Sunday, May 24, 2009

Assualt on Walmart

We head up to Page, AZ to stock up on food and necessities. I didn’t know what to expect, more high desert, maybe some pine highlands, but this drive up the east end of the Grand Canyon goes through some astonishing country.

This is the great Navajo reservation, a dry red dirt land that in its better areas will support sheep and cattle, but up this edge of the earthly pile up of two tectonic plates, there is one huge wall of toothy red rock after another, and in the valleys, drifts and piles of dangerously colored sands.

I described these colors in TX in terms of cooking, and these look like the piles of dry ingredients, flours, sugars, and spices that you put together in a bowl before mixing in the liquids. Or maybe the different powders in earth tones that are the raw ingredients of pottery glazes. It is other worldly, so barren of life that it makes me wonder if it is all mine tailings, but I know it is just the results of time and weather on the piles of rock and ash left by the volcanoes that vented here where the edges ran over the top of each other.

There are rickety open shelters in every turn out by the road where the Navajo sell to the passersby. Some of them lean as if into the wind, and most of them are empty this early in the year. The times I have stopped, most of the wares are strung beads, some rough pottery, and only very little of the silver work that I adore. The really outstanding new work and older pieces that I like don’t appeal to passersby, I guess. I sort of wish I could support them, life out here is pretty grim to my eyes, although the scenery is amazing.

We are driving up a valley that must have been cut by a stream that went elsewhere long ago, it isn’t the deep cut that practically every creek makes. We follow the impressive canyon of the Little Colorado for a ways, which doesn’t have the depth or colors of the big hole, but here the land is flat flat flat and then suddenly the canyon is there as if a knife was cutting a wobbly line into a sheet cake.

Further north, the ramparts of red get bigger and begin to have the same colored layers as the Grand Canyon, this section was just pushed up higher, and we come out into the Marble Canyon area, where the Colorado River first carved a great wide valley and then plunged the rest of the way down. As we climb up a wall of red rocks this great wide valley opens up, we can see the infant Grand Canyon and beyond, the Vermillion Cliffs that tower over to the north, another step in the kicked up sandstones of the Colorado Plateau.

Page is up on the top of this plateau, but has its own brand of wind whipped red rocks, here they are old , compacted sand dunes that still hold the ripples of ancient winds, and voluptuous rounded shapes. Our campground has a cliff behind it that swells up almost smooth to a crusty top, and around the corner the rocks look like giant red petrified cow flops. In the distance, the wild rocks of Lake Powell poke out of the water, a riot of colors and shapes that were a canyon and now are a boater’s paradise.

We pass boat dealers that have rows of enormous house boats for sale, some of them are 50-60 feet long and three decks tall! I had no idea that Lake Powell was so huge. I guess it has miles of rocky, spectacular inlets and coves to explore and stay in, fishing, swimming, driving small fast boats, big fast boats, and these stately house boats. I’ve seen pictures of this desert water fun. Maybe someday we can go see for ourselves.

Our job here is to buy enough food to last us all summer. Two hours in a Super Walmart. And $500 dollars later we have stuffed both fridges, and the small freezer with food, and the floor of the Airstream resembles a warehouse of canned goods, toilet paper, and paper towels. It is true that they run a van into St. George for shopping from the North Rim, but it is a 3 hour drive and another 3 hours back, so that’s 6 hours in a bumpy van with people that I don’t really want to spend that much time with. Seems like a terrible thing to do to a day off when you only get two every week. Besides, it’s kind of a stunt to see if you can survive that long without shopping. We do have meal privileges in the Employee Dining Room, but the food is pretty poor, and there are all sorts of temptations like cookies, brownies and worst of all, ice cream.

So now the last leg: we have to drive back over the sharp red ridge and down to the one bridge, Navajo Bridge. There isn’t another bridge for 250 miles south at Hoover Dam, and none for 100 miles north up in Utah at Cataract Canyon. The canyon is pretty much an infant here, we sort of hop over it on the bridge and then skirt the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs. These are less chewed on and eroded, more like a solid steep wall with the red and pale bands. They stretch for 100 miles as we work up a wide grassy valley, with the cliffs on our right. Over to the left rises the high forested plateau of the North Rim. The bridge was at 3752’, and we climbed slowly as the valley narrowed, then we headed for the Kaibab Plateau . Suddenly the rocks are covered, and there are ponderosa pines and grass , and we climb very steeply, diesels thundering, up to 7935’ at Jacob’s Lake. For everyone else, the road south into the park is still closed, and we meet one of our bosses there at the gate. The park itself is not open either, and we go through the locked gate and on through the wide parks still holding snow and big vernal ponds of snow melt, and finally to the North Rim, at 8325’. (Don’s GPS is on all the time telling us the altitude)

Feels good to be back here, a number of others have returned, but there is much to be done until the curtain goes up on May 15. [so much to be done, gently reader that this is kind of late…]


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