(EDITOR'S NOTE: this is the second of a two-part series on trips to western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona taken over the last 10 months by Sun-Gazette religion editor Jim Carpenter).
Our flight out of Harrisburg, bound for Chicago, was a few minutes late departing. No biggie, unless I don't have time for some Chicago-style pizza at O'Hare Airport before we leave for Dallas.
Busy. Busy. Busy. That is the best way to describe O'Hare. I got my deep-dish pizza and had a chance to stand a bit after the near two-hour flight and then had my flight to Houston delayed because the pilot was late arriving. I guess a flight will leave without passengers if they are late, but not without the pilot. Good call.
When we left Harrisburg, it was 68 degrees and cloudy. When we got to Chicago, it was 57 and clearing. We were told it would be 71 and overcast in Dallas.
Good vibrations? On our flight from Harrisburg to Chicago we sat right by a wing. From Chicago to Dallas, we had a new experience, sitting next to a jet engine. Lots of vibrations, but none good.
In Dallas, once again our flight to El Paso was delayed, but we made the most of it by eating a Southern-style barbecue and, finally, relaxing for a bit. It was dusk when we took off and, flying west, the skyline sunset truly was a work of God. The best artwork ever created is a gift from our Heavenly Father.
And that pretty much was day one: roughly 6 1/2 hours in the air, but more than 14 hours from home to our son's in El Paso. Still, far better than 31 hours of drive time, not counting stops.
Getting acclimated to the time change always is a challenge, even if it only is a couple of hours. I got to bed the first night at 11 p.m., new time, 1 a.m. My body time; so I had to force myself to sleep in the next morning to be sure I was well-rested. Just a side note, at an elevation of more than 3,700 feet above sea level, we were more than 3,200 feet higher than we are used to, which also takes some getting used to.
After a day of mostly R&R (rest and recovery) on Friday, we had dinner at the famous Cattleman's Steakhouse in nearby Fabens. Last year, the 600-seat restaurant was voted the "Manliest Steakhouse" in the country by "Men's Health Magazine." Afterward, on the way back to El Paso, we drove through a Texas dust storm, with winds whipping at more than 60 mph. Sand was blowing across the road much like snow does during a squall in Pennsylvania, and we also had tumble weeds skirting across the road in front of us. Just as quickly as it came, it was gone, leaving us a beautiful rainbow and sunset to savor before darkness fell.
We were up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, well, by 7 a.m., anyway, and on the road by 8. We covered about 600 miles over interstate routes 10, 17 and 40, taking us from El Paso to Williams, Ariz. The wide-open space we saw was amazing. Along the way we saw cow farms that amounted to penned cows, hundreds of them, with stations for milking time. Of course, all of their hay has to be trucked in. Also, both on Saturday as we covered a lot of Route 10 and again on Monday as we drove across a long stretch of Route 40, we saw numerous trains, moving both freight and passengers. Against the rugged background they always were an impressive sight.
In the Tucson area, bridges are decorated in bright colors that reflect the native area. We also saw cactus that stood at least 15 feet tall.
After we got into Williams and checked into our hotel, we first visited the Grand Canyon railway train station, where we quickly determined that we couldn't afford the ride from there to the Grand Canyon village, although it would have been great. I went downtown to watch a re-enactment of a Wild West shootout and had supper at the Cruisers Cafe 66, on Williams' main street, once part of the famous Route 66, before turning in for the night.
After an hour drive Sunday, we arrived at the Grand Canyon. I struggle to find adequate words to describe what I experienced other than to say it was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen and it literally took my breath away. Simply stunning. Something I was reading best described seeing it as an emotion. I agree, that probably is the best description.
Some quick canyon facts: a great example of arid-land erosion that, according to geologists, took more than 2 billion years to form. The average width is 10 miles, its length is 277 (river) miles and it is 1-mile deep. The drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is 215 miles, although if you could walk straight across, it only is 21 miles. About 5 million people visit per year.
We got our first look at Mather Point, then we hiked a good stretch of the Rim Trail, the easiest of the trails on the canyon's South Rim, in 90-degree heat. At an altitude of more than 7,000 feet, drinking a lot of water was a necessity. After more than two hours of sightseeing, we grabbed a bite to eat and then began our drive out of the canyon, stopping at various sightseeing points along the way. Some of the more memorable sights were from Grandview Point, Lipan Point, Navajo Point, at 7,461 feet the highest, and Desert View.
At one vista, the Colorado River is 315 feet across in the canyon far below, yet to the naked eye it looks like a thread. A park ranger told me that the pine trees we were looking at from near Mather Point were 100 feet tall, yet they looked like pin sticks!
On the drive to our next stop, Holbrook, Ariz., we passed Humphreys Peak, a part of the San Francisco Peaks due north of Flagstaff, which is 12,633 feet above sea level and still had snow on it on June 9. Interstate 40, like many of the east-west routes, once was either a wagon train or early locomotive route that helped open the western part of the country for early settlers.
The first thing Monday, we drove through the Petrified Forest National Park. Again, the wonders of nature never cease to amaze. The south part of the park contains all of the petrified wood and the northern part is more rock formations. According to information in our AAA Tour Book, the trees that now are fossils once lived some 200 million years ago. As trees fell into streams, they eventually were buried in the flood plains under river sediments in groundwater that included volcanic ash rich in silica. Over time, silica replaced the wood until the logs virtually turned to stone. Iron oxide and other minerals stained the silica to produce rainbow colors.
In later years, as the Colorado Plateau lifted, erosion began to expose some of the logs. It is thought that many more remain buried up to 300 feet below the surface.
Tuesday was another day of R&R before our flight home. Goodbyes always are so bittersweet. Wednesday we flew out of El Paso direct to Chicago, a two-and-a-half-hour flight and, after a four-hour layover at O'Hare, we had a two-hour flight back into Harrisburg before our drive back to Williamsport. In all, it was one of the most memorable trips I've ever taken. It went far too quickly. We are blessed.