Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Our longest day of driving

We very reluctantly left Zion to head on to New Mexico to volunteer our time at the Navajo Mission. The kids have really looked forward to this, though, and I have too, since I came out here on a missions trip when I was 14 years old. We have been having so much fun on this trip but it's been all about us, so we all really look forward to giving our time at the mission. Caroline, especially, is very excited to work with Indian children. She is decidedly not, however, looking forward to cleaning, which I've informed her we may need to do. In fact, she asked me to call ahead and tell the people to schedule her for childcare since she has "a disability toward cleaning." (She comes by it honestly!)

The worst part about Monday was knowing that we had a very long drive ahead of us, seven or eight hours at best, which was made worse by the fact of leaving the luxurious Desert Pearl. We talked to various locals about the "best" way to get from Zion (in SW Utah) to Farmington, New Mexico...the whole way across Arizona. Every single person we talked to insisted we had to go to the Grand Canyon, that it was not going to be far out of our way. The kids did not want to go...anything that added to a seven-hour drive was just not worth it to them, no matter what it was. Alan and I debated back and forth about whether to go or not. We too, hated to add to our driving time, but how can you drive on by one of the world's most famous geological features? Though some people said it was an hour out of our way, a lady at the Desert Pearl insisted it was just "twelve minutes" off our course to stop there.

We never really did come to a decision, but when we reached the turnoff to the Grand Canyon our car just followed it. We didn't tell the kids since they'd so vehemently rallied against taking the time to stop there. Unfortunately, the "twelve-minute drive" was over an hour, and the longer it took the more we considered turning around, knowing as far as we drove in we had to come back out. After about an hour the girls needed a bathroom stop and the rest area had all kinds of Grand Canyon souvenirs. They suddenly realized that we were headed for the Grand Canyon and were furious, absolutely livid. I'm sure people wondered what was up as they saw these two big girls crying their eyes out saying, "Who cares about the Grand Canyon? We just want to get to our hotel!" Both girls insisted that they would NOT get out of the car when we got there. We explained to them that if we'd known it was this far out of the way, we wouldn't have come, but that we'd be given incorrect information. Plus we thought this may be their only opportunity to see the Grand Canyon. Nothing we said helped, they were just plain mad.

When we finally got to the entrance, the park ranger was extrememly upbeat and welcoming to us. He was an older man that reminded us a lot of my Grandpa Finney, who died five years ago. This jolly man’s name was Virgil Tinkleberg, so we instituted the "Virgil Tinkleberg Award," a one dollar award which will be given each day to the kid with the happiest attitude. All of a sudden the kids got very silly and were trying to be the happiest kid in the car. Elly even wrote a poem, "Virgil's cool, Virgil's awesome, Virgil's hot!" We also heard plenty of tongue-in-cheek comments like, "Thank you, Daddy, for driving us three hours out of our way to see something SO spectacular!"

We stopped at the visitor’s center and were sobered to hear that a ranger had fallen and died in the park that day. As we walked out to the most scenic point at Angel’s Landing, our thoughts were on the reality that someone really could slip and fall in, especially with the extremely gusty wind we were experiencing, with very few guardrails for safety. It was very scary just walking out to have our picture taken...we held on to the kids tight and couldn't wait to get back to solid ground. At a safer place, Elly took a picture of Alan and me as we posed for a re-enactment of the engagement. They thought it was pretty silly seeing their daddy down on one knee, but it brought back sweet memories to me!

After we got back to the lodge we bought sandwiches and had a picnic lunch. Less than an hour after we arrived, we were back on the road again. And the kids admitted they were glad to have seen the Grand Canyon...although none of us will forget how windy it was there!

On the road again...we just hate to be back on the road again...but here we are, driving through Navajo country. Which gives me plenty of time to work on my blog, since this is flat boring land, just desert and sagebrush everywhere. Except for the impressive mesas that rise out of the desert, which you can almost remember from western movies. Especially Alan...he's seen 'em all, I think! In fact, I tease him that he has the words to his favorite movie memorized..."Bang, bang, bang-bang, bang." But this scenery really does look like the sets of western movies, and you almost expect to see the cowboys & Indians come riding out. Actually, we do see some Indians, because this is Navajo Nation. We see an occasional roadside jewelry stand, but I haven’t convinced Alan to stop yet. I can’t go home without some turquoise jewelry! I've heard the Four Corners area is inundated with Indian jewelry stands, so I look forward to that stop.

The kids are growing immune to the beautiful scenery out here. As gorgeous at it is, I think it is all starting to run together for them, and things that wowed them at first now don't excite them nearly as much. If airfare to get out here wasn’t a concern, it would have been more fun to make this into two trips. For one week, I'd fly into Denver and "do" Colorado, making a big loop. And then for another great vacation, I’d fly into Las Vegas and make the two-hour drive to Utah, spending a couple days at Zion and a couple at Bryce. But this is the way it worked out best for us...were it not for the free airfare, we probably wouldn’t have made this trip at all. We are having so much fun, and it’s been an incredible experience. I can’t imagine things going any better. And yet...how much fun can a person have? We’ve never been on a vacation this long, and are missing home...our relatives, our house, and our dog. So really we are ready to do some work at the Navajo Mission, as long as we don’t have too big a "disability" towards what they ask us to do!

By nightfall, not only was there nothing to see, we still had several hours of driving ahead of us. But some of our best family times happened in the car. We played so many games of "Three Spooks and a Ghost" that we were all a little silly. It’s a spelling game that everyone says a letter, and you can’t end a word or you get one spook. If every letter you think of ends a word, you often throw in a weird letter, acting as if you know what you’re spelling. Then the person after you can challenge you, and if you get caught fooling you get a spook. If you get three spooks, you’re a ghost and then no one can talk to you. If anyone does, they’re automatically a ghost, too, so of course the ghosts have a ball trying everything to get the others to talk. Everyone was acting silly and we had fun.

Later Alan had fun teaching us the Military (phoenetic) alphabet...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc...He laughed at us as we made up our own version. At one point crossing the dark barren desert he pulled over and we all looked at the stars. I’ve never seen anything like it. At an elevation of 5,000 feet, you are a mile closer to the stars than at home, plus there are no city lights to brighten the sky. The sky was inundated with bright stars...they never looked so three-dimensional as they did in that black sky. I’m sure we’ll all remember the beauty of that beautiful desert sky.

You won't believe what happened. I kept telling Alan how excited I was to get to the jewelry-laden Four Corners area. He would just roll his eyes and remind me that he’s not made out of money. But I had some "cookies" from my dear Aunt Helen’s cookie jar which I was planning on spending. (Every now and then Aunt Helen sends a check (i.e. "cookies") to each of her many nieces and nephews, so I’d saved some of her cookies for our trip!) Four Corners is the only place in the United States where four states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) come together at one point, and for a couple dollars you can get a picture with a hand or foot in each state. But because we didn’t get there until 10 PM, it was closed and we couldn’t do it. Even worse, that also meant we couldn’t shop for turquoise & silver from the Indians. Alan pleads innocence on getting us there too late to shop, but I’m wondering...do you think he planned it that way?!

We didn’t get close to the Navajo Mission until 11 PM, so we grabbed a room at the Holiday Inn Express. It was nice, and we were so glad to hit the hay after 10 hours in the car (except for the hour at the Grand Canyon). The kids all did so well that we couldn’t pick just one to win the Tinkleberg Award (which Emily referred to as the Peabody Award!) so we gave them each a dollar and praised them for their excellent behavior. Really, we are so thankful for how well they are getting along.

No comments: