“Were you raised around here?” I asked, gesturing widely. It is bad enough to know the beads you are buying were mined in Michael’s without learning that your roadside reservation jeweler is an art student from Park Slope.
“My mom was” said the young woman adding the last copper wire link to my new bracelet. “I was raised in Cameron”.
I goggled at her. The conversation was taking place on Navajo land just outside the Grand Canyon National Park. Cameron was only ten miles away and looked very similar to where we now stood, but clearly for locals there is an important distinction between one patch of desert scrubland and the next.
“Do you still live in Cameron?” I asked.
“Yes, and I went to school there but my kids to go school in the city”
“Wow, that’s an awfully long way every day”
“I know. But they like it. The bus comes and gets them every morning”
She finished with the pliers and fixed the bracelet round my wrist. I handed over $35. The man at the stand opposite was selling a pendant of pale, mottled almost lichen-like turquoise in a silver surround he had fashioned himself. It was big and beautiful and had his own hallmark stamped on the back. He wanted $350. I am sure it was worth it but that’s just too much to spend in a layby. And besides, silver needs polishing. I contented myself with the bracelet.
We knew where Cameron was of course, because we had been through it twice: once on the way to the Grand Canyon and once retracing our steps through the Painted Desert after we’d failed to find the world’s most famous big hole. Yes, it’s 277 miles long, 1 mile deep and 18 miles wide but we still managed to miss it. We’d headed north from Flagstaff on route 89 knowing we had about 75 miles to travel. After about 120 miles, an extra hour on the road, and many stops to try on jewelry ( ” I don’t like turquoise” “Me neither” “No harm in looking then…”) we were weighted down with semi-precious stones and burdened with the knowledge that we had managed to lose one of the wonders of the world. We stopped and asked. The man in the gas station was kind “Everyone does it–just go back 58 miles till you see the bridge and then turn right. You can’t go wrong after that” We found it in the end. The Cackler walked round it some, and I bought a calendar. We liked it and we have nothing more to say that hasn’t been better said before.
Our failure to find the Grand Canyon was not our only travel woe. The Cackler, having been raised watching The Virginian wanted to go horse-riding.
“Have you ridden before?” asked Bobbi when I called to make the reservation (non-Navajo meaning–just to be clear)
“Well, we’ve sat on horses before, but no, we can’t ride”
“But you’re not frightened?”
“No, we’re not frightened but I’m fat, unfit, uncoordinated and have very bad knees”
“No worries” said Bobbi warmly “I’ve never failed to get anyone up on a horse”
Only part of what we’d shared with Bobbi was true. It turned out that the Cackler, the instigator of the whole unfortunate expedition, is in fact very frightened of horses. She didn’t sleep the whole night before our trek and was terribly timorous in the stable yard. I, on the other hand, was looking forward to the day out. I had my boots, my hat and everything. I channeled my inner Anna Sewell patting ponies and imagining myself cantering, nay galloping across the High Chaparral.
Bobbi had arranged a flight of metal stairs to allow the infirm to inch into the saddle. I made a wobbly ascent, my knees protesting at every step. Unfortunately Bobbi had no winch and my right knee stubbornly refused to lift close enough to my chins to allow a successful mount, nor would it bend accommodatingly inward. It was what Spud Hughes would doubtless term ” a failed legover situation”. I dismounted the steps, crestfallen. No more Thelma Thelwell.
“I’d better not go” said the Cackler, looking hopeful.
“Stuff and Nonsense” I said channeling Dawn French at her most tweedy, and holding out a stirrup. The Cackler was led from the yard on Cinco and could be heard saying “Oh I’m frightened, Oh I don’t like it” as her horse followed the others into the desert. Returning an hour later she was using her crop ” He needed a little encouragement” she said, now a regular Princess Anne.
This seems like a good moment to give a shout out to our Toyota Yaris. We refused the suggestions of the man at Desert Rentals: no upgrade, cruise control, power steering or snow chains for us. The subcompact completed 1500 miles in a week making it up to Flagstaff, around Jerome and down to Sedona without complaint. Easy to get on and off too. My kind of mount.