Thursday 22nd/Friday 23rd
We are in lovely Flagstaff. It has something like three hundred days of sunshine a year – even when it’s under three feet of snow. So when we hear that rain is forecast our host tells us not to worry.
“In Flagstaff you just wait twenty minutes in bad weather for good weather to reappear. It never rains all day to soak you out”
On this particular day it started drizzling and then did steady,soak-you-out rain all day. So change of plan.Sadly no Sedona and no ‘standing on a corner of Winslow Arizona’ that had been the plan. What do Brits do in the rain?
Go to a museum!
It’s not actually a bad choice when the museum is the award winning museum of Northern Arizona. We have so much to learn about the ancient geology of this region and the peoples who lived and flourished here for so long. It seems that there is a job on to help ‘Modern Americans’ ( whoever they are ) to accept that this ancient history is also their history. So many of them -we are told- seem to think it all started with the Mayflower or whenever their clan emigrated.
So we enjoy a walk through history and we are dazzled by the creativity and the versatility of the people from various tribes who managed to live in harmony in what appears an inhospitable environment. We learn how they migrated with the seasons over huge tracts of land; how they used sophisticated tools and made pottery and weaving of exquisite quality; how they largely managed to get on with each other and co-operate in order to survive; how they believed in the sanctity of family and education and so much more.
The Navajo, as one of the largest contemporary families is perhaps the most politicised in the present day and is working to gain some of its history and lands back. But there is a constant battle of cultures. Neil Young wrote a song about when cultures collide. It is a slow process I feel.
Tomorrow we go to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The picture at the top of this blog is done by Curt Walters a contemporary artist. His work is stunning in the flesh. Huge canvasses that glow. Surely the real thing can’t be like that? We will find out tomorrow. His work is hung in a special gallery. A modern man who feels the spirit of this vast landscape. We leave this fantastic museum in the rain and head for the ‘ Pioneer Museum ‘ just down the road. This is set in an old hospital for infirm and homeless that was set up after the railroad brought prosperity to many in Flagstaff.Not everyone flourished in the new and growing town.
This museum brings us up to date with Flagstaff’s history. The first settlers came through in search of a route to the West. They made a road. This eventually became the iconic Route 66. Then the railway came through and the rest is history. Now it is a prosperous university town set in the California Mountains. It has a wonderful climate and is in the middle of one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the U.S.A.
I enjoyed both places although I am still a little confused how I feel about the second museum’s lack of any recognition of much of the history pre the first pioneers. It kind of reinforces that feeling that the ancient history is not really acknowledged by everyone as being important or relevant.
We manage to drag ourselves to one of Flagstaff’s many burgeoning breweries for lunch before giving up hope of getting to Winslow.
Maybe another day.
Friday 23 rd – Grand Canyon South Rim.
We receive a message from my brother that their hire car has packed up and we have arranged to spend the day with them exploring the South Rim where they are now staying. We hope they will have a replacement by midday and set off from Flagstaff to meet them at high noon.
We enter the Park from the East and the Desert View Watch Tower built by Mary Coulter a pioneer who, together with her husband had a hand in much of the historical infrastructure of the State.
We are immediately struck by the enormity and expense and the colour of the view. We can only spend a few moments here as we are learning the distances often eat into the time that we allocate for journeys.
So we continue into the park along the plateau and through forest that hides the wonder to our right hand side and only metres away. I would not advise anyone who arrives at the park around midday to try and park anywhere near the visitor centre. It must be impossible in the summer and despite being out of season it is absolutely rammed with cars when we get there. Eventually I find a space in the Market area and we meet up with a rightly stressed brother and wife. However they are sorted and we can plan our afternoon.
There is a system of shuttlebuses in the park to take you along the rim and we eventually managed to get onto one of these . My heart sinks at first because it is a little like riding the underground in in the rush hour however we jump off the bus and within minutes of walking we are alone with the magnificent canyon. There are not words that I can find to describe the setting. Safe to say I have been lucky enough to be able to see a lot of beautiful places in the world, but nowhere compares to the majesty and scale of what we see here.
We spend an afternoon , until the sun begins to set, walking sections and watching the colours change and the depth of vision and sense of grandeur become almost too much to comprehend. We see deer and huge birds and although we know there are thousands of people doing the same as us there are times when we are alone with an enormous silence in which to contemplate how very small we are in the scale of things.
We have a fairly long drive back to Flagstaff and say goodbye to Tony and De to make the road as the light fades.
Marilyn and I are fairly lost for words on the way.
I am wondering how the rest of this trip can compare with what we have just experienced. And we both agree how fortunate we are that we are able to have had this opportunity.
And we are told that the North Rim, where we are headed soon is even better.