Tuesday, October 12, 2004

“This is just like television, only you can see much further.”

The Movie: Being There, 1979 (Jerzy Kosinski, screenwriter, from his novel; Hal Ashby, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener
The context: Chance, who has spent his entire life inside his employer’s walled garden, takes his first ride in a car.
How to use it: To comment on a spectacular view.

Yesterday's leg: 645 miles, 2.25 tanks of gas
Stops: Needles, CA; Kingman, AZ; the Grand Canyon; Winslow, AZ; Gallup, NM

We had to stop in Needles because it's the fictional home of Snoopy's brother Spike. Charles Schulz used to show Needles as an empty landscape with a single cactus. That's not much of an exaggeration, so when I saw the sign advertising the Needles Marina, I thought it was a joke.

But Needles is on the Colorado River, and while the river's not pretty there, it's deep and wide enough to justify a boat ramp. There's even a small, muddy beach. I let Dizzy out and he had a great half hour chasing the ducks from the shore.

Kingman, where we stopped for lunch, is much more substantial. An Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad locomotive sits in a green patch in the center of town; Dizzy would have liked to investigate more closely, but two signs in the park said, "No dogs allowed."

The detour to the Grand Canyon added about 125 miles and more than three hours to the day's drive, but if I hadn't made the trip, I'd have regretted it forever.

We got there around 4:15, with the sun already low in the sky. Early morning and late afternoon must be the best times to see the canyon, so we arrived at almost the perfect time. In the gold of late afternoon, the walls of the canyon glow rose, green and blue. Everyone's seen the pictures, but they can't convey the enormity of it; the Grand Canyon stretches 56 miles east to west, as far as the eye can see in either direction.

People misuse and overuse the word "awe," but it's the appropriate word for the Grand Canyon, which inspires wonder and fear in equal measure. It's not just the size and it's not just the beauty, it's the feeling that somehow you're looking into the secret heart of the world. Which, geologically, you are.

It was dark by the time I passed the exit for the Petrified Forest, but that was probably good because otherwise I would have had to stop there, too. I have wanted to visit the Petrified Forest ever since I saw the slides on my Viewmaster when I was five. It'll have to wait for another trip. It was, however, responsible for my favorite new word of the last several months: "lithodendron." Look it up.

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