Road Trip Renewal
This time last week, I was hiking with my husband in Palo Duro Canyon, a state park near Amarillo, Texas. It was the last day of a short vacation. I understood all the risks we might incur on such a trip, but it was a surprising renewal of both my spirit and his.
This pandemic has kept so many people apart, my husband and his daughter included. He was hesitant to fly up to see her at the risk of exposing her to the virus. Before we knew it, a whole year had passed. She is at the tween age where phone calls are an annoyance and texts are few and far between so it was crucial for their relationship to have a visit.
We decided that he would drive the 16 hours to Rapid City, stopping overnight somewhere in between. He would visit with her for the week and then I would fly up to join him for the long drive back. Knowing how many friends have traveled in the past year without incident, I wasn't overly fearful of the plane ride. It was different, for sure, sitting shoulder to shoulder with a fellow passenger while feeling a need to hold my breath. The airport reunion after five days apart quickly dismissed that from my mind.
We spent Thursday and Friday driving around Rapid City and the Black Hills. My husband lived there for most of his 20's and 30's, so the tour stops included things like Ryan's first home purchase, the lake where he ice fishes on his visits, and his ex-mother-in-law's house. That last one was more about the view from her neighborhood than the landmark itself.
Our Friday drive through the Black Hills included Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, and Custer State Park. Ryan and I have been listening to audiobooks about Native American history, so those clashes really came to life for me in this area. As beautiful as it was, it holds so much historical tension. All that aside, the towering ponderosa pines, the wild donkeys, and the rolling hills magically renewed my sense of wonder and adventure, something I didn't even realize I was missing so badly.
Saturday was mostly spent in the car, making an 11-hour trek south through Nebraska, Eastern Colorado, the small sliver of Oklahoma panhandle, and finally, the Lone Star state. As I gazed out at the barren landscape, I was reminded of a different culture clash. Clusters of trees amidst sprawling fields were telltale signs of a farmhouse. I would look for any indication that the farm was still functioning, knowing most were likely long abandoned. In some areas, giant wind turbines spun slowly as cows grazed the fields below.
At one point, I saw what looked like an Arizona haboob on the horizon. As we got closer, we realized it truly was dust rising up from the empty crop fields, clouding the air for miles. The dust bowl days seem alive and well in certain parts of the country. It made our little hobby farm dream seem so insignificant, but it renewed my motivation to do our part for renewable ag practices. My heart breaks for those trying to survive what seems like such an unforgiving way of life.
As we closed in on Amarillo, the pungent smell of sulfur, manure and urine assaulted our noses. It reminded me that we want so many modern conveniences in our lives and rarely stop to consider the machine of industry needed to get it. It was shocking, then, when we drove through the flat plains on the outskirts of the city and came upon the beauty of the canyon for the first time. It was a giant natural wonder among this bustling town where modern and Old West meet.
As a native Texan, this seemed like a place I should have known more about, so it was neat being a tourist in our own backyard. It is the second largest canyon in the United States behind the obvious, which is one I have visited several times in my life. I was surprised that, although it was apparent Palo Duro Canyon wasn't nearly as large as the Grand Canyon, everything looked like a perfectly scaled down version.
The visitor center was closed, but we read a plaque explaining how the park structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-30's. Much like the resemblance of the park to Arizona itself, I found this connection to my own past fascinating. My Papa worked in the CCC and helped build a park in Safford, AZ. I'm spending so much time writing about the similarities to my grandmothers that I hadn't stopped to realize I followed in his footsteps as well, journeying all the way to Arizona for work.
The canyon walls had the same red, blue and tan striations as the Grand Canyon and overlooked a valley deep below. Unlike its larger companion, the park road takes visitors down into the valley, which is where the camping sites are located. We would only be passing through, but there were plenty of places to stop and enjoy the gorgeous views it boasted.
I was awestruck as we entered the park, and even more so as we stopped for a short hike. I have felt the magic atmosphere of Sedona and this took me right back. One of my last trips was a hike through the red rocks with my Phoenix friends, so even though I have missed them over the past year, I felt incredibly connected to them. The layers of red rock and gypsum connected me to an ancient time. The hike itself connected us to nature in a new and different way than I experience most weekends on the farm.
It has been a strange and complex twelve months. I was contemplating this week how my pandemic stress looks so different than many others, but it was taking a toll on my heart and mind much the same. This little road trip, this journey down the center of America, renewed my sense of wonder, my spirit of adventure, and my love for my husband. Even if its effects are fleeting, it was just what I needed.
"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." -Anonymous