I was 50 years old before visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, even though I’d lived in striking distance most of my life. Dave Sherrill and I had ridden to Flagstaff from Grand Junction on our motorcycles for Memorial Day weekend. We got up early one of the mornings while there and rode to the Canyon. I was awe struck by the visit that day and the reaction when returning many times since is the always the same. This is our second visit in the year 2016. We enjoyed a day there from a stay in Flagstaff with Aaron and family and Jessica and family in June. I want to share some photos though they never do justice to what we saw.
We got up early and drove up Oak Creek Canyon from Sedona in the morning darkness to Flagstaff and then down Highway 180 to the Park. We arrived about 8:15 – the winter sun on this day of the Winter Solstice was still low in the morning sky. It was mostly cloudy with the sun breaking through here and there – the combination of shadows from the canyon formations on themselves and the shadows from the sun peeking in and out from behind clouds gave the views from the overlooks a sense of depth I’d not experienced in other visits.
The temperature was in the mid-20s as we stopped at the first overlook on the spur to Hermit’s Rest. It felt chilly with a slight breeze. The Park road to Hermit’s Rest was open to personal autos this visit. Most visits the overlooks on this road can only be accessed on shuttle buses that run every few minutes. On those visits, you exit the bus with a group at the overlooks you choose, spend the time there you want and then catch another shuttle to the next one. A visit with access by your own vehicle is very nice. There’s a measure of freedom and convenience that the shuttle buses don’t provide. We were almost by ourselves on the overlooks in the early morning cold – the Park became busier later as the sun warmed the air into the 50s by the time we left. There are a number of overlooks with places to park on this road which is 12 miles long – it begins close to the center of action at the village by the train station. There is a walking trail which connects all the overlooks. We walked the trail from Hermit’s Rest back toward the Pima overlook for a mile and return. We saw only one other group on the entire walk – a large family of visitors from the Middle East who, though I didn’t understand their words, were smiling and laughing and taking pictures and being amazed just as we were.
Each visit to the Park renews a sense of reverence which seems to engulf as you look out at the landscape. The vastness – the myriad of shapes carved by the elements in rock – the manifestation of the power of natural forces working over time – the realization that creation exists in a continuum – that beauty and wonder are worked by submitting to the forces of their existence – that good things were created and exist not in isolation, but in mutual cooperation. The wonders of the Grand Canyon are evidence that good has always existed – we don’t have to create good – it comes from aligning ourselves and joining with forces that have always been its subsistence. The experience is intensely spiritual. I’m sure this sense is not just in me – it is seen over and over in the faces and eyes of the visitors encountered during a day at the Park. The sense of reverence is a blessing – as much as the experience shouts my insignificance; it also proves that even in seeming helplessness each element exists with purpose.
We hope to be back to the Grand Canyon someday. It will continue to beckon our return.
Following breakfast at Wildflower Bread Company we drove to Red Rock State Park on the west edge of Sedona for a hike. The Park contains about 300 acres which were acquired and is operated as a State Park to protect a section of Oak Creek in its natural state. It is popular for both visitor and local hiking.
The trails provide beautiful views of sandstone rock formations and cliffs which line the valley of Oak Creek. Below is a formation named Cathedral Rock.
If you look closely at the center of the following picture you can see a mule deer we came across as we hiked standing behind a yucca plant. There were a pair of them – the white rump of the second doe is barely recognizable through a fork of the dead tree at the right side of the photo. They watched us closely and spent most of the time standing behind a Pinyon Pine as we stopped and watched them.
There was a grove of thick white barked birch at one corner of the Park standing in contrast to the red sandstone cliff.
Oak Creek in the photo below
We walked 3.4 miles of the trails in the park according to my watch GPS. The 4 hours went quickly. I was constantly stopping to take a photo. There’s a new picture at every bend in the trail. The temperature was in the upper 50s and the air was still – the skies with a thin layer of clouds and some haze. We shed our jackets early in the walk. Some of my favorite places in the West are Red Rock country – Moab and Escalante and Mexican Hat and Monument Valley and Bryce Canyon, UT – Sedona matches up to them in beauty. Tomorrow’s plans are the Grand Canyon – back to back days of Southwest desert wows – I’d better get the camera battery in the charger.
We got up early Sunday morning – packed the minivan with some clothes and a cooler with my pomegranate juice and Darlene’s Gatorade – brewed a couple coffees on the Keurig in travel mugs with some Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting chips in the bottom and were on the road by 6:30 AM. We’ve been anticipating the trip for a few months now – it’s good when the day arrives and you’re able to drive away.
We have timeshare reservations for 5 nights in Sedona. I wanted to attend worship service in Gallup – about ½ way on the 360-mile journey. We made Gallup in time to grab an Egg McMuffin and still make most of Bible class followed by worship. The service was an encouragement with 50 or so friendly people in attendance. We’ve come to enjoy visiting little congregations on our trips out of town. We often travel on a Sunday because our timeshare points go farther for Sunday through Thursday stays.
We left Gallup after services. The air was crisp and clear – I could pick out the snow caps of the San Francisco peaks which sit beside Flagstaff from 100 miles away. The peaks impose themselves upon the high desert rising over 5,000 ft above Flagstaff at their base to an elevation of 12,600 ft. There is a ski resort at the top – not something expected in Arizona. We stopped in Flagstaff for a late lunch at the Beaver Street Brewery in the historic downtown. There was a chilly breeze on the day following a winter snow storm. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Flagstaff over the years and Beaver Street is one of our favorite places to eat. We shared a Thai salmon burger and a bowl of great sweet potato fries. The fries came with a creamy dip with a strong rosemary flavor – interesting and good. The salmon burger tasted really fresh, and the Thai slaw on it was especially spicy and good.
Sedona is about 30 miles beyond Flagstaff to the southwest. Outside of Flagstaff a short distance the road drops down world famous Oak Creek Canyon. The elevation change as the canyon descends is a full 3,000 feet with Sedona at an elevation of 4,300 ft compared to Flagstaff at 7,000 ft. There are stretches of the canyon with switch back curves and serious drop offs at the edge of the road. On the trips up and down the canyon in years past I have often ended up behind a driver – maybe from Kansas – intimidated by the curves and drop offs – they creep along riding their brakes; hugging the canyon wall. It happened again this trip. I’ve ridden the canyon often on a Harley Davidson in years past. It was easy to just jump around a slow car on the Harley – double yellow lines or not – not so with life in a minivan – patience is forced upon me. I’m sure patience is a virtue and I will learn to enjoy and appreciate it someday. You can see Oak Creek at times as the road descends – the landscape changes from the Ponderosa pines of Flagstaff to broad leafed trees and bushes and junipers and cedars as the red rocks of Sedona come into view.
As the bottom of the canyon is reached the red rock cliffs and spires and rugged sandstone formations on both sides of the valley come into view. It is a special sight that is always remembered. It is one of those things you are anxious to tell people about when returning home – the words, though, can’t ever match the things that were seen. The photos help a little, but even pictures don’t do justice.
The Wyndham timeshare resort in Sedona is very nice – beautifully landscaped with spacious units – many of them with views of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. We first stayed here in the early 2000s when the units were first built. Here are pictures of the view from the patio I took this morning and the interior living area in the unit.
We’ve got 5 nights in Sedona before heading to Grand Junction, CO for Christmas weekend with children and grandchildren. We’re meeting some old friends not seen in 25 years for lunch one day – they live in Phoenix and we’re meeting at a café ½ way between us. Phil was minister at a congregation we were part of in the 1980s in Grand Junction. Though it has been many years I still count Phil and his wife, Rene, as special friends. Then we plan on driving to the Grand Canyon one day – we’ll tour some of the many art studios and shops for a day and try to walk trails some each day. It should be a good time – these 4 days and 5 nights – and they all start and end with a road trip – the destination is always in mind – but the trip days are also a very special part of it all.
We put the tree up a few days after Thanksgiving like most years. It is a tight fit in this little casa we moved to a few months ago. Darlene decorated the tree and got all of the Santa Claus’s and other decorations out of the storage containers and placed them around the house. It all looks festive – in tune with the season. The reds and greens and lights and bearded dolls make me smile as I walk around the house.
I see more smiles and get a sense of more joy in others at Christmas time. I like it – like it a lot. There is more giving at Christmas – Christmas presents of course – the anticipation in small children is obvious and a delight as I see them romp around the stores – parents trying to keep them in tow. There is more generosity for good causes also – the non-profits who serve us in so many good ways are thankful for this time of year. Giving benefits those who receive the outpouring of goodwill. We know giving benefits the giver also – maybe more.
I long to see family and have them around at Christmas. It is a special time for families with the gift giving and the meals together and the sharing of the joy. We’re headed to Grand Junction, CO for Christmas weekend. We have two of our children and seven of our grandchildren who live there or who are visiting that weekend. I’m really excited about being with so many of them this year. Our oldest granddaughter is cooking Christmas dinner for us all – that’s pretty special. It is a time of many changes in our family. Some of us have moved this last year – Aaron and family moved east to Vermont – Darlene and I the opposite direction to New Mexico – 3 of the grandchildren are out on their own now with jobs and their own places. Being together in the same place gets a little harder as they all grow up – at the same time maybe the times being together seem a little sweeter.
Christmas has never been a primarily religious holiday in our family. Celebration of Jesus birth is not a component of the liturgy of the churches we’ve been part of over the years. I love the idea that thoughts of so many turn to Jesus and his birth. The extra measure of joy that is felt; the willingness to give and share; the desires for peace; the warmth of feelings for others that are all a part of this time that is Christmas are representative of the life that is recorded about Jesus. Those things are all a part of what is taught and emphasized because of Jesus in the church I’m part of and in many Christian churches. Whatever one’s religion or non-religion I hope that the joy and the goodwill that I feel are both welcomed and infectious. It would be a shame if someone was put off by those good things because of me trying to shove Jesus on them as part of it all. I’m not very bashful about preaching the goodness of faith in Jesus when given the opportunity. But for me, that is not the purpose of celebrating Christmas. Christmas can be a time when all people feel the good that comes from giving. It would be gracious plenty if it can be a time of peace and goodwill towards men that is shared by all peoples just because that’s the best way for treating each other and because that’s the best way for things to be.
In mid-December as the sun drops below the horizon you can see big flocks of both geese and cranes every evening fly up the Rio Grande valley headed for their nesting places for the night. They like ponds of water for the night – they’re safe there – not many of their predators are a match for them in the water. We live far enough south that some of the migrating birds winter over here – others of them stay a little while then head farther south before their migration ends. Darkness comes early in mid-December. The year’s shortest day is in just a few days. It seems like almost mid-afternoon when I go to close the window blinds for the night.
This Sunday evening sunset picture was taken December 11. I downloaded it to the computer and then headed to evening worship service at the Belen Church of Christ.
Sunday mornings usually begin by driving a couple of miles to Rutillios for a western omelet or breakfast burrito that we share. In New Mexico both come smothered in green chile with some papitos alongside. After returning from breakfast I finish preparing for class and then we head to class and worship – class and worship – a couple of hours and a little visiting time with nice people with common interests and common goals – friends that care and look out for each other. Then after services it’s off somewhere for lunch – lunch might get smothered in green chile also – but we do take a break and get a pizza sometimes – no green chile for pizzas. Then at home afterward, maybe a little yard work, or a football game on TV, or a nap, or a walk on the golf course – or a combination of several of them. This particular Sunday afternoon it was a nap and a walk, arriving back home just in time to sit on the patio and watch this sunset and watch the flocks of birds headed for their nests.
What would you exchange for a life that allows living Sundays like this? We live in good times with much to be thankful for. Not even all the politicians and Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow together can convince me that I’m somehow being cheated and should be unhappy. The geese and the cranes and most of the rest of us have a place to go at night with a safe nest. I led a prayer of thanksgiving at Sunday evening services – there were lots of good reasons for it.
Darlene bought this cactus sometime in the late 1990s – It could be 20 years old now. We lived in Palisade, CO then and it began life with us in a sunny southern window on East Orchard Mesa above the Colorado River. It flourished there and made big blooms near Christmas time each year. We moved it with us to Pagosa Springs in 2000 and it lived in 6 different homes those eight years and we took it along when we moved to South Carolina where it lived in 3 different homes, and now it sits in a west facing window in our sunroom along with my office desks and the hot tub in sunny New Mexico.
I’m calling this cactus a survivor for putting up with our moving it around all these years. It hasn’t flourished in every house we’ve lived in – it has bloomed every year, if I remember correctly, but in some of the houses only a little. At some of the houses the leaves or branches (the green part – not sure what you call it on a cactus) lose their luster and fullness. It is like it is just hanging on – getting by, but not at all happy about things. It loved the house on Fish Cove and the one on the lake in Pagosa, but not so much the others. It bloomed profusely in the little rental house in Central, SC, but the 4 years in Easley it did little more than survive. It is really liking its spot and its window here in New Mexico. In the 4 months, the branches have thickened and gotten longer and it’s turned a dark, healthy looking green. You can see it is making lots of big, pretty, pink blooms. I hope it lives another 20 years, and that it can always be in a place that it loves.
I suppose we are like the Christmas cactus in some ways. There are times and circumstances where we flourish – then there are other times we just kind of hang on. The cactus doesn’t have much choice in the matter – it must sit on the stand in the place I put it. It can’t improve its fortune by taking its own measure and by making the changes it needs to grow and prosper. We on the other hand are blessed – aren’t we? – our destiny is our own. If I’m not flourishing today, tomorrow can be lived with a change – and change can be added upon change – until I’m in just the right window on just the right stand – in just the right circumstances to make healthy, dark, green branches and beautiful, big, pink blooms.
I received this picture in an email today. They tell me a framed version is on its way in the mail. The picture was taken the last Sunday of August this year after the final worship service we would attend at the Clemson Church of Christ before moving to New Mexico. As the worship service ended they put Darlene and I in the middle at the front of the auditorium and everyone in this small congregation gathered around us and Jay stood in the back of the building with a camera and took this picture. There was a pot luck lunch downstairs in the building after the picture was taken – much was said publicly and personally in thanks for our being a part for the eight years and about missing us.
We attended services at the Clemson Church of Christ the entire eight years we lived in South Carolina. Each Sunday morning and Wednesday evening we spent time with this group. We were more than attenders – we were part of much of what went on at this congregation. In fact, if you were to go through every person in this picture you would find that most all of them were more than just attenders. The people of this congregation were so good at being a part of and participating in the good works the church took on.
I love this picture and suppose it was taken so we would have something of them to remember. I wouldn’t be able to forget with or without the picture. This group of people became family over the eight years. A bond with them exists in my heart just like the bond that exists with my physical children and grandchildren and with my brother who remains in South Carolina. We experienced much together those Sundays and Wednesday evenings – we experienced much together in the work that went on beyond the scheduled services. A common bond of faith exists in a church group that holds people together. The shared belief in a God that loves and the encouragement to share that love with each other is a force that creates and preserves relationships that are alive and that make a difference for good in the lives we live.
This picture is of family. The relationship lives on though we’ve moved far away. There remains a feeling of loyalty and of belonging and of missing them that in a certain sense saddens, but in a larger and more important sense blesses me each day of life. Thank you CCOC – we love you.