next day we hike along the river bed, deeper into the earth, through a crack in the rock that water found many millennia ago. It is September and has been a dry summer, so the water in the river is 1 to 2 feet deep. Easy to walk in.
As we go deeper, the opening at the top of the canyon gets smaller and we see less and less sky. The rock wall is sheer up from the river bed. Our voices echo. The dozen or so hikers who started at the same time as us have all turned back. We are alone.
We’ve seen the effects of a sudden burst of rain. The rivers rush out to the rock face and spill over the edge. There is no where along the river edge to get a hand or a foot hold. The rock walls go straight up. I see us swept up in a raging current and shot out in a waterfall. The danger makes Craig want to push on even farther. We cannot see any sky and have no idea what is coming weather wise. I want to turn back.
We survive the hike. The afternoon stays sunny. We live to carry on to Anasazi Indian territory. Inhabiting the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, these ancient ones are thought to be ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians,
Cliff palaces, the Anasazi settlements are carved into the rocky faces of flat topped mountains called mesas. Crops were grown on top and in terraced fields on the mountain slopes.
No one knows what happened to this thriving population. Crop failure due to drought is thought to be the most likely explanation for the demise of the Anasazi. Made of stone, the settlements, of course, survive. We clamber among the rocks and ruins, snapping photos. These will look much better than what came before. More skill, better cameras. There are even a few gems here. Because of the amazing light, the shots of Taos are done on slow slide film, Kodachrome 25. The photos are sharp, clear, saturated with color.
We visit Santa Fe, Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo. The architecture is captivating. The geometry of the earthen walls. Simple shapes. Little adornment.
At Rueben’s chill stand just north of Santa Fe we buy a string of dried red chillies that will flavour and heat our culinary efforts for years to come. At Pig Boy Willies taco and burrito stand in Santa Fe we devour tasty tex-mex fare. The art galleries, book shops, craft stores, leather emporiums, western outfitters, cafes and pubs of Santa Fe entertain and delight.
We buy a poster in a posh shop with lots of pricey original art. It’s the official poster from the prior year’s Indian Market. The artist comes into the shop while we are paying and graciously offers to sign the poster. It’s so sweet a gesture but we are a bit abashed by our low-end art budget.
Outside of Santa Fe, possibly even on the road to our campground, is a spa called “A Thousand Waves”. Highly stylish, luxuriously appointed, but very natural. We opt for a visit to public pool. Everything else, especially the private pools, is very expensive. We go to separate change rooms. I put on my bathing suit and head out to the pool. Without my glasses, I have to get quite close to the pool before I can see that everyone is naked. Completely. Not a stitch of clothing in site, except my modest black one-piece.
Not knowing what else to do and with everyone looking at me, I quietly get into the side of the pool with the fewest people. I am so self-conscious of my non-nakedness. I can’t look at anyone. Partly I think they will think I am getting free peek at their nakedness without reciprocating. It’s so uncomfortable. I wonder what Craig will do. I look for him to come out of the men’s change room. But then I hear his voice. Coming from the far end of the pool. He’s in the shallow end, yakking with a group of people, who, like him, are naked. Yes, like him. He completely ignores me. Acts like he doesn’t know me. Does not even look at me. Not once.
I later learn that Craig saw what I saw as soon as he got out of the change room, went back in, ditched his swimming trunks and got into the pool naked, saving himself great embarrassment. “Fair enough, I say, but you didn’t have to ignore me and treat me like I saw some kind of social road-kill.”
On the way home, heading back to the Pacific North West, where the trees and the mountains fill the view, often leaving just a slim strip of sky, we talk about how it was to be out under an big open sky, in mostly treeless landscapes, among giant rock formations. What does it do to ones psyche, we wonder?
A truck stop in northern Oregon gives us an idea for a last shot.