5,000 miles   Leave a comment

Disclaimer: This is not a polished blog entry (if you have experienced that here before–maybe you haven’t).  This is a rough journal of impressions of our recent trip to Arizona.  Thanks to my husband for providing a note pad which I used up, since this writer foolishly left home without one.  I didn’t forget anything else, however.


Best moments:

Seeing my aunt and cousins in Scottsdale Arizona

The Milky Way at the Needles area of Canyonlands

The hummingbird pavilion at the Sonora Desert Museum

The covey of quails in our campsite

The desert millipede who was almost six inches long

Seeing Neptune while at Kitt Peak, first time ever

Sunset view from Kitt Peak

The slivery new moon and Venus at Canyonlands

Meeting a pair of entomologists from University of Cal Riverside at the Canyonlands Visitor Center

Marshmallows in the dark at Durango–you know who you are



10/1/16 There’s something about an open vista that gives perspective.  That’s why road trips, especially those to west, where you can see for twenty–thirty miles, are so helpful.  Seeing into the distance — being surrounded by the big picture — by definition, these experiences allow one to place oneself in the world.  At a literally level and in a personal way.  It’s not just metaphorical.  If you can get a view of the world, you will be more correctly placed in the world.  You will know better who you are.

Will I regret spending the last 17 years homeschooling when I get to the end of the process?

I have passed up other opportunities, mostly because I just didn’t have the energy. But if I had chosen a different route — a career, to work on a novel, would that work be more rewarding or meaningful than the way I have spent my life now?  I chose to invest my energy in being present with my kids.  I chose to spend time with people — the three of them, and the others our lives intersected with.  I’m not saying that this choice is the ultimately superior one for every family.  Not at all.  Each person has a gift to contribute to the world with her life, and God knows it.  I chose this way which led on to way, and no, I never did come back.  Do I regret not doing the other things instead?  I can’t.  I don’t.  No.  I had a time and a place to be with some people and I lived that.  What would my kids’ lives look like right now if we had not homeschooled?



Arkansas River morning.  Traveling the valley from Cañon City to Salida.  Gold and orange on the mountains.  Smooth glide of water over the stones rounded in the river.

Afternoon north of Pagosa Springs.  The most perfect valley I’ve ever seen.  Dimpling pools, streams, meadows, pines, aspen and sunlight shedding more gold over the gold already there.  Almost no sign of humans, except for a few fences and a road leading off.  Cliffs and pine forest on either side as we dropped downward alongside the water.



The ridges running north-south around Durango vanish in an amazing vista as we head west toward Cortez and pass over the major ridge.  Pink covered fins rise to the left — we can see for miles — maybe 50.  Down the other side, the bronze, brass and gold of the hillsides is interspersed with twenty shades of yellow of the aspen and willow.  The sky is vivid blue between the clouds.  And a strong wind from the south blasts us refreshingly.



Canyonlands–the Needles.

No cell phone reception.


Blue sky.  Red rocks.  White cirrus clouds.  Green pines.

One tries to breathe in and bottle the sky somehow — take it in in huge gasps.  As if one could keep it, as if time, air, life, were collectible/salvageable/could be contained.  As if, if one tried hard enough concentrating one’s power of will that one could tame or retain blue space.  But like the place it is untameable and uncollectable.

Does one always travel with the past when in the national parks?  I find today I have Mom, Dad, my brother and my oldest son with me as I go from rock to rock.  They were with me before in parks in Utah, and so I find they still are.



Last night watching the sunset at Pothole Point, my twelve-year-old said he was thinking of the song about if all the stalks on earth were quills and all the seas ink, the sky would still not be great enough to contain would you could write about God’s greatness.  I asked him why he thought of that song.  He said it was because of all the amazing sights he had seen over the last three days.  That had included a night sky ranger show bringing in the arts, including references to Stars by Emily Bronte and Starry Night by Van Gogh, readings from Asimov, with the most incredible view of the Milky Way ever–it lit up the night sky–he said all the skies on every planet in the universe would not be big enough to contain that message.



Many honeybees on ubiquitous yellow flowers on scrubby plants.  At Goblin Valley and at Glen Canyon.  Where can they have their hives?

Over the Colorado River between Cataract Canyon and Lake Powell.  On the mighty Colorado goes to erode another layer of the Grand Canyon, as I roll on with my family toward another chapter of our journey.

NE Arizona south of the Monument Valley area.  It just goes and goes and goes.  We drove for over six hours today getting from north of Lake Powell to the Glen Canyon Dam.  The immensity of rock, sagebrush, the pavement rolling ahead of us in a swoop on a straight for miles–3, 10, 30?  I can’t tell.  I just can’t comprehend how much space and how few people to make it home.  Elemental.  Rock, air, fire and few plants.

I have a fun chat with a young Frenchman in the laundromat in Page.  He is visiting the southwest, sandwiched in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with his girlfriend.



NE Arizona is bare and rocky.  And amazing.  I note on my map the entire area is the Navaho Nation and the Hopi reservation.  Page is the only city out there.  I can see the evidence of white greed.  Amazing the canyons may be, but fertile and pleasant, they aren’t.  Miles–miles–miles of openness.  Your eyes hurt from all the light.  I don’t think Montana has the sole ownership of the title “Big Sky Country” any more.

Lake Powell is a shock after hours of driving in rock.  Turquoise blue water, bizarre.

Flagstaff is my last dose of sniffing pine trees and feel cool air before I must trade ponderosas for saguaros.  But they are blah.

Los Muertos peach salsa, where chips go to die.



Unusual sign at a rest area: “Do not unload livestock at rest area.”  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do so.  Also, “beware of bees.”  Africanized bees buzzing around the water fountains at the rest area put me off getting a drink.  But I wonder if the ones I almost touched at Goblin Valley were also Africanized? no way to tell by looking.

Late night last night at the Lowell Observatory.  We saw M15 at the Clark telescope and the Ring Nebula at the McAllister Telescope Dome on a 16 inch Cassegrain.  Cool mountain night with a few lonely crickets and many, many trains passing through Flagstaff.  The Clark is the telescope which was used for the observations that led to the discovery of Pluto.



Spent last night at Usery Mountain State park east of Phoenix.  Had a great Mexican dinner at Los Olivos with my aunt and cousins.   It had been six years since I’d seen my aunt and 19 since I’d seen the cousins.

The water tap at our campsite had a slow drip despite our efforts to tighten it down, but this attracted quite a few creatures: bees, a curve-billed thrasher, a grey bird with yellow in it, what looked like a flicker but may have been a Gila woodpecker and a chipmunk.  The thrasher gave us quite a few meaningful looks from its orange eye.  Early this morning, I was delighted before sunrise by an adorable covey of Gambel’s quail visiting the tap and our site.  I shadowed them throughout the campground trying to get pictures, as they hurried away from me muttering amongst themselves with their alert crests sounding the alarum.  Saw them three times, but not after the sun was actually up.  Also, I saw what appeared to be two budgerigars and a cactus wren.

Sonoran desert–I love you!  Especially after sunset or before sunrise, the sentinels standing tall with the Palo verdes and cholla rising around them.



Sonoran desert museum: hummingbird aviary.  Bright eyed little wonders tipping their heads to give us inquiring looks.  Saw a covey of disorganized quail ahead of us on the road; the birds could not make up their minds which way to go.  Tonight–Kitt Peak National Observatory: a fortress of white-capped domes on an impressive peak.



Saw these features from one of the many telescopes, the roll-off roof, with a 16-inch reflector.

Click to access alex-johnathan-phil-nop-oct-10-2016.pdf

Also a great intro to the use of binoculars and planispheres for star-gazing.  A beautiful night.  Never seen a sunset from such a vantage point…blue, purple, pink ridges one after the other, shading gradually to more faint colors.  We could see for miles in three directions.



Saw Meteor Crater this a.m.  Have heard about it for years and finally got to see it.  Took the guided tour along the north rim out to the ruins of the original office and house where Barringer’s mine manager lived.  Fascinating.  Heading into New Mexico now.

Made friends with Pumpkin, the v. round orange cat who lives at the Meteor Crater RV park last night.  He was an extremely friendly cat about town, and a highlight of our visit.  My sixteen year old picked him up and he purred mightily.



East to Littlefield TX after a longer than expected drive seeking RV parks in the Texas panhandle that did not exist, via Clovis New Mexico.  This area seems to me to still be recovering from the Dust Bowl.  A desolate and stern country with warm, tough people.



North to Amarillo and now on to Oklahoma City marveling again at how a map does not justly convey the distance you have to travel to get somewhere in Texas.  There is a time warp as you drive the straight roads — it seems to take longer than the actual elapsed time to get 10 miles.  Drive 5 miles, it would seem to take 15 minutes.

Oklahoma, you are a sight for sore eyes!

Rich red dirt and peaceful farm trees in the gentle hills and valleys….and of course the wind.  But it smells wonderful.  A hundred, a thousand flashbacks to my life when I was a young woman, junior high, high school, visiting my grandmother in Oklahoma City.

A side note: There aren’t any Honda Odysseys in Texas nor in most of Oklahoma, as far as I can tell.  Where I live, you can’t throw a rock without hitting one, but I went for several days out west without noticing any.

This has been a trip of extremes–in terrain: from the view of Pikes Peak, to the Colorado valleys of Durango and Salida, to the knobs and cliffs of Canyonlands, to the Sonoran desert, to the vast plains of Texas and Oklahoma–and in temperatures: 95 degrees in Phoenix, only four days after we hit 38 degrees in our pop-up at Canyonlands–and six different stops to see different groups of friends and family!



Red sumac on the roadsides in Oklahoma as we leave Green Country.  Golden glowing grass-heads straining north in Missouri as the grey clouds break up into beautiful puffs–the sun is out.  Another parting after another meeting.  This trip has been full of these which has brought joy–and pain, because partings always bring sadness, and when you schedule so many short visits, you haven’t had enough time to soak in the company before you must tear yourself away again.

This is the price I must pay for family and friendships scattered across half a continent.

God is good.  God is kind.  God is amazing.

To tell you my story is to tell of him.







Posted October 27, 2016 by swanatbagend in travel journal

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