Gringos: Portis, Charles: 9781585670932: Amazon.com: Books

I’ve read a ton over the past week – mostly so I could get my brain attuned for Literature “class” for the next month or so. I’ll run over that in the next post. But first: Gringos.

I’d read it before – seven years ago, right after one of our Mexico trips. Seven years is a long time, so I don’t feel too bad that it was almost all new to me.

If Flannery couldn’t remember much, then I might be okay.

Anyway. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you like wry humor, insightful characterization and craziness, try Charles Portis. Not from me, but from another writer:

Casting about for ways to account for the effect of his words on the page, I asked some eminent and accomplished Portisians to explain what they found so compelling about his writing. Roy Blount Jr., a master of humor that relies on voice rather than punch lines, once wrote, “The only adequate response to a Charles Portis novel is to jump in the air, do a flip, and wind up on your feet, like Cheetah the chimp in the Tarzan movies when intensely pleased.”1 Blount’s email exchange with me centered on the narrow but crucial angle of distinction between Portis’s characters and narrating voice. “Not only do the characters take themselves seriously, but so does the author take them,” he wrote. “So how can they be so funny? There must be some other consciousness behind the author. Maybe the reader is looking over the author’s shoulder as he looks … No, that can’t be it. Worth considering: Portis told me how much he loved Borges.”

I will say that I’m currently in the midst of my last unread Portis, Masters of Atlantis, and it’s probably his least good work. If that makes sense. It’s of a different style than the other books – less about people, who, as exaggerated as they may be, are still real in some sense – than a general satire of cultism and various aspects of 20th century life. It’s entertaining, but without the depth you usually find in Portis.

Anyway, Gringos.

What I wrote before:

 Although much of the action takes place in an area we didn’t see – around Palenque – the parts that occurred in Merida and other spots in the Yucatan were a lot more vivid to me having been there.  It was one of those books that I’m going to have to reread, since I entered into it thinking it was going to be one thing – sort of a madcap expat adventure – and ended up being something slightly different – a melancholy expat adventure.

From another blogger’s summary:

Gringos is a deceptively taut and moving novel about an American in Mexico, Jimmy Burns, who used to traffic in looted pre-Columbian artifacts. It begins:

Christmas again in Yucatán. Another year gone by and I was still scratching around this limestone peninsula. I woke at eight, late for me, wondering where I might find something to eat. Once again there had been no scramble among the hostesses of Mérida to see who could get me for Christmas dinner. Would the Astro Café be open? The Cocina Económica? The Express? I couldn’t remember from one holiday to the next about these things. A wasp, I saw, was building a nest under my window sill. It was a gray blossom on a stem. Go off for a few days and nature starts creeping back into your little clearing.

Though I have read that opening paragraph dozens of times, the way the former tomb raider’s unhurried musing on local dining options leads to a bolt of insight into the entropic temporariness of civilization still gets me every time. Revelation turns out to have been sneaking up on both narrator and reader from the start, its dire grandiosity interwoven with easygoing self-deprecation, a trademark Portis effect.

Essentially: the narrator is a fellow who makes a living in Mexico any way he can, from digging up and selling artifacts, to driving a Texas couple’s RV back to the States, to finding and getting rewards for runaways. The plot of Gringos involves, in no particular order: the attempt to find a missing aliens-made-the-pyramids crackpot, an End Times gathering of hippies and criminals at a Mayan site, the health dramas of various ex-pat archaeologists and entrepreneurs, and the bemused, canny, capitalizing reaction of the locals to all these crazy people.

What I am always looking for in what I read is the sharp, focused observation. Portis gives plenty of them:

Reflecting on the alien-researchers discourse: A millimeter off, either way, and you were a fool. It was the scorn of one crank for another crank.

On a space in a house: …a good room to carry out some quiet mad enterprise.

A Mormon archaeologists hosts the scrappy searchers at his dig site: After the meal, witha playful wink, he said he was sorry but he had no ‘highballs’ to offer us. ‘Gentiles’ of our type, he knew, just barely made it from one drink to the next.


In the Anthropology Club, as I understood it, you were permitted, if not required, to despise only one thing, and that was your own culture, that of the West. Otherwise, you couldn’t prefer one thing over another.

My neighbors, Chuck and Diane, stopped to speak. That wasn’t quite their names, but some names you can’t take in. They could have spelled out their names for me every day for six days running and on Sunday morning I would have drawn a blank again.

I had never known anyone so crazy that he couldn’t understand a 12-gauge shotgun.

My mother didn’t approve of zoos. She took things as they came, and it was always startling when she expressed some strong opinion like that.

Try to save a few pesos on your rent and you end up beating up pit vipers.

On the question of the End Times. All the interested and the experts are trying to figure out why the Doomsday cult has gathered now. They’re all disagreeing, but they find great satisfaction in the process:

Still — Doomsday is at hand. The prophecy never fails to pull you up short. You stop a bit before going on. No one knows and so anyone might hit on it.

On the hippies and drifters who have gathered:

They simply wanted to be on stage for the dramatic finish. It must all wind down with them and nobody else. The thought of the world going on and on without them, much as usual, and they forgotten, was unbearable.

It seems to me you must let a haunted man make his report.

On the mountain

Today’s first and Gospel readings: Abraham’s journey with Isaac and the Transfiguration.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

(Link does not go to Amazon, but to publisher. )

The stories are arranged in sections according to what season of the liturgical year one would most frequently hear them proclaimed at Mass.

So, both of these narratives are in the Lent section.

Click on the images for a larger version. Included are the first page of each narrative, and the last section, so you can get a sense of the structure: a retelling of the Scripture, and then, at the end, a tie-in of sorts to Catholic spirituality and/or practice, then a question to think about and a short prayer.

7 Quick Takes

— 1

Took a quick trip out west this past week, starting a week ago today and returning Wednesday. A summary is here, and then click back for daily reports. I haven’t gathered them all in one space yet. Will do that this weekend.

— 2 —

That’s it for travel for a while. School will be ramping up, there are …for the first time in two years, piano recitals coming up, church music work, etc. We’ll head to Charleston after Easter, but that’s it, unless we can squeeze in some local trips, which I hope to do.

— 3 —

Aside from the pleasures and pains of travel, my focus this week was on the Equality Act. A post here, but I did want to share with you what I thought was the best speech on the floor of the House, from Indiana Representative Victoria Spartz. If you want a quick intro to the problems with this bill, you can’t do much better than this. Less than four minutes, and she just about covers it all.

— 4 —

I was in Living Faith this past week. Go here for that.

— 5 —

Nina Shea on the totally predictable disaster of the Vatican-China deal.

In November, shortly after exchanging diplomatic notes verbales with Rome to renew the deal for another two years, China thoroughly negated it in a dry public posting by the state bureaucracy. Order No. 15, on new administrative rules for religious affairs, includes an article on establishing a process for the selection of Catholic bishops in China after May 1. The document makes no provision for any papal role in the process, not even a papal right to approve or veto episcopal appointments in China, which was supposed to be the single substantive concession to the Vatican in the agreement. It’s as if the deal never happened….

Significantly, the new rules require the clergy to “adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China.” This language tracks with a longstanding clause in the membership pledge of the so-called Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church (CPCC), which bishops and priests are required to sign to be licensed for ministry. It means, in practical terms, that Chinese clergy must be actually independent of the Vatican and, therefore, must be apostates. In 2019, the Vatican suggested guidelines, outside the agreement’s framework, for rejecting the clause. Father Huang Jintong, a priest in Fujian, was held by police and tortured for four days for following the Vatican guidance.

The new rules stipulate that CPCC-aligned clergy actively support the ruling Communist Party. Article 3 requires them to “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” and “the socialist system,” as well as to “practice the core values of socialism.” The rules also require clergy to promote “social harmony,” by which Beijing means conformity of thought. In other words, the rules aim to turn churches into another arm of the authoritarian Chinese regime.

— 6 —

It’s Friday, so you’re abstaining, maybe fasting and generally Lent-ing. Looking for some reading on fasting, trying to understand it at a deeper level? Here are links to posts I’ve written in the past, drawing on the wisdom of the saints.


— 7 —

This Sunday’s Gospel will be the Transfiguration.

From The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

(What is below is the end of the story. The structure of every story is the same – a retelling, then an specifically Catholic application, Scriptural references, a reflection prompt and a prayer.)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Equality Act Update

Update to the Update:

As expected, the Equality Act passed the House. The vote was 226-206, with three Republicans voting “yes” – down from the eight who voted “yes” in 2019.

The next step will be the Senate. GOP Senator Susan Collins, who had been a co-sponsor of the bill, has withdrawn her sponsorship.

The chances of the bill passing the Senate, especially now with Collins tacitly expressing doubts on the bill in its present form, are low. However, if this is an issue that concerns you, it is still worth communicating to your senator – or in fact any senator, making clear that you are not contacting them as a constituent, but as an concerned citizen. I think Senator Rand Paul’s questioning of Dr. Levine today shows that someone – staff, Paul himself – has done homework on the issue, and if staff can be pointed towards good resources on this score…well, more knowledge is always good.

Here’s a form from the Women’s Liberation Front to get you started.

I’ve had that banner up there for a week, as just one more nudge for folks to pay attention to “Equality Act.”

It’s not a niche issue. It’s a big deal. It has the potential to do an untold amount of damage. I’ve written about it before, most recently last week.

At that time, the news was that the Equality Act was coming up for a vote in the House last Tuesday (2/23). Now the word is that it’s tomorrow, with, the supporters hope, the Senate following in due course.

I’m tossing up this post to refresh your memory on the problematic nature of this bill. Yes, it will do great damage to religious freedom. But even more importantly it will seek to erase sex as a category in American law and society, which means it seeks to erase females.

In short, once again: the Equality Act includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected statuses – which means nothing more or less than self-identity.

This, in fact, is the entire purpose of the Equality Act. When you read the bill – the text is here – after the introduction, it is essentially a series of clauses that specify where “sexual orientation and gender identity” are to be added to other laws and policy statements after “sex.”

Mainstream feminism is completely lost on this issue, which is not surprising, since it is, in general lost, and has been for decades.

But self-described “radical feminists” are and have been paying attention, and along with social conservatives, are the only voices being raised in protest and warning.

So when you look for reasons to oppose this legislation, don’t forget that social and religious conservatives have one set of arguments – but there’s another viewpoint as well, as articulated by groups like the Women’s Liberation Front and discussion boards like Ovarit and the Gender Critical board on the Reddit-alternative, Said It. The latter has become an important source of conversation since the popular Gender Critical subreddit was (of course) cancelled by Reddit.

I’m bringing this up again because this post at Said It is excellent, and the author digs deep into this bill and highlights some of the (many) problems that you might not have heard elsewhere.

Under existing employment discrimination statutes, employers had a very narrow defense of bona fide occupational qualification, meaning that they could argue that discrimination was legitimate and necessary in specific instances. These instances usually boiled down to bodily privacy concerns (e.g. hiring a female to oversee an area where women will be in states of undress), role-modeling (e.g. hiring a female to counsel traumatized female rape victims), authenticity (e.g. hiring a female to place a female role in a production), and selling sex (e.g. hiring a female stripper is essential to because the strip club is selling female sex) (I used female examples, but the exception is not limited to women or sex.). Now this exemption has effectively been eliminated because bona fide qualifications based on sex would now also have to include gender identity. So even if you have a legitimate business reason for hiring a female, say to minimize risk of sexual assault of female prisoners by correction officers, you will now have to include men who identify as women among your “female” hires.

Elsewhere in the bill they define gender identity and sexual orientation. The definition for gender identity is completely subjective and mutable, obviously. The sex definition includes both gender identity and sexual orientation in its definition even though they both have stand-alone definitions separate from the sex definition. Clearly, gender is meant to take precedence over sex.

The bill explicitly states that bathrooms, lockers, dressing rooms, and other shared facilities will not be barred on the basis of gender identity in commercial businesses, public spaces like parks and libraries, public schools/colleges, and employment.

Even though I already had an idea of the consequences of the bill, it was surprisingly hurtful to read through because it is so clear that this bill was drafted with the specific intention to destroy women’s spaces. There is no other reason to add sex to the public accommodation provisions except to eliminate women’s spaces. The sponsors of the bill get to claim that they are finally adding protections for women in public accommodations when the reality is that these “protections” are going to eliminate the safe spaces that women had. We already knew that, but it angers me to see it in print.

Yes, there are serious issues related to religious freedom in this bill. In fact, it explicitly seeks to override the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (on p. 25 of the bill). Turning back to the politically conservative sources, in the National Review:

Laycock, a longtime supporter of gay marriage and proponent of enacting a federal gay-rights law, explained that the Equality Act “regulates religious non-profits And then it says that [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] does not apply to any claim under the Equality Act. This would be the first time Congress has limited the reach of RFRA. This is not a good-faith attempt to reconcile competing interests. It is an attempt by one side to grab all the disputed territory and to crush the other side.”

But back to the erasure of women and girls. Like a broken record, I will repeat myself. The Equality Act enshrines gender self-identity in public policy and social arrangements. It makes it impossible to keep males out of female spaces, since all that male has to do for admittance – to that prison, that shelter, that locker room, that athletic activity – is to claim the “gender identity” of a woman or girl.

You might be interested in Graham Linehan’s new project – The War on Women Substack. More here.

Related: The UK news today is all about the language in a bill related to maternal health. The bill passed the House of Commons with language replacing “mother” and “women” with “gender neutral” language and is being debated in the House of Lords.

From Mumsnet, quoting a suggested letter to members:

I  am, of course, delighted that ministers will receive formal paid maternity leave. No minister should have to resign in order to care for a newborn, and I am very glad that this issue will prompt the government to look at all state maternity (and paternity) provisions afresh.

What I was dismayed about, however, was the fact that a proposed amendment to the language of the bill was not made. Currently, Clause 1, Page 1, Line 14 of the bill says that the provision of payment of maternity allowance will be offered if:

(a) the person is pregnant and it is no more than 12 weeks before the expected week of childbirth;
(b) the person has given birth to a child within the previous 4 weeks.

The amendment, put forward by 19 Conservative MPs and 2 Labour MPs, was to – quite simply – replace the word “person” with “woman”. Only women can get pregnant and so only women need be referred to in this passage.

This is being rather hotly debated. You can see the debate here. I especially recommend Lord Hunt’s remarks at 14:40.

This brilliant blog post summarizes the debate up to yesterday.

Fortunately for the Barons, there is no need for them to worry their follicly challenged heads. The Ministerial & other Maternity Allowances Bill really is just about pregnant women, new mothers and their maternity leave. Scrotum-owners just have to get over it.

In short, if people are fighting tooth and nail to omit the words “women” and “mothers” from legislation about maternity….there’s a problem. You might want to think hard about why.

The Return

We’re back. Let me do the traditional Why-where-what kind of post I like to thrash out at the end of a trip first, and then hang on for some Deeper Thoughts tomorrow morning. Maybe.

So, first:


Let’s start with what was supposed to happen. It was supposed to go like this:

Thursday 2/18 Fly out of BHM around 3, land in PHX around 7:30, rent car, drive about 45 minutes, stay in hotel north of Phoenix

Friday 2/19 Up early, drive to South Rim of the Grand Canyon, arrive around 10 am.

Saturday 2/20 Leave Grand Canyon around noon, go to the Wupatki National Monument and the Sunset Crater, perhaps, if time, the Walnut Canyon National Monument, then to Winslow, hopefully in time for 5:30 Mass.

Sunday 2/21 Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. Drive to Sedona.

Monday 2/22 Sedona

Tuesday 2/23 AM in Sedona, then to Phoenix, hopefully in time to spend a few hours at the Musical Instrument Museum

Wednesday 2/24 Fly back to BHM, arriving around 4. Back to real life.

Well, then what actually happened was horrendous weather in Texas that caused a great deal of suffering and, far less importantly, cancelled our Thursday flight. Luckily, I was able to get us on a Friday morning flight – and just barely, I think. (If I hadn’t, we would just have cancelled the trip. The flights were all purchased with miles and everything else was cancellable and refundable.)

So it became:

Friday 2/19 Fly from BHM, arrive in PHX around 2:30, drive to South Rim of the Grand Canyon, arrive about 6, just in time for sunset.

Saturday 2/20 All day at Grand Canyon – the main activities being driving down Hermit Road and then hiking the Bright Angel Trail to the 1.5 mile mark and back up. No time for Wupatki or Sunset Crater, but we did make Winslow in time for Mass.

Sunday-Monday – no change.

Tuesday 2/23 Throwing in an extra hike, and getting a bit later start on that hike, then seeing two ruins on the way meant that we didn’t get to Phoenix until 3 – too late for one of the timed admission spots to the museum.

So now..why this area?

Because we’d really never been, and the Petrified Forest has been a desired destination for a while. Sedona had appeal not only because of the beauty and the hiking, but because of the biking scene, which someone wanted to check out, even if only visually.

Of course Things Being Open was also a factor, as well as the chances of decent weather. I mean….if you don’t want to be super cold and you want to be able to do things…where else are you going to go right now? Somewhere in the South or the Southwest, and not California.

Honestly, my sights had first turned to the Big Bend National Park in Texas, with perhaps a jog up to to Carlsbad Caverns. But then it became clear that A) New Mexico is one of the most closed-down states and B) Cave tours in national parks are just not really happening. I’ve been keeping my eye on Mammoth, considering it’s on the way to visit one of my adult kids, and I’d really like to work in a visit on the way to a visit – but not until they have more tours running.

And then, of course…if I had gone for that angle anyway….well that trip would not have happened at all.


No unusual rentals this time. Straight hotels.

Grand Canyon: We stayed in the Kachina Lodge in the park, right on the rim. It’s the more modern facility, so not as picturesque, not as in demand and a little cheaper. I had no trouble getting a room five weeks ahead of our stay. Of course, it was, er, for February.

Winslow: El Posada, a fascinating, unique hotel – originally a Fred Harvey hotel, as were, of course, the historic South Rim Grand Canyon facilities.

Sedona: Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble – very good, reasonable, with marvelous views, which, of course, is hard to avoid in Sedona. I booked it not understanding a thing about the layout of Sedona – I mean I read about it, but it made no sense to me without actually experiencing it.

So while I wasn’t unhappy at all with the choice, I think if we ever returned, we wouldn’t stay in the “uptown” part of Sedona, which is 100% tourist, with a slightly more sophisticated Branson/Pigeon Forge vibe – with crystals and vortices thrown in, of course. I think I might actually go for something in the Oak Creek area – it’s far lest congested, and of course, you’ve still got those Red Rock views where ever you go.

Phoenix: Hilton Garden Inn, downtown. What was important, besides price, was ease of getting to the airport for returning the car and making a 9:35 flight. This was perfect – took ten minutes this morning to drive to the airport, and parking was oddly free. It was supposed to be paid parking in a garage across the street, but it looks to me that the WFH situation has collapsed the downtown parking garage business – the gates were up when we arrived last night and when I got the car this morning, with not a person or working machine in sight. *Shrugs.*

Also, when we walked into the gorgeous Art Deco building, we noticed two large window displays in the lobby related to Psycho. Then we got up to our floor, walked out of the elevator and saw a plaque for the “Hitchcock Suite.” To the Interwebs, Watson!

Turns out the building, known at the time as the Valley National Bank building – is seen in the opening panning shot of Phoenix in, well, Psycho. It’s the building with the revolving sign on top. More here.

Well, that was fun.


Not a focus of this trip – no real expectations. I don’t think we had a bad meal, though.

The highlights:

Saturday morning breakfast at El Tovar. You can’t beat the setting – looking out on the Grand Canyon. And the food was excellent – I had a bacon quiche, Son had biscuits & gravy and other things.

Saturday dinner at RelicRoad Brewing Company in Winslow. Son had some monstrous chicken sandwich that he really liked. I snacked and had a Huss Papago Orange Blossom. No, I don’t go for heavy beers.

And yes, there’s a well-regarded restaurant at La Posada where we were staying, but the cuisine was more elevated than what we were in the mood for at that moment and perhaps ever.

Monday dinner was at the Hideway House in Sedona very good Italian. Son had a grinder, which was huge and he said excellent. I had a bit of antipasto and then a great Calabrian Sausage Soup – I’m a soup person, and this was just about perfect. Along with a glass of Chianti.

Tuesday dinner was an assortment of excellent tacos at Ta’Carbon in Phoenix.

Transportation: Rented a car at PHX, very easy pickup and return. I will say that I learned a lesson, not through my own experience, but through observation. I rented through Hertz, which was just a touch more expensive than the cheaper choices. Maybe 20%? At the rental center, I walked right up to the counter. Didn’t have to wait. As I walked away, I looked to the other end of the building, where the cheap choices (Fox, etc) were located – DOZENS of people waiting. I’ve no doubt that if I’d gone that route to save $30 or so, I’d probably have had to wait at least an hour, maybe more, to get a car. Glad I made the choice I did, instead of going my usual cheapskate route.

Covid Report:

Masks everywhere, in case you are concerned or just interested. Of course in all airports and all four flights. No one argued, everyone complied.

Arizona doesn’t have a state mask mandate, but counties and communities do, and of course a bunch of our time was spent on federal properties – aka national parks – so indoors, it was masks everywhere.

Both flights over were 100% full (BHM-DAL/DAL-PHX) and the flight from PHX to DEN today was full, so no empty middle seats on those (not that Southwest promises that, especially with their open seating) DEN-BHM was about 75% full.

Related – how were the crowds? Well, considering it was February, I don’t know how valuable my observations will be. The Grand Canyon wasn’t empty, but it certainly wasn’t busy, either. I’ve never been to the South Rim at any other time, but I’m assuming that during a normal summer, for example, it’s nuts. I actually think mid-February through March would be an ideal time to visit. The crowds are fewer. The air is clearer than it is during the summer. Of course, you do run the risk of snow, so there’s that to take into consideration.

Petrified Forest : not empty, but a steady low level, I’d say.

The La Posada hotel in Winslow looked full, judging from the parking lot and the large whiteboard behind the desk on which they kept track of occupancy and cleaning status.

Sedona was busy but not overwhelmingly so – but then I picked up that weekends have gone back to being intense there. There were hefty crowds on the popular trails, there were waits at restaurants.

Downtown Phoenix was…quiet Monday evening and Tuesday morning, but traffic going in and around seemed heavy enough to me.

Confident there’s no one within 6 feet.

Time Flies

One of the oddest things about travel to me has always been the way that it compresses time. This trip has consisted of only four days of activity, but it feels like two weeks. I’ll have a more thoughtful wrap-up post tomorrow after a few hours in a plane, but I’ll just throw this here for now.

Just to recap – Monday began with the Broken Arrow tour from Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona. It was great. Really one of the best “tour” type things I’ve ever done. That was in the morning. Then two hikes in the afternoon/early evening – the longish Bell Rock/Courthouse Butte Loop, with some scaling of Bell Rock, and then in the evening, the Doe Mountain hike. About 3/4 mile up to the mesa-top of the mountain, and then a quick walk back down before the sun set completely. Dinner was at the excellent Hideaway House.

We had thought about doing Devil’s Bridge Tuesday morning, but the more I researched and thought it over, the worse idea it seemed. Without a 4 X 4 to go directly to the trailhead, it would be a 4.5 + mile hike. We’d have to do it early – like, really early. Like be at the trailhead by 7 am because, thanks to Instagram, it’s probably the most popular hike in Sedona – it ends on a large natural stone arch that is – you guessed it – perfect for the ‘gram. #LoveLife! With, they say, sometimes an hour wait to scale that bridge.

So when the alarm clock went off at 6 am, that whole scene seemed less appealing than ever, so I woke Son long enough to get his opinion, which was Whatever you want before he rolled back over.

So instead of the Devil’s Bridge, we ended up at another quite popular hike that we’d checked out yesterday, to find, not surprisingly, the parking lots completely full. This time, we lucked out on a spot and tackled the Cathedral Rock. Son went to the top, but I sat it out, waiting at the base of the challenging part. I could have done it, but after yesterday – well, after the last three days of scaling and scrambling – I was just not feeling it. So I very contentedly sat in that spot with a few others whose friends and family members were crawling up the crevice and beyond. I’m also photo-ed out at this point. So, I just discovered, I don’t really have good photos of that..experience. So you’ll just have to go to the website to see what it’s like. And just know that the first photo of the woman walking upright down the crevice is completely inaccurate. Every person I watched descend did so sitting down. The fiancée of the fellow sitting near me for the wait yelled “Moderate” my ass! as soon as she was in earshot.

So there’s that!

After that, we headed south, with the intention of visiting two Native American ruins plus the former mining center of Jerome. We made it to the first two, but decided that seeing Jerome from afar – spilling out high on a hillside – was enough for this time So we just stuck with, first, the Tuzigoot ruin and Montezuma’s Castle – of some interest, helpful in expanding our understanding of the indigenous presence in the area, but not (to me) worth the money I would have had to pay if it weren’t covered under the annual NPS pass I purchased at Yellowstone in August.

And I will tell you honestly that as ambivalent as I am about growing old, the prospect of getting my lifetime pass to national parks and other federal recreation properties in a little over a year is stupidly exciting.

Then it was on south to Phoenix, with a stop at In n’ Out (the cult appeal of which still escapes me), then to the hotel downtown – at which point it was about 4. What to do? I’d accepted the fact earlier in the afternoon that we wouldn’t make the Musical Instrument Museum, and I didn’t want to strike out on some random hike on some random hill around town. I dug around and noticed that the Desert Botanical Garden was open until 8 – purchased some timed tix online, and there you go.

Maybe a little pricey, but educational – we learned some things, saw some interesting birds and some rabbits and some hummingbirds that seemed a lot bigger than those we see in Alabama. Not sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me on that score. Learned some botany, some lore, Son got to work on his Spanish with the bilingual signage.

It was a good end to the trip – and then across town for dinner at Ta’Carbon – picked out by Son – very good. Although I will say that the Birmingham taco scene has picked up considerably over the past couple of years and this kind of menu and quality is no longer as exotic to us as it once was.

And now…back to very real life. Work, doctor’s appointments, chemistry class, Latin tutoring, Algebra II tutoring, piano lessons, organ playing……and I guess I have things to do, as well.

No time, lots of hiking

Last day today, was too tired last night to compose a post, so here are some photos from Sedona. Moving on today. I’ll have more tonight.


After a night in the fascinating La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona (yes….) we headed east towards this destination.

Short stops along the way to get a quick breakfast, some snacks, gas, and to receive a welcome call from Kid #4 in Italy – who is doing well with his college study abroad.

The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park is within just a part of the large Painted Desert area of the state. There’s a 28-mile long road the runs vertically through the park, making it very easy to see. You just have to choose your starting point and direction. I went with north-south, because I wanted to end with the impact of the larger concentration of petrified wood in the southern part.

In reading the material the NPS puts out on the park, I was interested to see a remark along the lines of There’s a rumor out there that so much petrified wood has been pilfered from the park over the years that there’s hardly any left. This is not true!

That’s interesting to me because that actually has been my impression – I don’t know where I picked it up or how. In my subconscious, I definitely harbored the image of the Petrified Forest, stripped bare. So it seems putting this statement rather prominently in the NPS materials shows a) they’ve been doing market research and b) market research isn’t useless and c) I think like everyone else.

Further, what I discovered – and those of you who’ve been there or live in the area already know – there is, ahem, no lack of petrified wood outside the park. In fact, if your only goal is to see a lot of petrified wood in one place, you need only stop at one of the many souvenir shops on the way. Loads and loads and loads, gotten (I assume and hope) from outside the park boundaries. Which…just shows how extensive these ancient forests were.

We discovered very quickly that even within the park the petrified wood isn’t confined to the high-profile sites on the southern end.

We began, as I said, in the north, which is a small loop enabling you to take in the vista of the Painted Desert in an area in which reds predominate. My camera can’t capture the vividness of the colors, and I didn’t want to tweak it, so here you go. Just know that it’s worth seeing in person. We drove around, took in some sights from above, then did about an hour hike down from the Painted Desert Inn (closed, of course for Covid).

Then back in the car to head south, taking in most of the stops along the way.

Puerco Pueblo, and then Newspaper Rock, where there are petroglyphs visible.

The spectacular Blue Mesa, with a 1-mile hike down into the landscape.

And then the concentration of stopping points at which you can see massive fields of petrified wood, including enormous logs which fascinate because they both look like logs, but shimmer with stone. These aren’t the most spectacular examples, but they’ll do for now.

So yes, you can see stacks of petrified wood at the trading post, but seeing it in situ gives a better sense – if that’s possible – of the ancient landscape.

And, I’m very glad to say the museum – visitor’s center – the Rainbow Forest Museum was open, with no exhibits covered up with black plastic. Thank you.

After that, we made our way back west. Someone gave up fast food for Lent (among other things) and so once he discovered that there was a Culver’s on the way – a place he’d always wanted to try – that became dinner for him. (As we sat there, we found that there is actually a location in Hoover, not far from us at home. So….after Easter….)

Then down 89A to Sedona. I had read on the travel discussion board to not attempt this at night, especially if you are new to the area. I can absolutely see why. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous drive up and down through a canyon, twisting and turning, and yeah, I was a little nervous as the sun seemed to be falling very fast…but of course that was only because we were in the canyon. It was fine – we got to Sedona before dark, but with the snow at the beginning of the route (cleared from the road, but still…) and then the switchbacks on the way, I was glad to arrive.

And here we are!

All’s Well

…that ends well. Whether that be a truncated trip or an agonizing climb up a canyon.

Looking back at the end of the day, you (or maybe just I) say, well, that wasn’t so bad. That worked out.

And there ends the Helpful Mini Homily on the day’s events. I would like to declare this a No Encouragement/No Inspiration Zone, thanks.

As I told you, we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon just at sunset, and it was glorious.

My hope for Saturday morning was to achieve one of the very, very few goals I have in life – which is to actually see the Milky Way. Some of you probably see it all the time. But I’ve never seen it, arrayed across the sky, and every time this city gal heads to a national park, she harbors the hope that this time she’ll figure it out and be able to see it.

I’d read that Mather Point, the place from which we watched the Sunset, would give me a good chance – if we got there an hour and a half or so before sunrise. Well, I don’t know if it’s because we only made it an hour early, but yeah, it’s still on my bucket list.

It was pretty though, not only the sunrise itself, all pastel blue, yellow and pink to the east, but the play of colors and the gradual emergence of the canyon walls from the dark.

Even on this Saturday in February, we weren’t alone. There were, of course, the photographers, a few hardy star and sun-gazers, and then, the Squad tumbling in, a large crew of young women, all wrapped in their blankets, loudly reminding each other of how drunk they were. America’s national parks are the place where, like the Catholic Church, here comes everybody – and it really just adds to the experience, and I’m not kidding.

We did a very nice breakfast at the historic El Tovar hotel, with a wonderful view that for a time included deer. The waitress told us that an elk had been by earlier.

Back to the room for a bit, with decisions to make, considering we were checking out at 11, and it was still pretty cold outside. Seemed to call for activity that would balance out outdoor time with periods of warming-up in the car. A drive down Hermit’s Road was the thing.

The Grand Canyon, like the rest of the national parks out west, has a well-run shuttle system designed to cut car traffic in the park and actually make the experience more enjoyable for visitors. The shuttles run constantly enable those who aren’t hikers to see a lot, those who want to hike or bike – but not the whole distance – to jump on and off when they want.

Hermit’s Road was an important early tourist route in the Grand Canyon, and most of the year it’s closed to personal vehicles, but not in the winter, when the shuttle doesn’t run. So we were able to do the drive, along with very few others – coming to the Grand Canyon in the winter is a trade-off. Of course, it’s cold and windy, but there are so fewer people, it’s probably quite unrepresentative of the typical experience.

Hermit’s Rest is the endpoint of the road – and the history of the area is interesting. The most popular trail in the Grand Canyon is the Bright Angel Trail – used by indigenous peoples for centuries to go in and out of the canyon, and then quickly developed for tourists in the late 19th century – and then just as quickly taken over by a single concessionaire who charged fees and controlled access. It took years for the park service to straighten that out and incorporate Bright Angel into the rest of the park, and in the meantime, an enterprising fellow developed trails down off Hermit’s Road. In addition, the trip from the hotels to this endpoint became a popular one, with visitors ending their trek at the Mary-Colter designed Hermit’s Rest.

So, lots of wonderful, different viewpoints, and a bit of history.

The only disappointment of our short trip came with our attempt to go to the small, but much-praised Yavapai Geology Museum – another historic structure from the early days of the park which houses, right there on the rim, a good (apparently) explanation of the geology of the canyon, complete with a large relief map.

So we drive up, walk inside, and…almost every display was covered up by black plastic. “Um, there are some pamphlets and booklets on the window there that you’re free to take,” said the guy at the door, obviously knowing how lame the situation was. It was just stupid. Beyond belief. Covid isn’t transmitted by touch, the data shows, and so I assume what was happening was an attempt to discourage people from gathering too close together as they looked at maps and displays. It was almost insulting. They should just close it, as most national park visitor’s centers have been, until they determine the risk is over.


Then I gave in. Okay, I said. We’ll do one of the trails into the canyon. Not that I was resisting. I’m in decent shape (hahahaha) and enjoy walking about outdoors, obviously. But…it’s daunting. There are (justified) warnings all over the place – it takes twice as long to walk back up as it does to walk down, etc. I really had a difficult time when we did Celaque National Park in Honduras in 2019. I didn’t want to have a difficult time, but it’s increasingly clear that walking on flat landscapes isn’t what I need to be doing to increase my stamina in this regard. I need to go up. That, ironically, is my downfall every time. Up.

I won’t bore you with all the details of hiking in and out of the Grand Canyon. Some of you have perhaps done it. It’s a goal, that’s for sure, and there are a number of ways you can do it, in one day or overnighting, either camping or at the Phantom Ranch. Of course you can also do mules!

What we managed was just a fraction – we got to the 1.5 mile rest stop and then decided to head back up. I will say, though, as hellish as it was coming back up at times (for me), even with my slower pace, it didn’t take us twice as long to return as to go down. I would say we spent an hour going down and it took us 90 minutes to get back up.

And yes, the trail was snowy. I had trekking poles, but we noticed that most of the *serious* folks had microclamps on their shoes – that would make it a lot easier. But then, I didn’t know the trail would be snowy most of the way down, either. It really wasn’t bad, though.

After this, our goal was, first, food – at a decent Mexican restaurant in Tusayan, the little tourist center outside the park – and then to make it to our next destination in time for Mass. And what was that destination?

Well, on our way, my son asked if I had a music request.

“Play Take it Easy by the Eagles.”

“What?” He knows that while I like the Eagles okay,  I also don’t have a need to actively choose to listen to them after forty-five years of exposure.

“Just do it, and listen to the lyrics.”


Yes, we made it to Mass, in the lovely St. Joseph’s church. I forgot to take a photo, but you can see the interior here. A good homily, a wedding convalidation – we have a tendency to run into weddings during Mass when traveling, as we did in Honduras – a Covid-influenced way of Communion distribution that confused me so much that I ended up just staying in my seat – and so it was spiritual communion this week for us, which is fine and a good prayer in its own right.

Then to our hotel – the amazing La Posada – really, the definition of a destination hotel. Originally a Fred Harvey hotel, designed by Mary Colter – you can read its history here – it has been revived and made into a fascinating, quirky showpiece. And it seems to be working – here in the dusty town of Winslow, once something in the age of Route 66, now..not much – the hotel seemed to be almost full.


Change of Scenery

We were supposed to be here yesterday (Thursday). But our flight – through Dallas – was cancelled. I was not about to complain, though, not one little bit – about that, considering the terrible suffering so many are enduring in Texas right now.

So here we are. A different flight taken early this morning. Yes, we lost a day, but the elimination of one half-day’s activity isn’t a problem. As I said…not a problem at all.

A few years ago, the two youngest and I went to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was part of this trip. This time, it’s just the youngest and I, and now at the south rim. We’ll be here for just a day, then we’ll move on.

It’s a short trip, but a welcome one. Kid #4 headed over to Europe earlier this week, the youngest has worked hard, both in “school” and in his music, with Easter (organ) and piano recitals (again – after a two year break for various reasons) forthcoming. So a jaunt seemed called for.

As I said, we were supposed to get to Arizona Thursday evening, with an early morning drive up to the Grand Canyon. That was replaced by an early morning flight and an afternoon of driving to the Grand Canyon. All new territory for us. We arrived just at sunset, and it was gorgeous. Especially beautiful were the blues and pinks in the sky above the canyon. And yes, Ron Swanson is right.

I don’t know why. Why is it? Why is it that just walking from what seems to be an ordinary parking lot, to some trees, along a walkway, smiling at a few other tourists, then having this expanse open up before you just makes your heart stop, your throat tighten and brings tears to your eyes? Why? Is it just the landscape? Or is it the fact that you are here on the edge of this great hole in the ground, with folks from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all colors, shapes and sizes, and you’re all in this miracle, this mystery, in this wild, stupid, marvelous, gorgeous, puzzling, flawed, wonderful country – together?

And yes, that’s my mother up there in the header at the Grand Canyon, too. Sometime in the late 50’s.

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