Rainy Flagstaff and Grand Canyon South Rim

imageThursday 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”

Wrong!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Ni Sa Bula Vinaka….

Having missed out totally on Friday January 6th we arrive in the early hours of Saturday 7th on the lovely islands of Fiji. We have gone from being nine hours behind the UK to thirteen hours in front and it has scrambled my brain. Fortunately I have been told that my seven year old neighbour George will explain it all to me when I get home. Apparently Samoa lost a day over the New Year so that they could comply with Australian time. I wonder how that will effect their pensions in years to come and whether, when I’m gasping for my last breath on my death bed, I will feel cheated and demand my lost day back.

We will skip over the time spent at Los Angeles airport or the mad drive to get there and to return the car on time. Let’s just say it was not my most favourite of Californian experiences. But we are here now and I have grabbed a short moment to try to express the wow factor that greeted us as the sun came out and we explored the immediate surrounds of our hotel – ‘The Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa’.

The weather has been rainy for the past few days and we are driven to the hotel through rain as daybreaks but having got the formalities at reception over with the sun comes out. The view from the room is over a pool and the palm trees out to the lagoon and reef. A hundred yards out waves lap over the edges of the lagoon.

The hotel is built right onto the beach. In fact the fish restaurant that we will be eating in tonight is a little island just off shore that is reached by a short stroll. The palms literally come down to the coral beach of white sand just like in all the iconic pictures one associates with tropical islands. We see a dead water-snake which causes a little stir but the beach guy tells us they are harmless. There are birds shrieking and whistling and the constant swish of the sea. The lagoon water is very clear and we can see a variety of coral fish of many different colours including a small one that is a startling electric blue. Crabs scuttle around and a large toad hops into the shade of a small palm. Another zoological experience.

And everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. At first it is a little disconcerting as we are met at the airport with a cheery ‘Bula’ and a necklace gift. Our driver for the two hour drive is softly spoken for a guy who would make most of the English rugby pack look like small people. He gives us the line ‘our home is your home’…. and I think he means it.

It is only later as I do a little research about the area that I learn that there is a serious political undercurrent and a certain unrest in the Islands. I won’t go over all that now and leave it to the reader to research if they wish but I kick myself that I did not know the recent political history. Would it have made a difference to us coming here? Apparently the military rulers are making concessions to return the islands to democracy and elections are planned for 2014. We will see.

Certainly the juxtaposition of this luxury Spa Hotel with the ramshackle homesteads that we pass on the way here offers food for thought as it does to any traveller who leaves the comparative wealth of the West to visit a developing country and is faced with the obvious contrasts between those that enjoy certain comforts and those that don’t. I would certainly want a political system in place that promised to use my dollar to better the conditions for the majority and this is apparently what the current Junta promises in its response to what it perceives as a previously corrupt ruling elite.

I don’t know….the reef plays its music, the pool bar plays its Fijian tunes, the birds contribute to the orchestra and there are children laughing as they splash about in the pool. It could be very easy to ignore what goes on under the surface and simply indulge in the idyll.

‘Ni Sa Bula Vinaka’ means ‘Welcome and thank you’ and we certainly have been made to feel welcome.

Mission and Mountains….

The view from our bedroom is towards the mountains that tower over the coast here in Santa Barbara. The forecast for the day is more hot, hot,hot so we decide to take a ride up to the ridge road that follows the very top contours of the hills. We take in the Santa Barbara Mission on the way and as I have a weird fascination for these Jesuit places of conversion I take a short tour inside while Marilyn stays on the lawns outside enjoying the views of the Pacific below and the temperature that is now hitting 80 degrees.

There is no doubt that the Mission is a masterpiece of architecture and the art and decor is a tribute to these early pioneers but I am saddened again by the story of the annihilation of an indigenous race who were not recognised as worthy of any rights until 1924. By then the local Native Tribes had been all but decimated. This had not been the intended outcome of the original Jesuit settlers who, it seems , had integrated well with the Natives and found eager converts in return for the latest Spanish technologies and a faith system that adhered fairly closely to the local beliefs.

We leave the Mission behind and drive slowly up the winding road towards the summit of the hill behind Santa Barbara. It is amazing how ingeniously folk have built their homes up here. The reward for their labour is a view across the bay North and South for hundreds of miles. And of course some welcome cooling breezes.

We climb and climb and Marilyn controls here natural fear of heights very well. Once in the Cevenne I had to lay her down on the back seat under a blanket because she was so petrified of the narrow roads and sheer drops. Today’s drive even has me sweating in places but we eventually reach the pass without any hysterics from either of us. We are rewarded with views out to the coast overlooking Santa Barbara to the West and back over the blueish mountains that stretch in folds to the East. We can see for miles and miles and miles as someone once sang. And it takes the breath away. There is something about being up high that draws me back to hills as a preference any day.

And then we descend back to the coast at  Carpenteria where yet again we get a sunset, this time at a seal sanctuary beach. The harbour seals are thriving here and they amuse us with their scratchings and bickering and the way they lie on their backs and rush in and out of the sea unable to make up their mind where they want to be.

The lady in the GPS sends us briefly the wrong way back to the hotel and we realise that this is our last night in the States. Tomorrow we fly to Fiji and mysteriously will lose a whole day, leaving here on thursday and arriving there on Saturday and never experiencing friday at all! I would love someone to explain all that ‘date line’ stuff to me in words I will understand.

Suffice to say there will be a gap in the blog for Friday 6th Jan that I will never be able to fill as I will never have experienced that particular day at all. Weird.