We went to Mount Rushmore. I didn’t know what it was before we got there. I have heard the name “Mount Rushmore” before, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew that big-president-statue-faces-thing existed because I’d seen pictures of it, but I didn’t know that it was called Mount Rushmore. When we got there and I saw it, I thought “Wow!” I was wondering if you could actually go up there and touch it. We got there and there were all these benches going down to a big stage and when you look up, there it was. These huge faces of Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. I thought it was – like maybe one of the faces was like 6 feet, but I found out later, when I saw a picture of the guy carving it, the nose itself was bigger than a full grown man! It was really super cool.
Leaving Tuba City, we headed to Kanab, Utah. We planned to spend several days there, visit Zion National Park, get some laundry done, and give Jake a chance to get some work done without trying to squeeze in the hours at night after a long drive.
About halfway there, we saw a sign for Horseshoe Bend, the famous overlook into a section of the Colorado River, snaking around a bend, and creating the shape of, well, a horseshoe. We knew it was nearby but we didn’t realize we’d be passing right by it on our way to Kanab, and we just had to pull off. After all, we’d been seeing pictures of it regularly as we had been researching the Southwest for more than 2 years now. Suddenly, it was right there.
We pulled into the parking lot, which was small and crowded and saw people streaming in and out of the sandy uphill path toward the bend. There was a sign cautioning that the heat was extreme, there was no shade, and all visitors should bring water, wear hats, wear decent shoes (no sandals), etc. Really we thought? That bad? How far is it? Maybe we’ll just run up and take a quick peek. We’re relatively young and healthy. We won’t stay long. It’ll be fairly easy for us, I’m sure.
Jake scrambled up the path to scope it out. He agreed, it was far enough (1.5 miles round trip) and super hot that this would not be great for Isaiah or Scout. But the bigger kids could do it with him. So I sent them up with a bottle of water. When they got to the end of the path, they were extremely hot, exhausted, and wishing for shade, of which there was none. Also, Jake didn’t want to get anywhere near the edge with the kids so he called me and we switched places. I brought Scout and Isaiah to him and he came back with Lucy, who had had enough. Dylan and Eli waited in the sweltering heat for me. I got there as fast as I could – nearly sprained my ankle on a sand covered rock, but finally connected with the boys and made it close enough to the edge that we could appreciate the amazing view down into the canyon.
It was, like almost everything we’ve seen in the west, much more impressive than you think it’s going to be. It was bigger, more beautiful, more majestic. The drop was intimidating at a thousand feet. There were tourists from all over the world crawling all over the place. We ignored them and soaked in the natural beauty instead.
I took a couple of pictures of Dylan and Eli near the edge as they wilted, and we discussed the minuscule amount of water left in our bottle. It must have been 100 degrees but it might as well have been 120. I told the boys to crawl under the one large rock that was making a dash of shade and hoped that neither snake, nor tarantula would greet them. A very nice lady asked me if I wanted a picture that was better than the mirror-selfie I was attempting, so I said sure. I got closer to the edge than I would allow the boys to get and she got a pretty decent shot of the scene.
I was a little worried about the kids getting sunburned, and I felt bad for them knowing that there was no break from the heat. I gave Dylan my hat. I told Eli to tie his shirt around his head to give his face a sun break, even though that would expose his chest and back. After a brief respite, we walked back, rationing our sips of water every 30, then 50, then 100 paces. When we finally made it to the car, we were sandy, exhausted, thirsty and very hot. But it was definitely worth it. And we promise to take the caution signs more seriously next time.
After the Grand Canyon, we were basically headed north but were poking around for interesting things to do before hitting the next major stop. Thus, a night in Tuba City. Oh, you’ve never heard of it? Right. Well, there isn’t a whole lot there. It’s in the middle of a vast tract of land in north eastern Arizona. It’s part of the Navajo Nation, an area of land covering almost 30,000 square miles between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. This area is governed semi-autonomously with various agencies and layers of Native Americans ruling domestic matters, though the US Federal Government has plenary power.
The area is largely undeveloped, retaining it’s majestic natural beauty, unmarred by commercial interests at every turn. Although within Tuba City itself, there are the standard businesses you’d expect – grocery, gas stations, hotels, a few shops. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, just not over developed or much of a town really. The term “city” is a stretch. But we didn’t go for the gas station or the Quality Inn.
Just before you get into town, there’s a spray-painted sign declaring “Dinosaur Tracks” with an arrow pointing off to a small collection of scrappy little huts and a few pick up trucks in the middle of an enormous, beautiful and otherwise untouched reddish-white rocky landscape. We took the turn, parked the car and were soon greeted by a Navajo guide who promised to show us around the dinosaur fossils still intact that litter the area. Really? Is this a touristy hoax? Well, we did our research ahead of time, and according to paleontologists from the University of Arizona (among others), this is no hoax. At some point in the far distant past, the scaly creatures who capture the hearts and minds of little boys (and girls, and okay, adults too) wandered all over this exact spot.
We followed our guide around for a short hike and paused at each track he pointed out. He carried a water bottle with him and sprayed each of the tracks to darken them in the hot, bright sun-soaked landscape. The relief from the water drew them out to a vivid contrast among the paler surrounding rock. He told us which dinosaurs the tracks were said to be from. He showed us what was supposed to be fossilized “droppings,” eggs, claws, and tail-drags. The kids followed quietly, almost speechless.
Impressed? Yeah, I guess you could say so. There’s something special about being in a place where you know with certainty that something else, something magical almost, took place. It doesn’t matter if it was a hundred years ago, a hundred thousand years ago or a hundred million years ago (or more). It was here. And you are here. That’s an experience that transcends study, or movies, or picture books. It launches you through your physical senses via your imagination into what was once very real, right in the spot where you stand.
Our next stop was Colorado Springs – just an overnight, but it was good stop for the kids. We were able to visit Focus on the Family’s headquarters, which we didn’t have time for the last time we were there (2 years ago). That’s where they produce some of the “Adventures in Odyssey” which the kids all love. When they found out we were visiting, they were very excited. The entire lower level of the building is basically one big adventure for kids to explore: various rooms with tunnels to climb through or games to play, and all sorts of other things to do. There was a huge slide from the upper level down to the ground which Dylan and Eli loved. There was even a room dedicated to the Narnia series, which was a fun spot. All in all, it was worth the stop.
From there, we went to Taos, New Mexico, where we stayed in the cutest little cabin on a farm. There were goats, chickens, alpacas(!), a huge barn, a teepee, tons of beautiful plants, butterflies everywhere, even a little koi pond. The owners and the manager were incredibly nice and welcoming. Aaron (the manager) even brought us a dozen fresh eggs for our stay. Then we met some other visitors, Ben and Heather, and their two children Esther and Asa. The kids became fast friends and kept each other entertained for much of the time.
We didn’t do much sightseeing off the farm for the 2 days we were there, but we did make one trip out to see the Rio Grande Gorge and also visit the Earthship community. Gorgeous and fascinating. In that order. We had a great time, and would love to come back someday.
There were few things sweeter on this trip than spending time with friends and family. And this stop (family) was no exception. We were welcomed with open arms into Rachael and Richard’s home, and we couldn’t have felt more at home. A restorative time after so much traveling, ample room to spread out with our brood, evening conversations over tea and provisions for the road.
You guys (if you’re reading — even if you aren’t reading) are the best. It was sad to say goodbye, but you know where to find us on your next road trip. And we’ve always got spare rooms with your name on them.