Wake up in New Mexico, Sleep in Vegas, Canyon in Between

Motel coffee maker: success.  Project caffeination: complete.

So this time, it only appeared that five or six cigarettes had been put out in boiling water, but it was palatable and it ensured my eyelids remained peeled back until after sunrise.

Dad and I drove out of Albuquerque about five o’clock in darkness. It was 45 degrees in New Mexico, and the chilliest I have been since last winter. It is so odd that the middle of a desert can be so cold. Dad and I both had on sweatshirts, clutched our respective tea and coffee, and the heat cranked up in the Subaru as we coasted silently along Route 40.

Despite being chronically tired with these early mornings, I was grateful we left in the dark. We watched the sun gradually rise up over the mesas and highlight their blue-black silhouettes with a glowing line of light.   Eventually, the sun crested, and the mountains and rock of New Mexico’s horizon burned orange, red and pink from purple shadows.

New Mexican Sunrise

By eight o’clock we had reached Gallup, New Mexico and exited on Historic Route 66 to find some food to fuel up on before reaching the Grand Canyon.  Dad broke his “No Turning Back Ever” rule for Aurelia’s Diner, a local spot whose wide windows and red striped stools and booths overlooked rocky cliffs, glowing an early morning pinkish-white. The locals were all Hispanic, sporting thick belt buckles and boots.  They laughed over the their coffee with the waitress, also Hispanic with a sweet snaggle-toothed smile, about the newest Dancing with the Stars cast. I ordered a real coffee, served black in a graceful glass mug, and an egg scrambled and then folded onto a buttered English muffin.  Dad had an egg burrito blanketed with a green chile sauce whose bite our waitress ensured with a wink, that Dad could handle.  It was local food and ambiance at its finest—so much that even Dad admitted, “That was worth breaking my rule for.”

Amazingly, the topography changed again as we reached Arizona. It became rocky and bare, losing its red hue. As we neared the Grand Canyon, the land shifted to a surprisingly dark green.  Pine trees sprouted on the barren, rocky-faced mountains before once again becoming sandy and desolate as we neared the Canyon.

People always say, “No words can describe,” and you think, yeah, yeah okay, but sincerely, it is very hard to find a way to capture the breadth of something like the Grand Canyon. Television and photography limit the scope in such a way that it is difficult to truly comprehend that while you are standing overlooking the gorge, it cuts and folds onto self and expands so greatly that your entire periphery is engulfed by it.  It’s ten miles from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Canyon, but it looks like a marathon across. There is a river at the Canyon bed, the Colorado River, almost 7,000 feet below, but it’s barely comprehendible.

Grand Canyon

While standing there taking its enormity, there were moments where my brain, confused at its depth, almost considered that ledges created by the deep gulfs were close enough to step onto. It was hot now, about 95 degrees, a good forty degree difference from New Mexico just a few hours earlier, and I could feel the sun burning the top of my hair. Tourists chattered in Japanese and Norwegian and French, snapping pictures of each other and breathing out the universal language of wonder.  At one point, a shadow broke over part of the Canyon and as we looked up to find its caster, we saw a Condor flying towards us at eye level with a wingspan the length of my body, which is a good five feet. As it reached our vantage point it veered sharply away, flashing white under feathers that contrasted starkly with its black wings, and an ugly red head with a large, curved beak. Then the bird sank sharply and dipped out of view–collective exclamations ensued.

Favorite Canyon Tourist Quotes:

1) Wife to her Husband:

“Hey, stand over here, I want to get a shot of you falling over the edge.”


“Well, if you want to do that, make sure you don’t miss the shot.”

2) Boy Standing on Rock with Arms Spread Out for Photo Op:

“I feel like I’m flying!”


“Want to test it?” *serious tone*

3) My Dad to Me:

“This is giving me the heebie-jeebies- don’t stand so close…”

I wanted to stay longer; I tried to memorize the view and keep it, but eventually we made our way back to the car and started towards Las Vegas, Nevada.

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4 responses

  1. I never thought I’d get to see the Grand Canyon so I really enjoyed the experience through your eyes. Thanks for the travelogue, Happy Girl! Keep up the great work. Judy

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