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South-West States : parks and canyons

From Phoenix (AZ) to San-Francisco (CA) through Nevada, Utah and Colorado
September-october 2022

Autumn 2022: The great America is facing one of those squalls it has been experiencing only too often in recent years. Joe Biden is challenged on his economic record! We must fly to his aid if we want to avoid a triumph of his challenger... No more hesitations, if it's on the economic balance sheet that the American democracy is at stake, we will pour our modest contribution to Uncle Sam's trade balance. Let's go to America! let's boost its tourism!
22 days and nearly 4,000 miles later, we are proud to have contributed to the restoration (relative, for sure, but unexpected!) of democracy in the country of Groucho Marx and Hopalong Cassidy. Let's start from the beginning of the adventure!

Departure from Paris at top speed. Our momentum is quickly slowed down by unlikely and monstruous traffic jams. Bercy-Roissy: three hours on a Sunday morning, Roissy Frankfurt: one hour, Franckfurt Phoenix: I just can't remember, but too long anyway. The heat is heavy at 8 p.m. in Arizona in mid-September, and it's already pitch dark. But we won't see much of Phoenix except its car rental hub and a rather tidy motel in a suburb as cheerful as a graveyard. Early in the morning, under a strong south wind, we sail towards Flagstaff through the hills strewn with portmanteau cacti followed by grasslands and coniferous forests. A small detour towards the lava fields of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and a glance at the ruins of the pueblos of Wupatki and there we find ourselves without transition in the heart of the desert with which we will play for more than fifteen days.
The objective of this first part of the journey is the Grand Canyon of Colorado. And it's the first crush! We will spend two days exploring the South Rim from East to West, even diving for a short hike on the track of the Bright Angel. We never get tired of the perpetual changes of the red masses sometimes incised by the chisel of a ray, sometimes suffocated by the shadow of a cloud ... even the rain, complacently, will leave a rainbow trailing in the sky before discreetly escaping. Morning canyon, evening canyon, midday canyon ... is it the same landscape that we find three hours later?

(continuation of the trip after the photos)

  Map of the travel

  Visited states

Photo gallery

From Grand Canyon
Monument Valley
From Mesa Verde
Zion National Park

From Las Vegas
San Francisco

The next wonder was Antelope Canyon, a little further north, on the edge of Lake Powell. A stab in the brownstone plateau. A twisting, bloody stab that stretches for a hundred yards, narrow and blazing a whole palette of oranges, yellows, pinks, brick red, vermilion. The sky, barely visible between the overhanging walls, threw rare rays into it until the absurd idea came to it of pouring drops of water loaded with red sands as large as dishes, then cats and dogs for good. Quickly the uncertain ground turned into a stream and we only escaped these devastating floods which surely became a torrent by the quick intervention of the alert teams, pushing the visitors towards the only exit, a welcome ladder at the end of the gut.
Why was it that, in this trip marked throughout by an implacable sun and a serene sky, we had to renew this striking experience of a flash flood in another equally singular condition? It happened during the visit of the Narrows (the aptly named) in the depths of Zion National Park. There again, the rangers had to brutally evacuate the walkers engaged in their visit in the very course of the river, where this river is wedged between the vertical granite walls, gigantic this time, while torrential waves fell on this biblical country. Kudos to the artist! Here are successful stagings to get blissful tourists out of passive routine admiration!

But, since we are talking about the Bible, let's go back to Page, the small town in northern Arizona, where we stoped to visit Antelope Canyon. Page and its 7500 inhabitants is the capital of this Navajo country and if you walk up its main street, Lake Powell Drive, you eventually come across, in less than 100 m, an exceptional alignment of 12 churches. Small churches or barely chapels, clean and spruce behind well-kept lawns. 12 tempting shops with exotic names, more or less "reformed", more or less "latest", more or less "new", promising names of infallible and eternal happiness.

Let the courageous reader who has followed us so far be reassured: we will not make them suffer every day of the journey. We will happily skip the steps for the most part (in a mixture that denounces logic) and let the photos complete our statements. Let us of course evoke the fantastic western movie sets of Monument Valley with its cathedrals thrown into the desert like so many Rafts of the Medusa. Let us evoke Valley of the Gods which makes them a discreet echo far from marked routes. Let's also mention the monstrous furrow of the San Juan River at Gooseneck Overlook which multiplies by three the loop from Colorado to Horseshoe Bent. Let's speak of the infinite spaces where the successive waves of canyons and mountains fade away, where colors clash at sunset: Muley Point straddling Arizona and Utah, and in Canyonlands, at the end of endless trails: Dead Horse Point, Island in the Sky or further south Needles Overlook. Let's save for the end of these grandiose landscapes Arches National Monument which fittingly completes this exceptional collection of breathtaking landscapes...

The distances are great between these sites and the roads stretch between them without a shade or a meadow. The exceptional "cities" that punctuate the ribbon of roads are equidistant, apparently a day's horseride apart. Many consist in 3 houses grouped around a shop or, extraordinarily, a bar. The names are nice: Cow Spring, Mexican Hat, Mexican Water, Bluff, Yellow Jacket ... So are the arrowings: Horsethief Point, Cutthroat Castle, Dead Cows Canyon, Muddy Creek. Give up looking for food after dark. Stock up with cookies and drink to face the sun, the distance, the loneliness... A life of sturdy men, oversized 4x4 vehicles, lean cows and picturesque beers (probably also rattle snakes but we didn't see any, to our great disappointment).

Let's push even further east in Colorado. Let's cross Indian territories, whether Navajo or Hopi lands (Hovenweep, Canyon of the Ancients). Let's visit some pueblos in ruins lost amidst stunted junipers, some small welcoming museums, rich in magnificent pottery of uncertain origins (described as Anasazis while waiting for giving them a scholarly name when decided). We are struck by the originality and the quality of the graphics which combine refined geometry with astonishing inventiveness. Very little symmetry, skilfully altered repetitions, simplified but limpid forms, always of great clarity. A binary palette, black and white alternating in expressiveness. Great art indeed!

(continuation of the trip after the photos)









Notre page "Biodiversité"

  Les fleurs rencontrées

  Quelques oiseaux

Et l'art dans tout ça ?

Peintres américains
San Francisco
Art précolombien
des musées
du Colorado et de l'Utah
Le street-art

Our return to the roots aims at Mesa Verde, a massif at the extreme east of our trip, perched in the winds and the cold of an incipient storm. This massif conceals a bunch of pueblos sheltered under rocky vaults and wonderfully preserved: complex dwellings terraced in a cluster of adobe buildings connected by trapdoors and ladders. These remains are sometimes more than a thousand years old and suddenly ceased to serve long before the arrival of the Spaniards for reasons that remain mysterious.

We are now returning to the Pacific Ocean at low speed, enjoying magnificent landscapes that would certainly deserve more time: Capitol Reef Nat. Park, Escalante Nat. Park, Torrey Canyon, Glen Canyon ... Autumn offers us its fireworks in these narrow valleys. The yellow, golden and vermilion hues mix on the summits and along the rivers. But we cannot dedicate them enough time: our goal is now Bryce Canyon and its profusion of pink and yellow cathedrals, its forests of obelisks (the famous hoodoos), its draperies of cliffs... an exceptional moment in the trip, a undeniable top, served by an ideal weather (a magnificent sun gradually jostled by clouds to the delight of the photographer and finally blurred in a stormy sky to add a touch of sublime to the beautiful!)
After Bryce, Zion Canyon, which we already mentioned at the beginning of the novel. The predicted storm broke there as we have said. In the early morning, a new landscape appears, all clean, all green. On the peaks near the Kanaab reservoirs, you'd think you're in the Rocky Mountains, with peaceful lakes where geese and fishermen float side by side, in front of the blazing reflections of trembling aspen trees. We will find the same serenity of a peaceful nature at Mammoth Lakes and later on in Yosemite Park..

But we must first go through the mandatory square of Las Vegas, an essential lock to reach the Pacific. Go through the Las Vegas square without touching $. 20,000, without betting a hotel, without falling on the "jail square"! In Las Vegas, the fight against global warming makes complete sense. The profligacy of lighting of course, but above all the huge air-conditioned halls, with doors wide open on the warmth of the night, the big sedans that tirelessly go up and down the Strip, the machines in tight rows with their facades of light, their music, their rattles, the giant screens covering entire buildings, elevators serving gigantic towers bathed in flashing lights...

But in this paradoxical Nevada, hell and paradise coexist... as soon as we leave Las Vegas, we fall into the pot of Death Valley. A slightly battered pot for the floods of May, followed by the August storms, devastated the road network. You can enter Death Valley through only one trap door and you'll exit through the same one, while many sites of the Valley are inaccessible. But the Badwaters are there, under their salt crust, as well as the dunes of Mesquite like a small Sahara, the pastel colors of Artist Drive, and the wonderful sunsets from Dante's View... We reach the Pacific coast through the Sierra Nevada, the multiple Mammoth Lakes, surrounded by autumnal settings, the ski lifts, useless these days, the white and tortured expanse of Mono Lake with its curious cemented clay stalagmites, the redwoods of Yosemite Park, its pine forests devastated by recent fires, its valley wedged between the cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan.

A short visit to Stanford to revive old memories; in the heart of Silicon Valley, the campus has largely benefited from the last decades and, if we except the Bourgeois de Calais who eternally repeat their semester on the Main Squad, everything has changed here and it is difficult to find a trace of the student atmosphere of the seventies...
We then go up to San Francisco to reconnect with... the cold and the fog. Three days of visits, a museum, wanderings along the bay of course, hunts (well, a little disappointing...) for street-art, despite the biting wind. In the skies the Blue Angels who happily celebrate an annual gathering of old military buildings likely to invade Alcatraz make noisy and spectacular evolutions.
And then the return, of course, a little sad, a little nostalgic for the opportunities left on the side of the road, all the detours and the visits that we could have made, with a little more time... A real return, all in all!

Claude and Henri Maître, december 2022
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