There are two strangest parts about finishing a month-long road trip project. The first, very simply, is the fact that it’s done. This is the thing that I’ve been eating, breathing, and sleeping for thirty-one days, and then, just like that it’s over. Sure, I still have lots of video to edit, articles to write, and a few more blog posts to put up, and I won’t even be done traveling for another three weeks, but all of a sudden my schedule is not dictated by the road but by me.
The other weirdest part is seeing everything backwards. I may have mentioned it before, but the farther we go, the more surreal it becomes, being suddenly reminded of the definite locations of some experiences and recalling out of the blue others that we’d already entirely forgotten.
We stopped for two days in Williams, AZ, a little town we’d breezed through earlier that’s a sort of base camp area for the Grand Canyon. Natalie caught up on blogs; I did some video work and organized my luggage for the various separate places I and it will be going. Then we drove an hour up to the Grand Canyon itself.
On the way there, Natalie and I simultaneously spotted a scene from one of our old postcards. We hadn’t been looking for it, didn’t know where the postcard itself was or when we had last seen it – the project and its various facets had just become so deeply ingrained in our thinking that it was an automatic recognition. We decided to photograph it on the way back down (and we did, shaded from the setting sun by a tall and steadfast Yei-Be-Chei dancer).
The Grand Canyon is really, really, really big. I’d stopped there briefly a few years earlier on the way to Las Vegas with a few friends, but this time – although Natalie and I spent no more than an hour or two there – I did a little bit of exploring and climbing, as I’m prone to do. The more I did, the more I realized just how deceptive the scale of the place was: Looking down at a promontory, I judged it to be maybe two hundred feet away with a small shrub at its tip; in the process of getting there, I found the distance closer to four hundred feet, and the shrub clinging to the canyon’s edge to be a tree.
I can’t pretend to think, even now, that I even partially grasped the grandness of the Grand Canyon. At the same time, I don’t imagine that most of the other visitors, staying up at the fenced-in scenic viewpoints, saw the place even half as well as I did, even with such a small difference in perspective. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it’s a little troubling.
We make everything safe. We look at the Grand Canyon and say “Oh, wow, that’s huge!” without even beginning to really experience its overwhelming vastness, and only in experiencing it can we truly begin to comprehend its scale and significance; its beauty; our smallness as humans as we stand beside to it; its very incomprehensbleness. We can get to it by a smoothly paved road and stand behind the guard rails, eat a quick meal at McDonald’s, then drive back to the interstate to continue our journey. We cheat ourselves out of the very world we live in: Far too often, we forget we have the option to encounter – and accomplish – the remarkable because we’re not forced to do so.
After leaving Williams, we made for the very last photo we had to take – the burnt-out shell of an old Indian pueblo trading post, its facade painted in the faded colors of the 60s hailing itself “The Most Interesting Spot in the World.” It’s west of Santa Fe along pre-1937 Route 66, tucked away on what’s now a reservation. The reasons we’ve abandoned our former fascinations are often just as interesting as the things themselves.
A town just on the other side of Santa Fe is the end of the road for me, at least for a week. It’s a pleasant change, halfway between traveling and being home, as I sleep on my friends’ couch. I know I’ll be really home before too long, but it’s still far away and I can let myself relax for a little while with my friends amid the high hills, under the sun and the curious mountain desert pine trees.