Travels for Two in a Green Ford Escort #12: Cactus and Car Trouble: The Grand Canyon and More of the Southwest

Cactus and Car Trouble: The Grand Canyon and More of the Southwest

The trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon was quick and easy. We crossed Hoover Dam, amazed at the lack of post 9/11 security but glad as it would have been a project to have to empty our car if we were searched. We then moved uneventfully on to Williams, Arizona, gateway to the Grand Canyon and historical Route 66 town. Unfortunately, Williams was also the place we had our first car breakdown.

The story of our first car trouble mystifies us still. After we pulled in for gas at a Chevron and turned off the car we checked it and added a little oil. As Jeff returned from the cashier an attendant pointed at our tires, suggesting we might want to replace them before we went much further. We declined but the man repeated his suggestion several times and a few minutes later the car suddenly wouldn’t start. Through the next hour we had the car checked, changed the battery and yes – got three used tires. Once everything was finished we made our way to the Canyon in time for sunset but returned from our viewing spot to find that one of the replaced tires was flat again. The service station replaced it free of charge the next day, however we’d still been inconvenienced and had no clear idea of what really happened.

After our car trouble we were finally able to explore the South Rim. We saw the corral that holds the famous Grand Canyon mules and the Kolb brothers‘ studio, a memorial to early 20th century photographers of the Canyon. We also saw some spectacular views, particularly one of the viewpoints furthest out from the visitors’ center. At this viewpoint, we were able to view the spot where the Hopi believe man first came up out of the center of the world. Understandably, the specific area is a secret, ceremonial place and tourists are only told its general location.

Following our visit to the Grand Canyon, we headed east and drove into Winslow, Arizona – one of the places we’d wanted to see since we began planning our trip. We knew it was clich�d, but like thousands of other traveling Eagles’ fans we wanted to stand on a corner of Winslow, Arizona. We didn’t care that it was a little out of the way or that we were in a “hatchback Ford” rather than a flatbed. We arrived and drove through town, a dusty, small Route 66 stop with a row of stores, mechanics and a police station. Across from the police station we found what we were looking for and we parked near a small corner under a 4-way stoplight and next to an antique store. A city committee had made this corner into a park to honor the Eagles. Next to the corner they placed a commemorative plaque while on a brick wall they commissioned a mural depicting a scene from the song. Once there, it didn’t take us too long to get what we came for. We looked around a bit, took pictures and left. But we drove away with a feeling that we’d reached an important milestone on our trip and done something we’d always wanted to do through years of listening to Eagles’ songs.

We stopped at a few more sights in the southwest, enduring ranges of temperatures we’d not yet experienced on our trip. Our appetites disappeared in the heat and we stopped for only large glasses of iced tea and the Dairy Queens that appeared along the interstate. But we also saw our last bit of ruins at Wuptaki national monument, and drove through the Sunset Crater volcanic national monument. It amazes us that now, after touring the country so extensively, we can easily recognize volcanic landscapes we pass on our trip. We correctly identified this range almost the instant we began to see it by the side of the highway.

Long hot days, stretches of cactus-lined road and a couple of historical side trips gave us a new feeling for the hardships of the old west. We were very disappointed at what Saguaro National Park had to offer – nothing we couldn’t see from the highway – but made up for it with our visit to Tombstone. In this legendary town we walked through re-created old west shops, saw wagons bringing tourists up a dirty, center street and had lunch where we watched staged gunfights over barbequed chicken. At a third stop we saw the beautiful, still active mission of San Xavier DuBec. It was one of the most active and animated missions we’d seen with a thriving, devout community of over 2,000 Indians who were descendants of the first settlers there. Their piety of the community was obvious. Even in the heat a seventeen-year old ran sweating and heaving to the church, genuflected in front of the door and went in to make his offering. We weren’t surprised to later learn that this community still holds regular parades, festivals and dances to honor feast days.

Despite our initial car trouble, traveling in this area had proved to be one of the most pleasant parts of our trip yet. We’d traveled through long stretches of Arizona we’d wanted to see, watched a mock gunfight over barbeque, and relaxed at the Grand Canyon with Fat Tire beer and prickly pear margaritas. We hope that perhaps, after all the miles, we are starting to get very good at traveling.