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Grand Canyon Trip Report

By Bob Hemphill
9 June 2022

Dear Aunt Janet–

There is an old country music song, first recorded by Hank Snow of Grand Ole Opry fame, and frequently confused with Hank Williams although this is not a justifiable confusion as Snow was basically simple and country, and Williams was complicated and country and wrote his own songs and died of a heart attack while being driven in a baby blue Cadillac to an engagement on New Year’s Day in Canton, Ohio. The heart attack was brought on by a combination of alcohol, morphine and chloral hydrate. If you’re dumb like me and don’t know what chloral hydrate is, except you’re sure that it doesn’t have anything to do with choral music, then the internet and I will enlighten you: it is a drug with the formula C2H3Cl3O2. It is a colorless solid. It has limited use as a sedative and hypnotic pharmaceutical drug. It is only available by prescription, and what it does when mixed with alcohol and morphine even the internet is unable to disclose.

The car, btw, is in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and the whole incident gave rise to the less famous but nicely rhymed country song, “I want to ride in the car Hank died in.”

But never mind all that. The Hank Snow song that started all this has a chorus as follows:

I’ve been everywhere, man
I’ve been everywhere, man
‘Cross the deserts bare, man
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man
Of travel, I’ve had my share, man
I’ve been everywhere.

The verses just recite a list of places some of which I am sure are made up. Like La Paloma, Perdilla, Diamantina, Chatalika? La Paloma is the name of the local movie theater, but I don’t think that’s what the song was referring to.

I sometimes feel like that when I read articles like “The 25 best places to go for a doughnut west of the Mississippi” or “Fashionistas are now flocking to these undiscovered spots of natural beauty” and I note that I’ve either had a donut in 17 of the donut shops or been to more than half of the undiscovered spots of natural beauty, although I have not had a donut in any of the undiscovered spots of natural beauty. I don’t believe that you can keep your “natural beauty” reputation if there is a Krispy Kreme around the corner from the Natural Beauty’s airport.

But, although I live only a mere 499.8 miles from it, I have never been to the Grand Canyon. I am pretty sure I have driven past an exit for it (“Grand Canyon, turn right on RT 93—275 miles”). But that’s not the same thing. I worry a little that it’s not very patriotic not to have been there. But I also have not been to Zion Canyon National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park, both of which are in the vicinity if you define “vicinity” quite generously. Every time someone brings up their recent trip to the grand canyon and everywhere else within reach, gratuitously noting that it was taken in their Tesla so that they had to carefully plot where the EV charging stations were but that was part of the “fun”, I just mutter, “Yeah, we’ve been meaning to go there” or “That’s sure on our list” and then try and change the conversation to whether they’ve seen anything good on Netflix.

So when we got a flyer in the mail a couple of months ago, and it advertised a trip to “the Big Three”—Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon, all over a ten day period at the end of May, starting and finishing at Las Vegas (I have been there but so have about a zillion other people) we said, 1. We are sick of not going anywhere because of covid and have no plans to die soon and 2. We have never been to these places while apparently everyone in our entire zip code has; so, let’s go. If it gets closer and things seem to be worse not better, we can always cancel.

Oh, not so fast. First, we have to have the “This is pretty expensive, and we could easily do it ourselves” discussion. There are two fallacies in this problem formulation: 1. It wasn’t pretty expensive, it was pretty cheap. For reasons we found out later. 2. We couldn’t easily do it ourselves. We haven’t’ been anywhere in 2.5 years and we’re out of practice. I couldn’t even remember the name of the Travelocity web site for several hours (it was “Travelocity”.) And besides you can’t fly you, have to drive, so there’s all that highway stuff and route finding to deal with. And motels to make reservations at. And what about the parks, everything we read says that all Americans beyond the age of consent have decided to go traveling this summer and they don’t really want to fly. And besides they cannot because the airlines after surviving the pandemic have adopted a new strategy of self-immolation called “Reserve, book and cancel,” wherein they sell you tickets and take your money and everything seems set. And then when it’s time to go the geniuses running the airline find out, oh my god, we don’t have 1. Enough planes 2. Enough pilots—well, most planes I have been on do take pilots and 3. Enough flight attendants and 4. Probably enough runway or fuel or cheap plastic glasses of bad wine, so the only thing they can do is cancel your flight, with more points awarded for canceling after you have gotten to the airport, parked your car in a parking lot with shuttle service once every six hours, and checked your luggage. This makes it a perfect storm.

The airlines have a point: how were they supposed to know that people who bought a ticket to go from A to B on date C and gave them money therefor, would actually show up at A on date C, foolishly expecting to go the location B? Who would have thought? Oh, yeah, there’s some “weather” thrown in magically even though it is lovely, and the sun is shining and it’s early summer.

So, no, do not take an airline anywhere for anything unless there is really no other choice. Besides, see above, you can’t. Even if you want to.

Which brings us to the second question, group vs no group. The pluses and minuses are straight forward even if you set aside the logistics issues: Going with a group is the price you pay for having someone else arrange the schedule, the vehicle, the driver, the route, the stops for lunch and going to the bathroom, and the learned commentary on what you[re seeing. Each of those items can be good or bad, but they are what you’re getting. And there is limited flexibility. If you find that Page, Arizona is the ideal place to live that you have been seeking all your life, too bad, you have to come back to it on your own, you’re only stopping there to pee. This discovery is, btw, unlikely, although Page does have that the peculiar virtue that all the churches in town are found right next to each other on one long curving drive. Church after church after church, 13 by my count, all really right next to each other. And none of them looking much like the Cathedral at Reims, mostly they look like they could be converted into gas stations without much effort. Sadly, the street is called South Lake Powell Blvd, and not Church St. Missed opportunity.

Besides lack of flexibility and lack of control, the other “cost” of electing the group option is that the group may be full of idiots. There is usually at least one, the guy who knows everything, is always late for the bus, and tells the same stories over and over, usually in a louder tone of voice than necessary. Our family early on identified this troublesome pathology of group travel and labeled the offending woman or man as “The Trip Asshole.” Everyone to whom I have explained this immediately nods their heads, “Yeah, that’s right, we had one on our trip.”

It is possible to not have one, but unlikely. More possible if the group is smaller, but we went on a trip to the southwest with a total of four ‘tourists” including the two of us, and we had one. Unfortunately the universe is not fair, and there is hardly ever the offsetting “Trip Saint.” So it goes.

Late in the game, after we had already decided to go, we found that the total number of the group was to be six. We felt better, as this lowered the odds of bad behavior. It’s simple math.

The trip launched from Las Vegas so we figured we could drive it and even stop to see some “art” along the way. Twelve miles south of Vegas some Swiss guy with too much day glo spray paint had assembled some boulders, big boulders actually, and stacked them on top of each other. There are seven such stacks, each about 30 feet high, and their own parking lot, so you can stop and see them and then say to yourself, “Huh?” and “I’m glad we didn’t step on any rattlesnakes.” Others more sophisticated than you have charitably explained (no, maybe “discussed,” I don’t think you’re supposed to explain art) the artist thusly (warning: Art Speak follows):

Ugo Rondinone, born 1964 in Brunnen, Switzerland, lives and works in New York and has long embraced a fluid range of forms and media. By allowing himself such formal[sic], Rondinone creates the conditions for an expansive emotional range. His work has become recognized for its ability to channel both psychological expressiveness and profound insight in the human condition and the relationship between human being and nature. Referring concurrently to the natural world, romanticism and existentialism, his works encapsulate a “mental trinity” that has underpinned his art for more than twenty years.