I started planning our trip to the Grand Canyon with the following Google search:
“How to die at the Grand Canyon.”
Oh. Dear. Me.
There are so many ways to die at the Grand Canyon!
I did not want to die, nor my did I want my family members to die. Thus, I was merely cheating death by finding out how we could all die!
Seven hundred seventy people have died at the Grand Canyon since 1869!
There’s even an incredible interactive map about ways to die at the Grand Canyon. Like you can wear 3D glasses and look at it. And it’s based on a book! Tourists fall off the rim! People are murdered! And a mule even fell on one unlucky soul!
Should I read the book? No I should not.
Thirty six hours and 17 minutes and 3 seconds later I emerged from the interactive map.
Somehow I still wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. With a toddler. Who had a darting problem.
We’ll just have to put Eli on a leash, I thought.
Word spread among the family about where we were headed.
It was February 2016.
We received a letter in the mail from our nephew, Alex.
Alex lives in Milwaukee and along with most of my niece and nephews and family sprinkled all over the Midwest, we don’t get to visit Alex more than once a year, which I feel like shit about, all year long!
Mark opened this delightful little envelope to a hand-written note explaining a real big problem.
Alex had been flattened by a bulletin board. He’d slipped himself into a paper envelope and hoped to go with us on our upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon. Ya know, like the story, Flat Stanley, which his class happened to be reading.
I may not be the greatest auntie, one to remember birthdays and attend ball games — but this, this I could help do.
Look at that dear heartfelt sweet adorable wonderful handwritten note. Alex you are about to get a mothafuggin A+. It. Is. Written.
When I get an idea in my head, such as, but not limited to, “Our family should see the Grand Canyon,” and “Alex is getting a mothafuggin A+,” soon after arrives a glint in my eye. We were going to go see the damn Grand Canyon and Flat Alex was going to rise to the top of his class. So help me God, Flat Alex, you shall beat all the other flat children!
Travel is so first world it’s not even funny. It’s sick, really. Even “budget” travel. Ha. Hahaha. The ambitious trips we go on come in around $2K. To some, pocket change, but a lot for us. That’s a lot for most Americans. Too much.
I hereby rename travel ‘adventure.’ Because you, poor and/or middle-class person (ie us) can have an adventure at the park rather than going ‘traveling’ and saying irritating things like ‘travel feeds my soul…” on Instagram whilst refusing to acknowledge class privilege. You know what feeds my soul? The 40 percent off coupons at Michael’s.
WTF ever tangent, how were we going to pay for this? I’m not going to sit here and pretend that piece was easy to figure out.
There’s an underlying reason I try so hard to get a good adventure in wherever we can stick one. Eli has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening wild card of a disease. I wanted us to go to the the ocean. Check, by 1.5 he’d been there.
In January 2016 he’d been hospitalized for the third time in three years.
But that was behind us. He was well now. It was time for the Grand Canyon.
Easy peasy not easy I needed to sell something.
My soul? Hmmm…
My body? Nah….
How about some words? Settled.
When Al Jazeera America existed, it paid well for me to go do off-the-radar stories.
I arrived in Duncan, Okla.
“Al Jazeera…America?” a local mulled it over. He asked if I was in the Muslim Brotherhood.
“No, I’m not in the Muslim Brotherhood.”
With that established, the source I met in a neighborhood where the private wells were contaminated by Halliburton, one of the most powerful entities in the state and fuggetabout this little town, drove me around and told me everything I needed to know.
At one point we pulled up to a home that Halliburton bought because it contaminated the groundwater. A security guy rolled up and parked, and this gent I was with floored it in his Jeep. Rapid shifted us on outta there.
“See, see what I mean?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, thinking the security guard was actually probably just on his phone.
The guy with the Jeep never made the story. But he made the story.
I got out alive in the town that Halliburton owned.
In came the check and off we went.
We packed a bunch of stuff into the car, including Flat Alex. He played with Laila and Eli for a while before I slipped him into a side pocket of my messenger bag. No problem, buddy. So far Alex proved himself a quiet and agreeable little chap. Laila and Eli – needed to take note.
We loaded up the family truckster and hopped on Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City, heading West. Our destination for the first leg of this Grand Canyon-bound sojourn: Santa Fe, New Mexico.
En route, Mark got a grand idea. Thirty years ago, at age 5, he’d been on a road trip with his parents and three sisters. Outside of Amarillo, Texas, at a Route 66 roadside attraction, the family stopped at so-called Cadillac Ranch, a line of half-buried Caddies in the Texas dirt. We decided to do the same thing.
Roughly 32 mood swings (none from Alex) , four hours and 260 miles later, we arrived in Amarillo. West of town, there they were, in a pasture, beyond a barbed wire fence, those half-buried Cadillacs jutting up from the earth that Mark remembered. Lots of people had the same idea we did, to get out of the car on this bright and sunny day and check out this tourist trap/art installation.
As we approached, Mark noticed things had changed in 30 years.
He did remember, at 5, seeing the cars. He didn’t remember so many people. Fifty or 75 milled around. There wasn’t spray paint back then either. A lot of people bought spray paint from a little girl and her dad out of the back of a pickup at the entrance. Word on the street was she was saving for a trip to Six Flags.
Man, was it dusty out in that field. The combination of wind, dust and aersosol paint did not make for a pleasant experience.
I immediately freaked out about Eli’s lungs.
We shouldn’t be here, in the dust and the fumes. This was ludicrous.
Who were these yahoos who thought it was an awesome idea to spray aerosol paint in the wind? These idiots next threw their empty spray cans on the ground. WTF?!?!
And guess what Eli wanted to do – Pick up every half empty paint can he could find and see how it worked, of course! When I 86’d that little initiative, he dissed the spray cans for the colored lids, which made convenient shovels with which to mess around with the sticky, red, dusty dirt.
It was then I discovered Alex had a social conscience:
We snapped a few photos, including one in which I pretended this place was awesome.
I worried not only about Eli’s lungs but that dear Alex would fall victim to a Texas panhandle wind gust.
Every time we took Flat Alex out, we so worried for his safety. There were toddler hands. There was wind.
We exited and piled back into the car post haste, vowing never to return.
Hey, Laila – did you like it the Cadillac Ranch?
“No, I didn’t like it.”
Eli-how about you?
Next stop: Santa Fe.
In attempt at vacation cost control, we booked a campsite in the middle of Santa Fe at Los Suenos RV Park & Campground. We don’t have an RV – we have a tent. The Trip Advisor reviews seemed solid and staff were super friendly on the phone.
Texas hills had opened up into scrubby plains-mesa, where we saw antelope crossing signs, but no antelopes, jack rabbits and wild turkeys. We drove through a small dust storm. As we rolled along I-40 and into New Mexico, our elevation hit more than 7000 feet compared to just 1200 feet in Oklahoma, which was once the bottom of an ocean. Rolling
Then a snow storm hit.
Wait, what? Cuz we were camping and I didn’t pack for snow and cold temps?
Like we really didn’t have enough blankets for a snowstorm. What is this the Oregon Trail?
Oh dear God, night was falling.
What were we going to do?
And would we even survive?