The water emerging from the ground in Hot Springs, Arkansas is 143 degrees Fahrenheit and is cooled down to a comfortable and soothing 100 degrees for the 20 minute whirlpool soak. I was there early in the morning to avoid the crowds and I had the historic Buckstaff Baths pretty much to myself. Bobby, the attendant, led me through the various stations, chatted me up as I settled into each, then left me to my self-indulgence as I soaked, steamed, showered and laid on a bed of hot towels that miraculously drained the world outside away from me. After a 20-minute Swedish massage, which I hadn’t had in over 25 years, I emerged back into the world and my expedition.
After the pampering spa treatment, I walked across the street to the multi-tiered, municipal parking garage to find my car in the middle of the main ramp surrounded by police and flashing lights. I forgot to put the stick shift in gear, neglected to engage my emergency brake, and it rolled backwards into another car. My Mini Cooper, the little bulldog of cars, apparently had something against the big dog Cadillac across from it. Only minor damage, very minor, and no injuries except for my serenity.
One of the intents of this cross-country road trip is to find inner peace and serenity, to find what makes me happy, and figure how best to live in the moment. Traveling alone with no real agenda, no real plan, no real timeframe was going to slow me down and I would get to know myself more deeply. This hasn’t always been easy to do. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there have been many moments of peace and snippets of serenity along this journey.
In New Mexico I found a nice little campground in the shadow of El Morro National Monument. It had no cell service but there was wi-fi at the adjoining Ancient Way Cafe. On the cafe’s counter, a brochure advertised the healing services of Standing Feather and Red Wulf (yes, with a “u”). I signed on for a psychic reading. Red Wulf, wearing a red bandana exposing a grey pony tail, greeted me into his yurt and my first question was answered before I could ask it. I now know how to hang art work in a round room. I shuffled and then chose my tarot cards and Red Wulf explained my path. My future doesn’t look too bad, but then after sleeping a couple of nights on a rocky ground, everything afterward is bound to look good.
I almost didn’t visit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay), in Navaho country. My old college roommate, and Tatter’s new head of household, told be this site was one of his favorites in the Southwest. Along the road, a fellow traveler told me that there are many car and hotel room break-ins on the reservation. Last October, my house was broken into by a 16-year old girl with her 14 year old friend acting as lookout. My laptop, my camera bag with digital camera and all the right lenses, along with my Nook were stolen. I didn’t want that to happen again. But my instincts told me to listen to my friend Jim and go. After two days at the Grand Canyon, I needed a break from the crowds and Canyon de Chelly was the perfect place to go. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the deep canyon once inhabited by the Anasazi and the Navaho was verdant and peaceful. This time my serenity was coupled with a deep sense of spirituality and harmony.
These two and a half weeks, so far, of driving and hiking and being by myself is slowing me down, in both senses of the phrase. I’m reaching a point where the awe-inspiring landscape I’ve been through, am passing through and will continue seeing as I round the USA is becoming overwhelming and I’m afraid that I’ll become numb to it. Inured to the vast and unending beauty of this land. I need to maintain my wonder and reverence as I approach Utah, California and all the rest back to New York State. Of course I’m anxious to see it all but I need to stop hopping from state to state, park to park with such drive. It’s getting easier now to stop and relax between each port of call to recharge my internal batteries and the batteries in the retrieved laptop, the phone, and the repurchased Nook and camera. The breaks give me time to reflect and write about what I’ve experienced and how I feel about it all. It gives me time to share some of that with friends like you. I can then visit the next national treasure with a recharged soul, ready to take in and admire anew the vista around the bend.