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As mentioned in my earlier post, our family spring break vacation took us to the south rim of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The drive from our base in Tucson took about 5 hours (via Sedona, where we stayed overnight). We lodged just outside of the GC National Park in Tusayan, which is a one road town (with an airport!) full of motels and restaurants; in other words, your basic American tourist destination.

Arriving at the entrance the next morning, we were buoyed by the fact that it only costs about $20 per car for a 7-day pass to the park. (Park is the wrong word for this place. It must be a million acres or more…!) After parking (yes, it was crowded, but nowhere near as bad as the stories I’ve heard about Yosemite), a short walk to South Rim Village and slightly beyond brought the entire canyon into view. It was an awesome experience to see it for ourselves after seeing endless photographs in books. It’s so huge that it doesn’t seem real. We quickly devised a plan for seeing as much as we could in the few short days we had.

A shuttle bus system is available to get you between the many stations along the rim route, or you could hike between them. A combination of the two seemed best for us, as the shuttles became pretty full at certain points. The hiking is generally easy, although there are a few spots that will challenge you, especially at 7,000 feet! Our 5 ½ year old daughter kept up pretty well despite occasional whining about the cold weather, walking too much, or something or other. I’ll admit to being winded a few times and yelling at my wife to “slow down, would ya?” but she would have none of that, which brings me to wonder why women will race through a leisurely walk or hike, but will be slow as a snail when trying to get somewhere on time? One of life’s little mysteries, I guess.

I brought a few film cameras with me, but was glad I left the large format 4x5 at home. When you’re traveling with a group of five people who want to see everything in a limited time, there’s just no waiting to set up the tripod, take the camera out of the pack, set it up, check the light meter, focus, insert the film holder, expose, remove the holder and store it, break the whole kit down again and repack. Besides it was so windy, I doubt the camera and its kite-like bellows would have remained steady enough to make a small aperture, long-ish exposure photograph. So the medium format (and hand-held…it was really sunny!) Mamiya 7 sufficed for much of the landscape photos, while the 35mm Leica M2 got a workout as well. In fact, as I take a look at the contact sheets and start printing some of the images, I’m favoring the Leica photos right now. That’s probably because I used the Mamiya for much of the canyon photography, and as one soon finds out, although the canyon is a natural beauty, many of the photos one makes there can all too easily look like the same shot over and over! I used the Leica in Tucson, in Sabino Canyon, to photograph beautiful groves of Saguaro cactus and at the Mission San Xavier, and I’m partial to those at the moment.

One of the funniest moments of our trip came when we decided to try a restaurant in Tusayan called Spaghetti Western. Now, normally I would not go anywhere near a restaurant with a name like this, but you don’t always have a lot of choices when you’re on the road, especially near a tourist attraction. When we walked in we could see that it was all very knotty-pine and western-looking. Posters of Clint Eastwood movies were framed on the walls and the menu featured the usual offerings of a typical red-checked tablecloth Italian eatery. And then a realization…almost all the wait staff and hosts were Chinese…wearing cowboy hats! No one spoke a word of English. Now, I’m not saying this as a comment on immigration or making fun of anyone, just that it made for a comically hilarious juxtaposition here at the grandest and most iconic of American vistas. At one point during dinner, when we asked to see our waiter, they thought we wanted more water and brought us refills, and on and on. When the evening was over and we left the parking lot, I noticed another restaurant down the street about half a block. It was called Yippie-I-O-Ti-Yea or something like that. Hmmm….pull in there, I shouted to my brother-in-law. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I had to check it out. I got out of the car and went inside to “inquire” about reservations for the next day, and…yes!...another complete staff of Chinese! What sort of weird parallel universe had we wandered into? We all had a good laugh over our topsy-turvy evening where we had all felt like we were in another country, one of those fun anecdotes one acquires while traveling, but the next day when we were at the canyon and ordered a few ice cream cones, it took a minute to convince the Chinese counterperson that I wanted two separate cones and not two flavors mixed in one cone.

I knew the US was in financial trouble, but I had no idea…

April 21, 2009 | Link to this entry

about

Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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