Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wupatki and the Grand Canyon

I feel badly for my city kids sometimes....often, actually.

During the Tennessee summers of my childhood, I swam in a creek down our dirt lane, explored acres of woods, picked wildflowers, ran through buzzing fields with dogs, picked plump blackberries in Mr. Spann's field while his cows stared, and laid on top of hay bales with my siblings, slowly toasting in the heat while the smell of fresh, green things permeated my hair.

Ah, the life! En mi corazon...I am a country girl. (That's part grammatically-incorrect Spanish/part English, but that's how I think it in my head.)

Don't feel too sorry for my kids, though. They've seen nice city parks and crop islands in the suburbs. They get together with friends far more often than I ever did. We have taken memorable family trips to California, New Mexico, Idaho, Virginia and Hawaii. They have splashed in the Pacific Ocean, surveyed the Sandia Mountains, waded in the Payette River, seen the battlefield of Gettysburg and, incredibly, have shared the sand with sea turtles on a North Shore beach thanks to their Uncle Steve.

You can't take them with you.

But Nature is not their habitat. The concrete jungle with its token, manipulated plants is. And we do not have a cabin "up North". We cannot ship our kids to a relative's farm in the country for a few weeks every year. We have no - I repeat - zero camping equipment. Yet this summer with nary a family trip on the horizon, we had to do something for our city kids who do not know what they are habitually missing.

For days I searched the web with bloodshot eyes, scouring locations and cabins and National Parks' websites, looking for a deal at the ideal spot, and then it hit me as I laid in bed one night: the Grand Canyon.

Only one hitch. My husband has a traveling philosophy: been there, done that. If you have ever been there and done that then you are exempt from ever having to see or do it again. We have a collection of magnets on our fridge, a proud list of our "have beens". We had been to the Grand Canyon with my sister Vinca's family nine years ago, but Berto and Ana were too young to remember, and Ella and Daniel were not born yet. Native Arizonans all, they had not truly been there and done that. Plus, we forgot the magnet. My husband kindly agreed to go for the kids' sake.

And for mine.

Because not too far from the Canyon is another place, one that has been on my list of "to see" for years: Wupatki National Monument. Not only is it fun to say, but it has remnants of several Native American pueblos. I requested we go, and Matthew obliged.

I then exclaimed, "I forgot this yearning I have deep inside of me to see Native American ruins!"

To which statement Berto retorted while rolling his eyes, "Mama, not even Native Americans go see Native American ruins!"

On Matthew's suggestion we invited dear friends, some of my favorite people in the world, to join us. We packed a picnic lunch bursting with fresh fruit that always tastes glorious after a hot hike, and we caravaned north to see Sunset Crater and Wupatki before our family ventured on to the Canyon the next day.

Cool breezes, persistent smell of pine, tall fire-red and yellow wildflowers and gray volcanic rock welcomed us as we began our first hike at Sunset Crater, a volcano that erupted 900 years ago. Per my habit, I hugged a pine and got army ants on my arms. Ah, nature's varied gifts!

I've never liked gray as a color, but Mother Nature wears it well.
The Native Americans viewed that ancient volcanic eruption as a cleansing, renewal. "Now that," I said to my friend Geraldine, "is optimism!"

Wupatki is on the same scenic loop as Sunset Crater, and scenic is an understatement. The high desert is gorgeous, its many and subtle shades of green in stark contrast with the red earth and sandstone. It will knock you out.

Wukoki Pueblo
Geraldine and I were in awe, but I was pulled back down to earth by the need to tell my kids to stay off the walls and not risk their lives on tiny ledges.

We drove on to Wupatki Pueblo, the largest with a community gathering space, a ball court and numerous rooms.


I found a lavender flower growing in a room there.

Berto found preserved tarantulas in the visitor's center. I've always hoped to see one in the wild.

But the greatest thing I discovered was the blow hole near the enormous ball court. It had a grate bolted over it, but it blew cool air up into your face and hair from very deep underground. The Native Americans believed it was the breath of the Great Spirit. To me it was the true scent of Mother Nature without the perfume of vegetation. It was dank, but I loved it. It reminded me of deep, lonely caverns.

After exploring Wupatki we went on to the box canyon ruins and Lomaki Pueblo. When Adolfo, Geraldine's husband, suggested we could all live in these dwellings by a gorge, they taking one ruin and we another, I agreed. It's nice to dream about existing in such a lovely, lonely landscape, completely dependent on our own will to survive and vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature.

Box Canyon Ruins

Box Canyon

Lomaki Pueblo in the distance
But such a life doesn't exist here anymore. It's a national monument, preserved for us and future generations, and thank God for that.

And thank God for my darling husband who is always willing to take a hike among Native American ruins just to please his wife.

As for the Grand Canyon? It is what it is, an incomprehensibly huge and beautiful hole in the ground crowded with people. You wish you could free fall and then rise up from its depths on beating wings like an eagle, going off to explore secluded, mysterious places. We walked away from the crowds on the paved path, venturing to stand near the edge several times, clasping Ella and Daniel's hands as we peered across this great divide. Berto, Ana and I did a little rock climbing there, descending onto a big finger ledge. While we scrambled up boulders, an enormous orange butterfly alighted first on Ana and then on me. People pay to go to butterfly wonderlands for just such an experience, and we found it amid the surreal scenery of the Grand Canyon.

Truly, amazing things happen when you get out in nature.


  1. I am jealous. Except for the Grand Canyon, I have witnessed none of these marvels, although I have driven past them at 70mph many times.

    1. My first trip to the Canyon was with you, Papa. Come to Arizona; we'll take you to Wupatki!


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