Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost In America: In Which Lost In America Falls Into The Grand Canyon

or: Been Down So Long...
or: That Ol' Sinkin' Feelin'
or: We Did Not Get Swept Away Like Those Other People

I had many titles prepared for this one. You can make up your own if you like.

Lost In America, the errant duo last seen walking among corn-bean-squash rows and stumbling through a Ninjutsu lesson, leave that crazy place about a week ago and return to the site of a festering, multi-billion-year-old gash in the earth. They dress as the sun pokes its nose over the hills, and then they begin a 4,000 foot, 7 mile long descent from the remote northern rim to a campground far below. The trailhead, at about 8,000 feet elevation, goes among pines, oaks, and maples. As the air gets thicker everything shrinks; pines become prickly pears and oaks are replaced by an aloe/yucca/agave type plant that, when "in the mood," empties its thick tresses of life and poots forth a 15-foot tall, arm-thick stalk with bean-shaped pods protruding from the top few feet in a sort of cone. These natural euphemisms can be seen growing in places where even rocks can't find purchase.

Finding themselves thoroughly out of breath, our heroes (well, at least this one) wonder 'why, oh why did we leave that magical farm and the free food and the people who shared so much knowledge with us?' But their descent is distracting; blue and brown and orange lizards scramble from under booted feet, Kaibab Squirrels (a distinct species endemic to the North Rim) chirp and echo, and silence is broken by a large spring tumbling from inside the rock wall. (Incidentally, this particular spring provides all of the water in and around the Grand Canyon, and it only requires pipes, no pumps.) Sweaty from the sun and its red-orange reflection, Lost In America pitches a tent under a stout, twisted cottonwood tree and lays in it for the rest of the day. Night comes with dinner and is cool from a ten-minute rainshower. Their calves and quads sleep off some of the day's wear, recongealing torn striations, tying little knots.

Cold waterfall, Ribbon Falls the next day, a short hike from camp and not the sort of thing you'd expect in a place that looks, from above, to be comprised entirely of orange tones with parched brown, sharp freckles. The water falls a few stories and slaps onto the top of a tall, calcified shawl covered in inch-thick spongy green moss that hides the water flowing down. The visitors there are all from Maryland. There is chitchat. A couple kids throw rocks at the moss wall and make dents, much to their delight, while this particular hero glares at them and wishes them back to Maryland, which he does not miss right now. He gets lost sitting behind the waterfall, up top of the big shawl where the water splashes have made craters, birdbaths, also lined with velvety moss; when the wind blows the waterfall shifts to a different mossy crater. Some of the mist frizzes off and never hits the ground, just evaporates. Maryland kids come up and one just climbs right into one of the craters, making more moss dents. Below, their mom does not want to get wet. What?

That night our heroes boil some water and rehydrate a packet of Mexican-style rice and half a packet of dry bean dip and add peanuts and raisins, wrap it all in flour tortillas and devour. Alarm: 4:30. They want to beat the sun for the return hike. The return hike is a breeze, even after a hot, tossing night, even when they cross paths with four mule teams that have made the trail soft and sinky, left grassy piles buzzing and small lakes of ammonia, wheeeeeeyeew! The top and the taking off of boots and packs is better than pie for breakfast. It's lunchtime, go time.

Las Vegas is a scary place.

The day after, looking at the map and hatching a special, bright blue dream, starting early again to beat the sun, just throwing everything on top of the waterproof cargo bag. Feeling awfully go-ey. The road they take goes up, back up to 8,000 feet, then down to 105 feet below sea level. Death Valley, California, bigger than Rhode Island, hotter than . . . well, hell. Soaked bandanas dry after about ten minutes; there is no sweat, it just evaporates. It's all sorts of colors out; purple, burgundy, red, orange, tan, beige-- a color scheme, if you will. Black rock piles, white salt plains. Mountains from the valley rise 8,000 feet again. The Sierra Nevadas appear around a corner; from 30 miles away they fade right into the light blue sky, and then we are in them, taking a route vaguely shown in the atlas, finding sequoias that get steadily taller, arrows pointing straight up. Those mountains last a long, long time, and we're told it's still a day's drive to our dream. What?

California has everything, kind of like Maryland, just more, bigger, etc. Once the road flattens out, straight west, the same day as the previous paragraph with desert and mountains, there are fields of grapes, red on the left, green on the right, that stretch to the horizon-- this is where your food comes from. Fruit trees grow their perfect afros in perfect rows, rooted into perfectly naked, light brown soil. Those happy cows that make the happy cheese in happy California? They are also rooted soullessly into naked dirt, feeding out of metal baskets. This is not what was expected. After more grapes and some almond trees (yep, trees. Never really thought about nuts like that), more mountains! Tan, dry grass, very rolly, and the sun goes below the visor in the truck. Ten miles from the end, we round a hill and see . . . a thousand-foot-tall wall of cloud where that dream was supposed to be. Ha! We made it, right? Right? Well, yes. That's where we're going now, to the beach to see the ocean. The other one, the Pacific. Ha!

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