Maine 2019, Day 4

This post is late, because our Friday was a late night with many fabulous cocktails, so it might have been a little too hard to get it done on Saturday morning, what with travel and flight and stuff.

On Friday, we began by going across the road to the College of the Atlantic to snag breakfast at their café, which was not open because they’re not in session yet. This campus focuses on human ecology, and it’s lovely.

Pear tree

I made some notes for when I win the lottery and build the Lichtenbergian Retreat Complex.

We then made our way to Acadia National Park.

Acadia is the only National Park in the northeast, which is odd I think. It sprawls across several islands and contains multiple features of interest. There are shuttles there, just like at Grand Canyon, so we hopped the Loop and rode it straight around. Because we were on a tight time schedule, we didn’t hop on and off. Instead, we noted where we’d like to visit, then drove back there.

Typical view from the shuttle bus

One of those points was the Wild Garden, where volunteers have created a small garden with different areas representing the differing biomes in the park: conifer forest, bog, pond, roadside, etc.
I was there for the ferns. I will now bore you with multiple photos of ferns.

There were other plants, of course.

And frogs.

One of the attractions of the park is Sand Beach. “Sand” Beach, I hear you ask? Yes, of course: New England is not known for its pristine white beaches, and this place is an anomaly. In fact, it’s the only one. Its cove has a rocky island blocking the ocean’s full access, and so the surf has pounded shells into sand which has accumulated like it does normally elsewhere in the world.

Not pictured: a group of children in bathing suits frolicking in the freezing water. Mainers, amirite?

(In creating this post, I found on the official park website that Sand Beach and Thunder Hole (a tidal thing) were closed that very afternoon because of the storm surge from Hurricane Dorian. We escaped just in time, apparently.)

Have some seaweed.

We then drove to the peak of Mount Cadillac, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

—click to embiggen—

It was stunning. Like Grand Canyon, there’s nothing to keep you from plunging to your death if you’re an idiot. The views are spectacular: rocky coast, islands, Bar Harbor.

The plants are already getting ready to go for fall.

Maine is not called the Granite State for nothing. I liked the lichens.

Finally it was time to head back south. Normally we would have snagged a hotel room online during lunch, but we skipped lunch while we clambered around Mt. Cadillac—snacks only—and so we found that it was harder to find an affordable room on the road mid-afternoon. We had planned to return to Portland (there was a distillery I wanted to visit), but we ended up in Augusta, the capitol, at the comfortable—if kitschy—Senator Inn.

A capitol city, bustling with attractions and nightlife, right? You are thinking of Atlanta. Augusta is not that.

We did our research on where to eat and ended up in Hallowell, a small community right on the other side of Augusta. The Liberal Cup is a foodie place posing as a brewpub, and the meal was delicious. I especially appreciated their cocktail menu:

We asked our waitress where she would recommend for music and cocktails, and she immediately said, “The Maine House: Leah makes the best cocktails in town.”

Y’all.

First of all, it was tiny, it was crowded, and it was fabulous. There was a duo up front playing all the top 40 covers—my Lovely First Wife sang along to all of them—and the cocktails… Leah is a genius.

The Plaid Shirt is one of the best cocktails I have ever had, and everyone else was in heaven with their choices as well.

The duo up front took a break, and we strolled around Hallowell (it’s only a couple of blocks long) looking for our next good time.

Hallowell is our kind of place. This was on the wall on one of the buildings:

And this is what they do for fun:

If you don’t know what contra dance is, think Jane Austen movies. As I said, my kind of people.

By some schedule unknown to us the musicians at every single place were on break, and we decided we would head back to downtown Augusta and check out the night life there.

We headed specifically to The Oak Table & Bar, right there on State Street past the Capitol.

There we encountered Kyle, another genius. Tall, still athletic—he was ranked 37th in the nation as a lacrosse player in high school—and voluble, he made fabulous cocktails while we grilled him on how he got to where he is. Cool story: in the service, his buddies paid for him to go to bartending school because of his skillz. Out of the service, he was considering a 6-figure career in security consulting, but then had a son, now three years old, and he made the decision to stay home instead. We loved him.

By the time we emerged, Augusta had turned out the lights. We were literally the only car parked on the street.

We slept, we rose, we breakfasted, we drove to Portland, and we flew home. The end.

Next: Pro Tips.

Maine 2019, Day 3

We headed north out of Freeport, determined to stick to U.S. Hwy 1 as we drove towards Bar Harbor, thinking perhaps it would be like California’s Hwy 1: we’d whoosh up the coast like in a car commercial, zooming along the rocky coast towards lobster nirvana.

It seems we were misinformed. Hwy 1 will sometimes hug the coast, but it more often resembles a drive through north Georgia. However, the towns are much quainter, New England having invented the concept. (I was driving today, so unfortunately I don’t have any photos of all the quaintness.)

You do come across things:

Our immediate goal was the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. This collection was started by the Farnsworth family and is now a city block of buildings and exhibits. Its main claim on our attention was the repository of Wyeth family work: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew, currently living Jamie, and a small flock of other relatives.

But the first exhibit to catch our eye was a small gallery of screens. It was lovely:

This was a fascinating piece of woodwork, and then you walked around to the other side…

…and found this dazzling, gold-leafed version. If I have time when I get back, I’ll share a video of how the surfaces reflected each other as you moved around.

There were a couple of others, all beautifully crafted.

The actual first exhibit we saw was an exhibit of Jamie Wyeth’s portraits of his wife Phyllis, who died this past January. She was an avid horsewoman—her horse Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes in 2012—and was known for her independent spirit, despite having been injured in an auto accident in her early 20s. She was a lover of animals, and Jamie painted this “tapestry,” as he called it, to celebrate that.

Phyllis is the figure on the right in the red hat, zipping through her farm on her motorized scooter.

Outside the main museum is the Farnsworth complex, including the original Farnsworth homestead…

…and the Wyeth Center, housed in a converted Methodist church.

There we found an exhibit of Jamie Wyeth’s work, Untoward Occurrences and Other Things. Jamie is, for lack of a better word, a deeply weird artist. We decided that he either consciously or unconsciously decided to be the weird kid, playing off his father and grandfather’s reputations as calm, rational, organized, and beloved. He paints with bravura, but the paintings in this exhibit at least present you with some very disturbing narratives.

For example, one of the paintings is of the artist Rockwell Kent, whom Jamie apparently had a big old man-crush on. Kent is standing on a beach, with a fogbound cliff behind him. You don’t even notice the vague dark figure plummeting headfirst off the cliff. At first. The fact that this may reference a lover of Kent’s who was found dead beneath the cliff is just part of the weirdness.

Worth seeing, the whole museum.

(There will be more discussion of some of the art over at Lichtenbergianism.com next week.

We found a chocolate place, a “beans-to-bar” establishment. The chocolate is good, but on the whole just buy locally: the owner’s presentation on how they do it is not as interesting as he thinks it is, and his pronunciation of ‘cacao’ is odd for one whose business is all pods and nibs.

Here’s a fun thing:

“Collins” is Maine’s “moderate” Republican senator Susan Collins, who is renowned for being awfully concerned about her party’s shenanigans. She will wring her hands, issue sternly worded statements—and then still vote for the president (who imprisons children)’s agenda. The final straw seems to have been her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. At any rate, the voters of Maine are out to get her. Good for them.

Onward. We stopped in Camden for lunch at the Waterfront Market.

Food was great, and the view couldn’t be beat. Traffic was heavy, though, what with one yacht or another heading out to sea.

On up the road to Bar Harbor. We had to swerve off into the overlook area when this appeared:

Hard to see, but it’s the tallest inhabited structure in Maine: the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, with a 40-story observation deck in the left-hand tower.  It’s part of the Fort Knox state park. It was about to close, so we passed it by. Perhaps on our way back?

At lunch, we all whipped out our phones looking for lodging in Bar Harbor. Pricewise, the Edenbrook Motel was acceptable, and it looked charming in the photos. When we got to Bar Harbor, my phone got confused and took us up into the hills to a golf course. When I corrected it, we were led through neighborhoods until we came across what looked to be a seedy, rundown establishment.

I was excoriated for my choice in motels.

However, the rooms are huge, modern, and clean, and the view:

…well, let’s just say I was vindicated.

The sunset was nice:

We headed into Bar Harbor proper, found a parking place—which even in the off season is a feat; I cannot imagine trying to park during the season—and looked for a restaurant. We settled on Salt & Steel, and it was the best meal we’ve had so far. Great bar as well: they not only had green Chartreuse, they had Tom Cat barrel-aged gin as well—I could get a Bijou, and did.

Tomorrow, our last full day, we will spend in Acadia National Park, and then return to Portland.

Maine 2019, Day 2

We awoke in our cozy Chebeaugue Island Inn, which looks like this:

Well, I awoke. Everyone else slept in while I worked.

photo credit: Marc

What am I working on?

The placement map for Alchemy. Why? BECAUSE HIPPIES CANNOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS AND ARE JUST NOW REALIZING THEY NEED TO ASK FOR CHANGES IN THEIR PLACEMENT.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT I FINISHED THE MAIN DRAFT OF THE MAP ON SATURDAY BEFORE WE LEFT JUST SO I WOULDN’T HAVE TO WORK ON THIS STUFF.

KENNETH.

Even now, the hippies are squinting and poring and telling their computers to Enhance just to get a sneak peek of where their camp is and who their neighbors are.

Tough noogies, hippies.

My Lovely First Wife took off for a bicycle ride around the island and had a great time. But then she’s adventurous like that.

After a late breakfast, it was time to pack and head to the ferry. More about that in a moment. First, here are the treats we found in our room.

Shame on you! Those are lobsters.

We got to the ferry and waited while all these people poured off and started walking up the hill.

The crew unloaded all the Amazon packages, and then all those people poured back down the hill and back on the boat. Odd, we thought.

Not so odd as we set sail and the captain began murmuring indistinctly over the fuzzy speakers about this island or that: “murmur murmur WWII murmur murmur residents…” It transpired that the ferry is not mainly a transport between Portland and the islands, it is also a tour of Casco Bay—hence the debarking and embarking of all these people at each stop: we were taking the long way back to the city.

It’s always colder on the water, and today was actually nippy, which for me means FREEZING COLD. I was wearing a sweater, a lined coat, a scarf, a woolen hat, and gloves, and I was miserable.

The Lovely First Wife, on the other hand:

She gave free rein to her inner Golden Labrador and stood on the bouncing prow in the freezing seaspray for the entire ride.

Once back on shore, we retrieved the car and set off for Cape Elizabeth. We needed to see the lighthouses, because that is what one does in Maine.

Here, have a lighthouse:

It is indeed picturesque, as is the rocky coast of Maine. (Like the “mighty Colorado,” you have to say “rocky coast of Maine,” or they look askance at you as if you’re not entering into the proper spirit of the thing.)

More:

—click to embiggen—

The place is not barren. Just of out camera range, there’s a wide variety of plants and shrubs.

See the little bee? She was just wallowing in the flower, having a great time.

Also there at Cape Elizabeth is a well-known lobster roll establishment. We had been told that these were the best, for a multitude of reasons, by people who know these things.

However, we are heathens and were not at all impressed with the concept or the execution. The blueberry pie, on the other hand, was primo.

Then it was back in the car and back up the coast to Freeport. (We did take a quick detour through Fort Williams Park to see another lighthouse, but didn’t stop.)

As we pulled into Freeport, we did a hard U-turn to go back and stop at the Cold River Distillery, where we sampled some gin and vodka. I bought the gin, of course. (No photo yet.) I was hoping it was the gin I had back at the Inn, and that I had misheard the name of it: Cold Shore, I thought. As it turns out, I had misheard it, but it’s actually Hard Shore, not Cold River. This is what gin will do to you, boys and girls.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel, then headed back out. One of our company wanted to buy a pillow from CuddleDown, a local concern, because the pillows at the Inn were simply delightful.

Then we headed to the Maine Beer Company, which is a very nice establishment: they pay their workers an extravagant wage, plus three weeks of vacation, plus full healthcare, plus retirement. They donate to all kinds of ecological causes. They support local charities.

And their building is gorgeous:

Out of frame to the right is a pizza parlor. Great place for a date or a get-together.

We moved on to dinner at Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro. When you stop to taste the gin or the beer, ask where the best restaurants are.

And finally, late at night…

Can you guess where we are?

That’s right, we’re at L.L. Bean.

Our intrepid fellow travelers, Marc and MF

It was great fun to ramble through the enormous flagship store. However, I was really impressed to find that I needed nothing there. After five years of burning, I have everything I need for comfort and safety, although I did buy a “tick nipper” to keep in the first aid kit. Nasty little bloodsuckers—keep your mandibles off my bacon.

Finally, back to the hotel and bed.

Maine 2019, Day 1

Yes, we’re off again, this time to Maine. Don’t ask me why. Somehow going to Prague for the week was deemed impractical, and so (naturally??) the coast of Maine presented itself as the obvious option.

At any rate, we boarded a plane in Atlanta and landed in Portland a couple hours later. We snagged our rental car and headed into town.

Portland is charming, as advertised, and we had a long lunch at Dimillo’s, mainly because it took forever to fill our orders. The food was tasty.

Then we wandered a bit in Old Port, one of those great formerly dilapidated areas now booming with bougie tourist shops targeting the likes of us. My favorite stop was Vena’s Fizz House, a craft cocktail bar with a twist: they have an astounding collection of bitters, antique glassware, and almost every other cocktail accoutrement that you can imagine.

Their especial trick, though, is to serve you a fabulous cocktail, made with hard-to-find bitters and house-invented ingredients— then sell you all those ingredients.

Thus, the Campfire, with bourbon, lemon juice, smoky hops, Vena’s Bitter Armand. Here you see the drink with materials I had already selected for purchase:

And here you see the additional materials I purchased after finally tumbling to the shtick:

This trip is remarkable in that my Lovely First Wife, who is known for her rigorous planning of these things, decided that on this trip all we are going to do is fly to Portland, then drive Hwy 1 to Bar Harbor. It takes three hours to do that, and we’re here for four days. We have no reservations and no plans.

So at lunch, I whip out the phone and open up Hotel Tonight, and find a great deal for the Chebeaugue Island Inn, which is only 1.9 miles away from where we were lunching.

Here’s the thing: that’s 1.9 miles as the crow flies. After I had booked the place, I noticed in their blurb that I should call for the “ferry schedule.”

Wait what?

Yes, that’s right, there is no bridge to these islands. It’s ferry service only, and the last one of the day was at 5:45. Not a problem. I went to book our transport online, then rather than wait for their call to confirm, I called them.

That’s when I learned that ferrying a car was abnormal, usually done weeks in advance. And then it dawned on me: we park the car and just take our luggage on the ferry. Doh.

It also dawned on me that an hour-long 5:45 ferry ride meant we were on Chebeaugue Island for the evening. No prowling around the Old Port neighborhood for cocktails and funsies. No, our destiny was going to be a bit more… sedate.

And it has been fabulous. We were met at the ferry by the Inn’s van and driver (a charming young man from South Africa, whom we advised to look into winter employment at Grand Canyon or Lake Louise in Canada), and were whisked away to the Inn, the only such establishment on the island (pop. 350).

Lovely, wooden, comfortable. Great bar. I’ve learned of Hardshore Gin, a Maine distillation which I will be looking for.

We had cocktails from the bar, watched the sunset from the lawn, and finally settled in for dinner, which was phenomenal.

View from the firepit
Lobster, of course.

We also decided that rather than brutalize ourselves to get up early enough to catch the 6:20 ferry, we’d just sleep in and catch the 11:35 ferry. I mean, what else do we have to do?

A musing about joy

Short prologue: I bought a set of cards with inspirational questions on them to use as writer’s prompts down at Backstreet Arts, and in a fit of masochism decided that if I weren’t actively working on anything while I was down there, then I was required to draw one randomly and answer it.

Full prologue: https://www.lichtenbergianism.com/blog/2019/6/10/perverse-task-avoidance

So today’s question was:

Ugh. This is the kind of gross self-affirmation any of which I do not need. But an oath is an oath, and I think I’d like to share my response.

Ha. I am perpetually self-indulgent. Every day I enjoy what I do—and I do what I enjoy. This idea of not enjoying life is completely alien to me.

This includes the things I have to do, duties and burdens—far be it from this atheist to claim biblical inspiration, but the verse, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” [Ecclesiastes 9:10] seems to have stuck with me from Sunday School. Why not commit to your tasks with joy and appreciation?

It’s certainly not the case that I am a Pollyanna about life—there is plenty in my life that frustrates me or makes me unhappy. But it has never made sense to me to regard all of life as roadblocks. For one thing, taking things “personally” is the quickest way to misery: if the universe is out to get you, how are you supposed to enjoy your existence in the face of that?

To revisit the Ecclesiastes, here’s 9:9–10 in the International Children’s Bible:

9 … Enjoy all the days of this short life God has given you here on earth. It is all you have. So enjoy the work you have to do here on earth.

10 Whatever work you do, do your best. This is because you are going to the grave. There is no working, no planning, no knowledge and no wisdom there.

Here is existentialism in a nutshell: this life is all you have, and it is not long. Choose to do well at it. Choose to live it with joy.

So yes, I make cocktails and sit in my labyrinth. I read. I make dinner and run errands. I write letters. I go to burns. I serve on the burn board of directors.

I try to do it with “all my might”—why do it grudgingly? Do it with joy, and then you don’t have to find a way to give yourself “permission” to enjoy life.

Grand Canyon 2019, the Swag Edition

Here’s what I bought on our trip. We have a rule not to buy “stuff” these days, but that rule does not include jewelry or art. Or in my case, booze.

First up:

At the Wal-Mart in Phoenix, where we stopped for quick supplies before heading on. I mean, I had to have these, didn’t I, to celebrate my Americanismness at the Mexican restaurant in Tusuyan.

I follow Anne Lamott on Twitter, and her book Bird by Bird has been circling my consciousness for a while. The Wild Unknown Journal is a tool for Backstreet.

Ah… Two locally distilled gins, plus some Blackstrap Bitters which I had never seen before, plus prickly pear syrup. The El Tovar served a prickly pear margarita that wasn’t bad, and as I searched in my head for fun cocktails to take to Transformus, it occurred to me to make a prickly pear daiquiri.  (I have done so, and I’ll post about that later.)

The Desert Rain is a pleasant dry gin, and the Western Sage is a really good botanical: less juniper, more other flavors.

These two items came from the Cameron Trading Post. Other gift shops had sandstone thingies, but Cameron was the only place that had the orbs. This one spoke to me. The green onyx bowl will join the carnelian bowl as a receptacle for essential oils.

At the Watchtower on the way back from Cameron, several Hopi artists were demo-ing their craft. These earrings appealed to me: the water symbol, with mists rising. Mr. Seweyestewa was not charging nearly enough for these, either.

Two more lizards for my collection. The one on the left came from Cameron; the one on the right, from one gift shop or another, is Oaxacan.

I broke our rule about ‘stuff’ with a coaster. But really, it’s the centennial of my second-favorite place on earth.

Nice new agey music; I remembered I already owned another CD by the artist.

A t-shirt.

A long sleeve t-shirt. Also a centennial item.

All in all, not a heavy shopping excursion. (Although two bottles of gin and a sandstone globe can get your luggage slapped with a bright orange HEAVY sticker.)

Tomorrow: Pro Tips!

Grand Canyon 2019, Day 8

Saturday, July 6

Not a lot to report here: we were coming home.

We got up to see the sunrise, the Lovely First Wife’s first.

And we were off. Driving out of the Park, we were hoping some elk had come to say goodbye, but not one of the beasts appeared.

Then, as we drove through Tusuyan, the Lovely First Wife cried out, “There! A big one!” I had completely missed a healthy young male right by the road. I swerved into the NatGeo parking lot and we circled back around. Have a slideshow:

He absolutely ignored us. He also ignored the couple who was less than twenty feet from him, which is extremely fortunate for those idiots.

The drive back to Phoenix was through the usual magnificent countryside, and the rest area we stopped at was pretty incredible. For one thing, it had this lovely cactus:

For another, it had these fabulous little rainbow lizards:

This is one of three we saw; the other two were involved in a chest-puffing contest which the Lovely First Wife caught on video. You should ask to see it sometime.

Then we got to Phoenix, arrived at the airport, and flew home the end.

Not actually: I have two more posts to write, the swag post and the pro tip post. Stay tuned.

 

Grand Canyon 2019, Day 7

Friday, July 5

Good morning! Have a not-dandelion.

We took the Blue shuttle over to the Visitors Center, then hopped the Orange shuttle over to the Yavapai Geology Museum.

There we were saddened to find the remains of another victim of the Park’s squirrels. They go for the young and the weak.

The Canyon is as usual its stunning self.

Some of the exhibits of the Geology Museum are showing some wear and tear and need some refurbishing, but the place is still a must-see. However, go only after you have been looking at the Canyon so much that you are ready to receive the information the Museum has. Do not make the mistake of trying to learn what the exhibits are teaching and then apply it to the Canyon.

I was reminded of the technical term for the missing layers of geologic time: nonconformities. The museum uses the metaphor of an encyclopedia to describe “reading” the layers of rock, and now I can describe those among us who are abysmally ignorant as being “eat up with nonconformities.”

I cannot even now describe all those layers of rock, or why limestone alternates with schist or sandstone, but I can marvel at the vast stretches of time represented by what I see. The Colorado River has only been carving this place for five million years, but the rock it is carving through has taken half a billion years to lay down.

(I will say that I’m doing better than several people I overheard at the museum, looking out the window, either pointing out “a body of water down there” to their companion, or excitedly learning that a river did all this.)

Do you remember, a week ago, when I outlined my main reason for coming here? Of course you do: it was to see an electrical storm roll across the Canyon, an exciting daily feature of the monsoon season.

This, dear reader, is the weather I have had to endure for the entire week: crystal clear, balmy during the day, pleasantly chilly at night, so many stars you can’t find your familiar constellations.[1] There may have been a sprinkle or two on Tuesday, but that was just to tease me. There were no storms, not even of any kind.

All this means is that we will be forced to return.

We spent the afternoon taking a break, resting, watching some Disney-owned channel run every single Star Wars movie on a loop and critiquing each one. I ventured out to Maswick Lodge to upload yesterday’s photos and blog post, but mostly we just vegged.

Eventually we went to the cocktail lounge at Bright Angel Lodge for a “Tap Takeover,” a regular feature there where a local(ish) brewer brings their beers for a fun night. There was a great duo playing pop tunes in the corner, and we met Orville, a native of the Canyon who works there in retail. We learned a lot about daily life there: owning a home, raising kids, dealing with the remoteness. Neat guy. (One of his friends, an NPS employee, just transferred to Alpharetta; the wife was an English teacher—job alert!)

We returned to El Tovar for the sunset…

In the lobby, a historical preservationist entertained us with songs by the group America, along with the stories behind them.

…and then dinner, where we met a couple from Augusta, GA, Mike and Annette, who had just up and moved out here for jobs in the Park, he with engineering, she as a physical therapist at the clinic. We learned even more about living and working at the park, just in case we were thinking about chucking it all and retiring out there. Which we do every time we’re out there. For one thing, I think the cocktail bars could learn to use green Chartreuse.

Any way, we now have a place to stay in the Canyon courtesy of Mike and Annette.

As we wended our way back to the cabin, the sliver of a new moon set over the Canyon. (The phone is unable to capture it.)

—————

[1] A guy we met on the trail said that he’s an amateur astronomer and can’t find stuff when he’s out here.

Grand Canyon 2019, Day 6

Happy Fourth of July!

It was truly a glorious 4th here in Grand Canyon. For one thing, it did not rain on our parade, nor did we have to listen to wooden, anodyne speeches.

I have nothing to report for the morning. Having missed two days in blogging this adventure, I had to set aside the entire morning to catch up. The only thing that made it easier was that—as was foretold in the prophecies—the National Park Services HQ has wifi, real wifi, wifi that might even be faster than mine at home. (I’m looking at you, NuLink.)

So I spent a couple of hours resizing the photos and writing the posts, then hopped the shuttle over to the Shrine of the Ages and walked over to the HQ. I passed through the lobby into the courtyard and set up shop on a picnic table.

Technically the wifi belongs to the NPS Research Library, a tiny room off the courtyard.

We had stopped by late Monday afternoon to upload photos, finishing just seconds before they closed up. The librarian actually rushed out the door ahead of us; he was not in this morning so I could say hi and thank him.

As I was waiting for the many many photos from Tuesday and Wednesday to upload, I noticed this:

What was it? It seemed deliberate, but it also seemed not quite right for some reason. A closer look was not enlightening.

There did seem to be a pattern.

Finally, a ranger emerged from the education department; she was able to tell me that it was a sculpture representing the Glen Canyon Dam’s impact on the humpback chub. You may recall that Major John Wesley Powell described the river as “Too thick to drink and too thin to plow” back in the day. After the dam was built in 1963, the raging, silty river became a frigid, clear river. The ecological impact on the area is only now beginning to be understood.

One of the impacts was on the breeding capabilities of fish like the humpback chub, and this sculpture is an illustration of that.

The ranger told me that it used to be in a more prominent position, when the courtyard was used for classes and demonstrations more than it is now. The piece has been shoved aside and needs repair; she said its future was uncertain. It seems a shame, though.

Finally I was able to rejoin the tour, and we made plans for the rest of the day.

First up, take the Blue shuttle to the Visitors Center, then hop the Purple shuttle to head into Tusuyan, the tiny town just outside the Park.

There we celebrated our Americanismness by having lunch at Plaza Bonita. As one does.

Remember, boys and girls, that when you’re in a desert climate, you have to make sure you are maintaining your salt intake.

The real reason we went into town is that THEY WERE HAVING A FOURTH OF JULY PARADE, KENNETH!

But Dale, I hear you say, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that Tusuyan ONLY HAS 558 RESIDENTS! I wanted to see how they were going to pull this off. When we got to town, they had blocked off the northbound lane of Hwy 64 and diverted all traffic into the southbound lane.

We had read in the newspaper that there would be a bicycle decorating session at 2:30, followed by the parade at 3:30. I surmised that the parade would consist of small children on their decorated bikes.

And SO IT WAS!

Actually, there was more.

Lots of Grand Canyon Centennial stuff…

A school bus with a horn like an 18-wheeler…

Smoky the Bear (tiny in the center with his ranger handler)…

At one point it was clear that some poor schlub had gotten into the parade by mistake. Rather than go with the flow and just wave to the crowd, he panicked and tried to pass the parade to get out.  Bless his heart.

Obligatory emergency vehicles…

The tourism contingent…

I should say at this point that it’s apparently the custom in these parts to pelt the parade with water balloons. And this float fought back with water guns.

Motorcycle.

A stage, with a chorus, I think; it was facing the actual parade route.

Winding it all up: horse, with mule.

And it was simply the bestest parade ever. We even had a flyover, although I’m sure it was just a canyon flight returning to the airport. Kudos to the citizens of Tusuyan!

We strolled down to the other end of town to the Best Western. (Tusuyan is only six blocks long, if it were divided into blocks.) In the gift shop was this book:

It is exactly what it says it is, and it’s nearly 600 pages long. It won an award. Oy.

We crossed the street and headed back up.

A pretty flower I hadn’t seen before:

When we got back to the north end of town, we crossed over to the party. Yes, there’s a party!

They had a good band, food/drink, a silent auction, a PTA booth, everything you should have.

The party was to continue until late, but we had plans. We hopped back on the Purple shuttle, Blue shuttled back to the Village, and then drove the 35 miles out to the Watchtower, barely in time to catch a ranger talk: “Finding Meaning in Deep Places.”

Here was our ranger:

You can’t see it, but he has a cute little blond ponytail. Hippie ranger indeed: he handed out little booklet/journals and pencils, then led us through a guided meditation on what we saw, what it meant to us, what we hoped to find, very woo indeed. I loved it.

And then it was time for sunset.

We made the long drive back to the Village and had a very late supper at Bright Angel Lodge, where apparently the bartender was “having a thing” (as our nearly comatose waiter put it) — the gin and tonic arrived 40 minutes after I ordered it, and flat. We bonded with the three young men in the booth behind us over the amazing breakdown in service. Like everyone else we have talked to, their awe of the Canyon was palpable.

One more day (Friday), and that post will be late: on Saturday we will spend the entire day getting home.

Grand Canyon 2019, Day 5

Wednesday, July 3

Another day on the road!

One item on the Lovely First Wife’s bucket list has been to do the Skywalk at the West Rim. She’s been thwarted in this goal by the fact that the West Rim is four hours away, but since we’re here for the entire week we made the trek over.

To get there, you have to head south on highway 64 to Williams, then west on I-40, then back up via a couple of highways and then just plain roads.

Here is a traffic sign. I wish I could remember what the message was, because it was very amusing. Maybe it will come to me.

As you turn off onto the road that eventually leads to the West Rim, there is a Joshua tree forest.

I won’t bore you with the rugged landscape through which we drove. It’s stunning, but the phone just can’t capture how gorgeous it is.

Finally we arrived. The West Rim is tribal land, and the Skywalk is the Hualapai tribe’s tourist attraction. It’s a thing: planes, buses, and helicopters buzzing around like hornets are all part of the business.

The white thing is a giant inflatable Quonset hut contraption with the ticket office/gift shop.

We found the crowds.

We stood in a line outside for a while until it became apparent this was the line for people without tickets. So we went inside and stood in another life for people without tickets until we realized our error. Again.

Finally the Lovely First Wife asked for directions and we got into the proper line for boarding the bus.

There are three stops for the buses: Eagle Point, Guano Point, and the Ranch. Here was our first view of the canyon from the bus:

Here for some reason is a selfie that I did not mean to take:

The Skywalk facility at Eagle Point is a lovely postmodern thing, which is detracted from by some pretty basic infrastructure/fencing. The staff are friendly and helpful.

The front entrance.

Remember the crowds? We were in line with them. It took a while to get into the building, and then in true Six Flags/DisneyWorld fashion, there was another line that snaked back and forth to get to the locker room where you have to put all your personal belongings into a locker and put on shoe coverings before you go out on the actual Skywalk.

It occurs to me that you may not know what the Skywalk is, and somehow I failed to get a good photo from the outside. (Cameras are forbidden on the Skywalk itself.) If you look at the longshot of the building above, you’ll see what looks like a patio extending toward the canyon.

It is not a patio. It is a 10-foot wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Look down and you can see right through the glass platform 4,000 feet to the floor of the Canyon below.

You may very well be wondering why a slightly acrophobic individual would even want to do such a thing. The truth is, I didn’t, and I wasn’t going to, but when ordering tickets I decided I would be the good, giving, and game husband and venture out onto this thing with my Lovely First Wife.

It was a mistake.

I can stand on the edge of the canyon with no problem, though I am more than usually alert when doing so. On the Skywalk I had a moment. I moseyed along, not looking down 4,000 FEET, KENNETH, only out to the canyon, hugging the rail, and finally abandoned the Lovely First Wife to enjoy it by herself.

It was unnerving. My mother-in-law is fond of advising us to “travel when you’re young and have the health to do it.” I have amended that to “travel when you’re young enough never have to do that again.”

Before getting back on the bus we strolled through the tribal exhibits outside, replicas of shelters/homes built by the various peoples of the Southwest.

A wikiup—a word I hadn’t thought of it in years:

A sweat lodge:

Inside:

A hogan, the winter home of the Navajo:

Back on the bus, and on to Guano Point. Yes, it’s titter-worthy. It was named that because about 90 years ago a cave was discovered over on the north side filled with guano, i.e., bat poop, which was very valuable as fertilizer.  The guano company built a tram across the canyon to transport miners and guano.

There’s a snack bar, etc., and a spectacular view.

Here’s a spirit, watching craftily at the snack bar area.

Here are his cohort:

And here’s the spectacular view:

Yes, it’s a spit of land out into the canyon. This is not a problem.

The canyon looks very different here:

Very austere, not as brightly colored as the Park, but still beautiful.

There are helicopter rides, as you can see in this photo:

There are pontoon boat rides, as you can see in this photo:

photo credit the Lovely First Wife

If you didn’t see the helicopter or pontoon boat, go back and look. That’s how huge this place is.

For example, the little knob at the far end of the spit is actually not that little. See the tiny people on top?

Around the knob are the remains of the tram. It was damaged by a fighter jet (!) in 1960, and the company shut down. It creaks and whistles in the wind.

I decided to climb the knob, which you probably find amazing, given that I had just freaked at the Skywalk. And so it came to pass: there’s a path that winds around the knob, but I only made it a quarter of the way when the 4,000 foot drop just got to me. I retreated.

BUT THEN I realized I could just go straight up, avoiding the precipice entirely. I just had to be clever about not twisting my ankle off.

The view from the top:

I went up the far side and came down the near side. In doing so, I found traces of my people:

After I got down, I finally found the Lovely First Wife, who had unbeknownst to me attempted the climb from the near side, gotten stuck (she’s afraid to climb down; I have issues with climbing up), and had to be helped down by a kind stranger.

We headed back to the bus stop, missing one bus while some of us purchased some jewelry from the artists there.

The third stop, the Ranch, we didn’t bother with. It has a “Wild West” village look, plus the new zipline, etc., none of which interested us. Plus it was getting late and we still had the four-hour drive back to the Park ahead of us.

The drive back was uneventful. I will say that being on an interstate provided me with internet access; while the Lovely First Wife drove I got some bills paid and some prickly pear syrup ordered from Amazon, plus caught up on some burn Board business.[1]

We pulled into the Park just as the sun was setting. I wish I had photos, but by the time we got back to the cabin it was gone.

We did get a couple of elk doing their thing:

photo credit the Lovely First Wife

We cleaned up, headed up to El Tovar, snagged a table, and had a light but first-rate soup and salad. The young man who kept us watered is an Iraqi-born Romanian, working here for the summer—Xanterra has job fairs all over the world, recruiting charming youngsters to wait tables. It’s a great deal: they’re paid well, and pay nothing for lodging or board for the summer. This young man was there with four other buddies from Romania (he’s studying to become a mechanical engineer), and I told him frankly I was jealous of his experience. His description of first seeing the Canyon was delightful and completely matched our own.

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[1] What, you didn’t know I am now on the board of directors for Flashpoint Artists Initiative, the concern that runs the Georgia burns? It’s a saga all on its own. Later maybe.