Evgeny Bolbasov’s  review. A tour of Utah and Arizona, April — May 2011.

This review is a part of the script written for a movie about this tour. It was made by Evgeny Bolbasov for “Kailash Tours”, our Moscow-based partner. We hope to see the movie soon. A big thank you to Evgeny for the provided content!

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion Canyon is long and deep, wide in some places and really narrow in others. The Virgin River has split these pink-orange rocks open to make its way during the prehistoric era. Today, hundreds of tourists visit Zion every year to do the 5 kilometer trek to the natural observation deck named “Angel’s Landing”.

If you take the shuttle bus all the way to the route’s end (24 km) and then walk along a river, you will end up in a place called The Narrows. The tall cliffs come so close together that they are often separated by less than 6 meters. The tall cliffs and the dark, sinister blocks and abysses of the park, gleaming with every shade of red from pink to orange, leave an unforgettable impression. Once the sun begins to set the contrast of the shadows becomes a lot stronger. You can sit down on a rock, close your eyes, and the next thing you know you feel like you’re floating in the air above these rocks and the river. Magical stuff, i tell you…

The state of Utah

We receive an offer to visit the Escalante National Park, or to be specific — the  part of it where we will have to hike a good distance without a proper trail or a road.

At first, the road snakes along some pretty decent asphalt. These parts of the park are very little traveled by tourists and there are no signs or trail markers. We try to use the GPS navigator but the connection is very bad, so Vlad resorts to his memory, as he has been here before. We turn onto a dirt road and after 15 minutes of walking off-road we stop for a break in the shade of the only tree. Next is a 1.5 km portion of the way where we have to wade through a very cold and fast river. After an hour, we finally get out of the water and put our shoes back on. Behind us there’s icy water, burning sunlight, sharp rocks, sweaty faces and unidentified animal footprints. Ahead of us is a half-hour long break on one of the hill tops and a long way back. I will remember this trek for a long time!

Cameron, Arizona

This is the largest existing reservation of Navajo Indians, a land of prairies and canyons. This town is only an hour’s drive away from the Grand Canyon, which is where we will be headed tomorrow. Cameron is not a city, neither is it a village: it is a Trading Post. During the American expansion into the Wild West many trading posts like this one popped up, consisting of a market, a saloon and a hotel. Things have stayed exactly the same to this day, perhaps with better customer service : a big hotel, restaurant, and a huge store where you can buy Indian and cowboy souvenirs: bows, arrows, tomahawks, knives made of bone, cowboy hats and shoes.

The word “saloon” caught my attention. I found out that a saloon is a recreational establishment where you’re allowed to drink but cannot be drunk. They don’t serve food but you can bring your own.

Here is an excerpt from the  Saloon Laws:

— This saloon is the same as in our faraway homeland; here, a firm hand is respected just as much as spoken word.

— We do not understand your laws, therefore we stay away from discussing them.

— You do not understand our laws, therefore we will not impose them on you outside of this saloon.

— We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone because the customer is always WRONG.

— Anybody disagreeing with these laws should remember that we abide by Samuel Colt’s law on this land, and also that the customer is always WRONG.

I was instantly reminded of the movie “Old Surehand”, a cowboy flick from 1965.

We leave Cameron to finally see the Grand Canyon. The car is parked and, with my heart skipping beats, I approach the edge. The vast and seemingly infinite space that opens up in front of you is simply inconceivable, stretching not only forward and to the sides (so wide that it feels like you’re standing on a mountain top); it is also a several hundred meter drop down. This abyss has a completely alien relief: the red walls are jagged and indented with huge crevices, gorges and ravines.

Emotions are running high and I get a somewhat childish feeling of elation. I want to take in and encompass all of this beauty but there is too much, and it passes right through me, gently changing me from the inside.

I close my eyes and feel like I’m being lifted into the air by some unknown force; I begin to float, suddenly back in a childhood dream of adventures of “the pale-faced and the red-skinned”…Ahead of us is a downhill trek of about 900 meters. Walking down the trail, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being in a lost world. I also thought about the everlasting universe and the importance of striving to realize your dreams. If you do that, you will never have to feel the pain of missing a chance for something, letting it pass by. Avoiding that will bring confidence, because when you are doing something you consider important, you suddenly find yourself with a meaning of life and the energy to follow it. And even if it’s impossible to literally live the dream, you should try to live it at least symbolically. All these thoughts came to me afterwards, inspired by the atmosphere that surrounded me here.

The trek to the bottom of the canyon is over. The feeling of happiness from completing this descent, this deep immersion are hard to contain.

As the sun sets, time comes to a standstill. Mysterious shadows stretch across the canyon walls, the sky becomes bottomless and the dried tree carcasses look like enchanted twirls. Silence…Timelessness..

The Horseshoe Bend

We have already seen the Colorado River from a distance. The purpose of today’s excursion is to familiarize ourselves with the hydraulic structures on the Colorado river and one of it’s natural landmarks: a bend in the river that’s shaped like a horseshoe.

The state of Nevada

A stop near the Hoover Dam. Observation decks offer views of Lake Mead and the Colorado River. Downstream is the Hoover Dam, a distinct hydraulic structure standing 221m tall. In 2010, a uniquely constructed bridge was completed next to the dam. The bridge, connecting Arizona and Nevada, is 579 meters long and 256 meters above the Colorado river. From the top of the bridge you can get a nice view of the dam and the endless horizon. The road runs right along the top of the dam. This is an unusual sight for me — a place like this would be guarded heavily in my country, but all I see here is tourist crowds strolling around. By the time it gets dark we reach the place where Colorado River makes an almost 180-degree turn in its course. The sunburnt plateau ends with a giant flat rock, and once you step on it you literally forget to breathe for a while from the unexpectedness and beauty of the view. For a split second you feel like the tiny ant you really are compared to this giant mass. Right in front of you is the dizzying height of the canyon’s walls, the faraway narrow bottom and the blue-green ribbon of the water wrapping around the cliff, actually resembling a horseshoe due to a whim of nature. It feels like you’re not even here anymore, you’re just sailing above all of this beauty, absorbing it, trying to remember it so you don’t ever forget this joyous feeling.

The state of Arizona

The road winded between the mountains, opening up breathtaking views of narrow canyons, a sun-scorched desert and the amazing road itself.

I thought the road itself was really awesome. The first thing I noticed is the perfect markings, which are even more noticeable at night. The road signs are different as well. Distance and speed are measured in feet and miles. The gas station uses gallons, one gallon being 3.8 liters. Temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

The Americans themselves were really nice, at least the ones we have encountered. In small towns everyone says “hi”, and in big cities they will always do their best to help you out if you approach them. Not a single car on a 4-lane road will move if you haven’t made it to the other side before the light turned red. The level of care for handicapped people amazing as well. All pedestrian crosswalks have ramps for wheelchair access. All parking lots have designated handicapped spots that other drivers are not allowed to take. Buses are equipped with automatic ramps for handicapped persons to be able to board, and front seats fold away to make room for a wheelchair.

Another, equally important, thing is that all restrooms in the country are free. Next stop in our tour is the town of Sedona.

Sedona

From the moment I came to Sedona it captivated me with it’s mystical and mysterious appearance. Esoterics say Sedona’s uniqueness lays in its “vortexes” — areas where Earth’s energy comes up to the surface. People come here to change the way they feel and to meditate. The town is considered to be anomalous: the frequency of UFO sightings is so high here that every other resident of Sedona has a personal experience they can tell about. This place is where all those stories you’ve heard about actually happened: a person vanishes for several months or even years and then reappears, convinced that only a few hours have passed, and so on.

But the main thing that brought us here are the Red Rock Mountains and their offer of active recreation, right in the midst of astonishing nature! We were introduced to Sedona’s surroundings by Mario of the Apache Indian tribe — a black wolf. As Mario drives the car to a sacred Indian ground, I ask him — what is an Indian reservation, and what does he know about those times? He took some time to collect his thoughts and then told me this:

In 1830, the united States government has passed a law that forced all Native Americans to move to the lands designated for them, uprooting them from the established ways of life. Any attempts to refuse the forced resettlement was brutally and forcefully punished. America’s indigenous people were driven out of their ancestor’s land, robbed, murdered, and scammed into selling fertile land for next to nothing. The majority of remaining Indians now live in reservations, or land assigned to them by law, and those that don’t live in reservations have completely assimilated into the American way of life.

Little by little, the Native American culture was dying out, it’s written language slowly disappearing. All that’s left from it today is monuments. I decided not to discuss this subject with him anymore.

We take a little steep trail down to the river. The steep rock walls have drawings all over them. This used to be the place where Indians performed their rituals and ceremonies back in the day. Mario recounts some of the stories from the Apache tribe’s life that he inherited from ancestors. Mario’s fate is not any different from thousands of Indian boys just like him. His ancestors were forced to move into the reservation, and that’s where he was born. His grandmother possessed some healing knowledge and tried to pass it on to Mario. He served in the American military and had participated in the Vietnam war. Among his numerous amulets is a carefully kept medal from those days. After his grandmother’s passing Mario took on healing himself, as well as being a guide for visitors that come to Sedona.

Our next stop in learning about the past of Native Americans is the archeological museum. This canyon has some old Indian settlements that are still preserved to this day. A ranger we met along the way willingly told us about the tribes that used to live here. Scientists assume that people have first set foot in North America sometime during the last Ice Age. At that time, majority of Earth’s bodies of water were covered by glaciers, occupying a large portion of the globe. As the sea levels dropped, they eventually revealed a strip of land in what we now know as the Bering Strait. It is possible that people first crossed this land bridge from Siberia to Alaska in pursuit of big game. The number of these people grew over time, they adapted to all sorts of different environments and spread from the far Northern coasts of Alaska and Canada to the very edge of South America. On the next day, following Mario’s invitation, we came to his house. There’s a small wigwam in the yard. In this wigwam, a sacred Indian ritual is scheduled to be held. Rocks are heated in a fire, brought inside the wigwam and set down in the center. Everyone who was invited along with Mario sit in a circle around the rocks. Waves of heat are coming from the pile of stones and the temperature is just like in a sauna. Sweat is trickling down my skin in little streams. Mario says a prayer, then asks each one of us to recount the most memorable experience from this morning. He then offers each person to say a prayer that they know.

Pouring water on the rocks and throwing in herbs that produced a magical aroma, Mario spoke of his grandma that passed away. How he constantly talks to her spirit and receives advice from her.

Modern science admits the existence of an informational field around our planet that holds the memories of everything that ever happened on Earth. All those memories keep on living, only in a different time-space dimension. It might be possible that through this field it’s possible to reach the past and future of any person, including dead ones. A Soviet fortune teller named Vanga claimed to possess such abilities — perhaps Mario has them as well. Let’s believe him.

After saying our goodbyes to Mario we return to Sedona. A couple hours are set aside to explore the city. The town center consists of galleries, small shops selling curious Indian handcraft, cafes and restaurants. At the town’s edge, a church stands high on a cliff, looking as interesting and original as everything else around. The next day is dedicated to vortexes. They are memorable red mountains with names perfectly fitting their appearance: “Cathedral rock”, “Bell Rock” and “Coffee pot rock”.

One of the most amazing discoveries that you make in this area is that a view of the mountains can be enjoyed just as infinitely as a view of the ocean. Each new step opens up a new angle, color palette, combination of silhouettes. People who have really seen and felt Sedona will have it in their heart forever. But the road is calling us again. We’re taking the famous Route 66.

Route 66

This was the first highway built across America, connecting the East and the West coasts. The whole road is about 4000 km long. Over the years of its existence Route 66 became a cult item and has been mentioned in endless songs, movies and works of literature. In 1990, Route 66 was declared a historic site and renovation works have begun.

I would like to end the movie with a saying from the Arapaho Indian tribe: “Take only what you need and leave the land exactly as you have found it”.

April-May 2011


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