Saguaro National Park is one of our first stops in Arizona. In the visitor center, we watch a poetic film about the spiritual significance that each saguaro (sah-wah-ro) cacti holds for the native people of Arizona. They believe that these giants are their ancestors, who came from the dust and have returned to dust. At the end of the film, the screen quickly lifts and curtains separate. Sunlight fills the room as we look out upon the saguaro. They stand frozen, looking eerily guilty of movement.
After our voyage through desert, we search for “The Sistine Chapel of the West.” It isn’t long before we are drastically stopped in our tracks. A nineteen-year old is rushing to work at Peter Piper’s Pizza and slides around a sharp curve, crushing our driver’s-side door. Alfonso quickly asks if I am alright and pries open his door to check on the other driver. The young man is upset about destroying his six-week-old car, while showing no regard for our wellbeing. Even his parents, who come to pick him up, remain in their vehicle without acknowledging us.
So here we are, stranded in Tucson and at the mercy of an insurance company. Frustration mounts as we are left without a vehicle, and home, for four days. Finally, we are granted a rental car and hotel budget and leave the trusty Element behind. We cringe at the idea of backtracking to retrieve our vehicle, but at least it gives Alfonso an excuse to make one more trip to visit his favorite Tucson restaurant, Eegees.
The “Sistine Chapel of the West” doesn’t live up to its local hype and we set off to Phoenix, making only brief stops for sightseeing. We do pause for a bit at the state capital building, where a museum wall lists the death toll for the USS Arizona. 1,177 crewmembers of the infamous ship lost their lives on December 7, 1941, and over 900 are still entombed within the hull. Two glasses, and a bottle of champagne catch my eye. The inscription explains that when the remaining survivors of the USS Arizona dwindles down to two men, they will drink a toast to their shipmates and return the empty bottle to the museum. This symbolic act will mark the end of a generation.
Following the map northward, we head to our final Arizona destination, the Grand Canyon. I have always wanted to see this great wonder of the world, but it was never on the top of my list. I felt that since our eyes are limited in distance, the Grand Canyon couldn’t appear much different than any other canyon. Never have I been so wrong.
We arrive at the famous landmark during a hailstorm, and look out upon a blanket of clouds. While standing at the edge, snow-clouds temporarily raise as if a veil is lifted to reveal this vast opening in the earth. The land is illuminated with intense striations of color, and a rainbow appears in the sky beneath us. Looking into this grand canyon, it seems too magnificent to be real.