Friday, June 09, 2006

Arizona Travelogue Day One: How I Spent My 42nd Birthday


The travelogue that I begin today will have a different “feel” than my typical blog entries. If you are seeking introspective, heart-felt missives, this will not suit that need. If, however, you are interested in factual, pithy sorts of entries, this may be what you are looking for.

It is currently 8:30 PM Arizona time (10:30 PM Minnesota time), and I am seated near the outside pool at our nice but over-priced hotel. Tony is lounging in the hot tub, while Kyle is in the room receiving his daily supply of electronic stimulation. It has been an interesting day with the two of them. Tony is more garralous than I remembered and cannot be quiet for more than ninety seconds. I’m not sure if this is his personality or his disability, but either way it proves tiresome to an introvert like myself. I have been as patient as I can possibly be – and Kyle, surprisingly, more so – but the incessant chatter wears me down emotionally and physically.

Of course the physical weariness could also be from the stress of the day. I awakened this morning a little after 6 AM Minnesota time, discovered Tony already up watching TV (the boy doesn’t sleep), and roused Kyle from his nineteen-year-old slumber. By 7:30 or so we were on the road to the airport, some ninety minutes away. Our check-in process was slow but uneventful (although it was fun to see Kyle turned back at the security checkpoint because he forgot to remove his cell phone and keys from his pocket. I say that it was fun because typically I am the one who forgets something in the process and find myself subjected to his derision.

Our flight to Phoenix was long and turbulent, so we arrived at 1:15 PM Phoenix time with my equilibrium a bit askew. We acquired our rental car and began the arduous trip four hours north in 106 degree heat. As the elevation escalated we discovered that our car’s heat gauge responded accordingly, so at moments we turned off the air conditioning in order to avoid overheating. With the sparse geography between towns on the way to northern Arizona we decided we didn’t want to take the chance of having a breakdown. We witnessed a number of disillusioned-looking travelers suffering that plight.

It was at about this time that we discovered we had our digital camera with us but that the battery pack was still in Luverne, merrily charging in the bathroom outlet. A grave disappointment, especially now that we have arrived at the Grand Canyon, one of the eight wonders of the world.

The four hours to Tusayan, Arizona, were repetitive, and I’m not sure who suffered more: Tony from his perlexing never-ending yapping, Kyle from his ill-fated attempts to practice patience with an irritating eleven-year-old, or me absorbing the interaction of both and attempting to maintain some emotional calm for all of us. I can indeed affirm that the apocryphal, “Are we there yet?” is more than cliche. It lives. And it will live, I am afraid, quite often in the next five days the three of us have to spend together.

By the time we arrived at our hotel tonight we were ready for a change of pace. We checked in, moved our stuff into the room and decided to experience the old West by eating at the Hippie Hi Ai steakhouse. There were far cars parked in front, and we wondered why, but soon discovered it was the high prices. The atmosphere was ranchy (horsehide and cowhide rugs, saddles, straw on the floor, servers dressed in old west apparel). Our waitress spoke with a thick Russian accent, was dressed in tight blue jeans, bandana and a cowboy hat. She, with her Hispanic-American servers, presented quite an interesting drama (without intending to) due to the melange of cultures in the building. Tony tried rattlesnake for the first time in his life, Kyle nibbled it a bit (and declared “Yeah, I won’t need to try rattlesnake again”) and then derided me for not succumbing to their entreaties to eat reptile. I maintained my stance that I will not eat something I fear and loathe.

After dinner we decided to hit the Canyon and witness the natural beauties of sundown. I gulped as I paid $25 for our seven-day pass (of which we will use one day), but chalked it down to “once in a lifetime.” It is simply not possible to explain in words the expansive grandeur of such a gift of nature. With the near-full moon rising in the east and the mellow red tones of sundown from the west, the shadowed vastness of the Canyon is breathtaking. The soft breezes and inchoate whispers of the eons lull one into a reverential mood.

My reverential mood was mitigated, of course, by a series of discourses delivered to the youngest son with me about the need to stay behind the guardrails. He remains convinced that the native trails roiling a mile down are his for the taking, and that I purposely have kept him from the adventure of his lifetime. I calmly explained that when he was an adult on his own time that he could climb where he pleased, but while he was on my watch he would not be tempting fate. He is not yet convinced.

Tomorrow we will visit the National Geographic Visitor Center with an Imax Theater and then set out for some day hiking. Earlier in the day I explained to Kyle that the recommendation is that no one hike all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and back up in one day, but rather that one hike down and then rest overnight before returning to the top. Before seeing the immensity of the Canyon he wasn’t sure I was right, but once we arrived his terse commentary was “I see what you mean, Dad.”

So, that’s how I spent my 42nd birthday. And and all things being equal, I rather enjoyed it.

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