Saturday, February 22, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part III

The morning after the Grand Canyon I found myself (or maybe my “self”?) in Flagstaff, AZ.  Flagstaff is a great place.  It has a beautiful historic downtown.  It is a college town (having grown up in one I tend to like college towns).  It has close to 300 days of sunshine a year.  It has mountains and is close to some of the most incredible natural places on the planet.  Actually I was talking to my friend listing all the places nearby (Grand Canyon, Sedona, Bryce Canyon, Zion national park, Arches national park, Canyonlands, Monument Valley etc) and I said “it’s almost like God used southern Utah and northern Arizona as a place to experiment on how He wanted the earth to look.”  All of these places are incredibly distinct.  I don’t quite understand how they can all exist so close together.
I decided to head west for a while.  I wanted to see the petroglyphs along I-40 – I wanted to see a glimpse of the Hoover Dam.  I’ll be honest – at this point I was sick of driving.  I was kind of sick of the trip in some ways.  I had just seen one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.  It seemed like my trip might be downhill from here.  I had planned to stay in Zion National Park – but I was stopping more frequently – and so instead of driving another few hours – I decided to just get a cheap room in Las Vegas.

I went dark.  I decided to turn off my phone - to stop looking at Facebook.  It was kind of an odd choice.  I was in the most populated city of the entire trip which ironically made me want to withdraw entirely from everybody.  I have always had mixed emotions about Las Vegas.  Especially after seeing the grandeur of national parks Vegas seems even more vulgar than it does normally.  But maybe vulgarity is not such a bad thing.  It means “lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.”

One thing our society does a very poor job of is balancing the need of humans to be both civilized and an animal.  The people I know who seem to have the most peace and happiness are those who allow themselves to express all of what it means to be a human.  Las Vegas was built as an opposition to normal society.  It is out in the middle of nowhere specifically because the world wouldn’t allow it to be built any other place.  The same could be said about America.  Some people say that the U.S. is a country of losers – as in most of the people who emigrated here were poor people from wherever they came from.  I don’t think that’s fair.  America is actually a country of dreamers.  A country of people who felt that whatever society they lived in was not allowing them to fully express who they were.

Yes, much of that was driven by economics.  But, there were plenty of poor people who didn’t emigrate.  It’s a special kind of person who leaves everything he has known on a gut feeling that he could be happier somewhere else.  As I said before – many of these people do fail.  They die in transit.  They die of starvation when they get there – like many pilgrims did in the new world.  The world doesn’t give us guarantees – but it does give us hope.

On my way out of Las Vegas I started to feel a little “off.”  I kept driving up I-15 – I was hoping to make Boulder, CO by the end of the day.  I had to stop and take a nap at one point.  And then it started – probably the most painful abdominal pain of my life.  I kept thinking it was going to go away.  But it just got worse.  At first I was worried that it might be appendicitis – but the pain wasn’t local – it was all over.  So, I figured that maybe it was some food poisoning that caused some trapped gas.  I bought some anti-gas pills.  They didn’t work.  Forty-five minutes later I was puking at a rest stop.  I didn’t even make it to the bathroom.  I just opened up the door and there it went.  I still didn’t feel much better.

Finally I decided that it probably wasn’t safe to be driving like this and I stopped.  I could hardly walk from the car to the motel.  The next four hours I lay in the fetal position while watching TV.  I watched one of the most incredible interviews I’ve ever seen – Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Murray.  I know that doesn’t sound promising – but Murray is very thoughtful in the interview.  He talks about his triumphs – but he talks more about his setbacks and failures.  My favorite part of the interview is when he says “you have to be available for this life that we’re living.  We’re in this life – and if you’re not available the ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it . . . But if you’re available then life gets huge – you jump up dimensions.  Life becomes much more full.  You’re really living it.  . . . Say yes to life.  This is not easy for me to pay attention.  This is not easy ‘Life.’  And it’s not easy to really engage all the time.  It’s so much easier to zone – to get distracted – to day dream.  . . . Things are happening all the time to us and if you’re not aware you miss them.”  Do yourself a favor and watch the whole interview. 

The next morning I had a decision to make.  Where should I drive?  I could keep moving on I-15 to get back to Nebraska – but now I was going to miss a few appointments I had back in Omaha anyways.  Why not take a few more days?  So, I sent a message to a friend living in Flagstaff – and decided to go back for a couple nights.  I am very lucky to have such great friends who allow me to stay at their place with hardly any notice.  During this trip I stayed with three sets of friends/family.  None of them had more than 36 hours warning – and they all were incredibly welcoming.

I stopped just short of Flagstaff for a run in Sunset Volcano State Park.  The Volcano last erupted 1000 years ago.  But it feels more recent.  I ran down a road from the visitor center in search of some trails.  I found what looked like a trail – but it wasn’t very well marked.  My plan was to run 30-40 minutes.  I’m not sure when I realized I was lost.  I thought I knew what direction I was headed – the sun was going down so I knew which direction was west at least.  But eventually I realized that every hill seemed to look the same.  Eventually I decided I needed to find the largest hill I could find so that I could see a road.  It was incredibly difficult climbing this hill – it was steep – there was some snow and the volcanic rock was not the best footing in places.  Here is what I saw when I finally got to the top.


I thought that the "scar" across the middle photo was probably highway 89 that led to Flagstaff – but I needed to find the Visitor Center – which was close to two miles away from the highway.  I clamored down the other side of the hill in the direction that seemed to be right.  At this point I was a little scared.  As the sun went down it was getting pretty cold.  I had seen some large scat earlier – I was a little worried about mountain lions or some other big cat – who can many times be more dangerous than bears.  I did end up seeing two large Elk - they were a little too far away to take a good picture.

A sense of relief washed over me as I found a trail that seemed like it had a lot of foot traffic.  That’s always a good sign – because usually people don’t stray very far from the trail head.  I found the road – but still went the wrong way for a while.  Eventually I made it back to my car – after an hour and forty minutes – an hour longer than I was planning.  It was a great reminder.  I can get lost like anybody can – but I’m strong enough that I can save myself.  And being lost isn’t always a bad thing – it’s just how you react to being lost.  You need to just find a big hill so you can see the lay of the land and maybe see a beautiful view – and head off in the direction you think is best.  That pretty much sums up my entire trip.

But don't worry - I did have a few more adventures worth writing about.  To be continued . . .

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