Under the Big Sky

There we were, living in an RV down by the river…

      The walls of Zion National Park watched over us as we floated in the mellow waters of the Virgin River, which played an important role in the canyon’s creation. Eons of natural erosion and sedimentary development had created one of the most amazing places one could experience. Fortunately, we were able to experience it together, as a family.

      Ever since our first pit-stop at a revelatory Walmart Supercenter in Nevada, it had been full steem ahead for our crew of seven. The road from Las Vegas, Nevada to Southwest Utah was everything Easy Rider (1969) montages had promised. Having never been out West, the only references I had were from television, film, and textbooks. However, none of those mediums did the natural landscape of the American West justice. Peering out of the windows in wonderment, we all exchanged “Ooh’s” and “Awe’s” like a kind of soulful currency. Open fields stretching into the horizon were abbreviated by mighty rock faces and overhangs. The reds, oranges, and tans flowed in and out of eachother, climbing, dropping and stretching, all while pulling us further and further down an endless highway.

      My position as copilot was not taken for granted as David – wearing his signature short sleeved button up shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals – captained the ship while the road ahead stared back at itself through the reflection off of David’s opaque wooden framed sunglasses. Seated comfortably within the cabin was Lindsey with her joyful brown eyes scanning the passing scenery while her hands were focused on knitting. My Father, sitting directly behind us, only told David how to drive a couple times (That’s progress!). All the while rocking his Amazing Spider-Man tank top that he had gotten at Universal Studios on vacation yeeeeaaaaarrrrrrsssss ago – the one dad shirt to rule them all. Meanwhile, my Mother sat back, purely content. There was nothing to wake up early for tomorrow, nothing to stress over, only an experience to, well, experience.

      My Mother had never been that far out West either, and she carried with her a stoic appreciation for her surroundings as a result. One of the main reasons this epic road trip was organized and put into motion was so that we could spend significant time with our parents during a time of massive transition in all of our lives. David and Lindsey were beginning their life together, and I was entering my senior year of college –  a position that just a couple years prior I thought I would never be in. Meanwhile, our Mother and Father were doing what they had always done: working their assess off on a daily basis. The only difference being that they were getting older and their kids were getting farther away. This trip was long overdue.

      While Mom and Dad were the reason we were determined to make this trip as great as possible, they were also the reason we carried with us a certain level of concern, or caution. There was a lot of hiking and heat ahead of us, and my parents aren’t exactly fitness enthusiasts in what minuscule free time they have. However, upon our arrival, any concerns we may have had were entirely refuted.

      Zion National Park carries with it a type of Garden of Eden esthetic. It’s biblical in its scale and relentless beauty. The Virgin River winds through it like a tour guide revealing a breathtaking scene to behold around every bend. The greenery, while lush and ever present, acts as a complimentary element to the plateau topped walls of the majestic canyon. Simply put, the park is nothing short of eye openingly pristine. This was our first stop in a chain of National Parks to be visited, followed by Bryce, and then the Grand Canyon. We spent the entire day hiking as many trails as we could, and our parents absolutely crushed it. It was as if Zion had mystically rejuvenated them. The day exceeded everyone’s expectations, once again proving that you can usually expect your expectations to be inaccurate.

    The only way I can describe the day in Zion is pure. Moving step by step, side by side, in this magnificent place, together, after having been apart the way we had been was nothing short of cathartic. Being able to not only see the joy my Parents were experiencing, but to share in it with them was more than I could ever ask for. 

Upon returning to our campground, we immediately began to share thoughts and anecdotes from the day around the campfire. However, the RV was parked so close to the river that we couldn’t help but hear it beckoning us. Being polite, we obliged the river. The same energy from inside of the park flowed through the Virgin River as we sat in it up to our chests, adult beverages in hand, intercepting the soothing current.

This was the mobile domicile lifestyle in motion.

As the sun began to set, we prepared dinner. David and Lindsey having lived out of backpacks for an extraordinary amount of time are basically five star chefs when given a full kitchen, and our RV’s kitchen was not messing around. The two of them cooked up stuff I swear we didn’t even have. Seriously, where did they get steak? We didn’t have steak! The magic of Zion didn’t end there, though. When dinner was done and everyone was winding down along with the campfire, I snuck away to the river with a left handed cigarette I had acquired along our journey (…Nevada legalized recreational marijuana…bare with me, I’m getting to a point). As I looked up at the full moon over the ridge of the canyon wall adjacent to our campsite, my Mom came to find me to say “Goodnight”…

Absorbed in the vivid features of the night sky, I hadn’t heard my Mother approaching, otherwise I would have hit the pause button on the activity. Instead of scolding me for sneaking it onto the trip, She instead asked for a hit…I felt like I had stepped outside of my body and was now watching this happen rather than actually living it. After stepping back into my body, under one of the fullest moons I had ever witnessed, I passed the left handed cigarette to the Woman who gave me life, and honestly, it was a genuinely beautiful moment. My Mother and I have always been alike, sharing the same sense of humor and personality. It was my mother who taught me to, “Just say, ‘Hi’.” A lesson that I practice to this day and will continue to as long as I have a pulse. It’s simple, just say “Hi”. You never know the change it can make in someone’s day, or the doors it can open. Life is meant to be engaged with and  my Mother is who taught me to engage it, and not to simply stand back and watch it go by.

My best friend in high school and I got into trouble during the Senior year book photo shoot for positioning ourselves in a way that it made it look like we were making out. Comedy gold, I know. Keep in mind we went to a Catholic school so they weren’t exactly enthused. Our classmates were, but the diocese not so much…As a result, they didn’t put in the traditional “goofy” photo that goes in the back of the yearbook. Instead it was just blank. When I explained what happened to my parents I expected for my Mother to scold me at the least, but instead she went and got her yearbook. Opening it all the way to the back, there was no back page in her yearbook either…My mother thirty years before my existence had pulled a stunt with her friends as well and gotten the “goofy” page removed from their Senior yearbook. That anecdote may be meaningless or shallow to other people, but it means a lot to me.

She took one hit, her first and only since having my Brothers and I, and we just talked. I don’t remember what we talked about, I just know it was great. We said goodnight to each other, we hugged, and I gave Her a kiss on the cheek. It was then that it dawned on me; while this trip was about being together and making memories as a family, looking up at the night sky made me realize that time and place are relative when it comes to the love you have for others. No matter where any of us are, we are under the same night sky, with the same love in our hearts.

Goodnight, Zion.

Good morning, Bryce.

The musical stylings of Father John Misty acted as the soundtrack for our transition out of Zion towards Bryce Canyon. Everyone including Maverick, the dog painted on the door of the RV, was in good spirits. The RV’s engine roared, once again in it’s element shepherding us along the endless highway.  The levees broke along the way and the once dominant reds, oranges, and tans gave way to  crisp green fields looking up at the big sky along U.S. Route 89.

The RV cradled Lindsey, Mom, and Dad as they slept, regaining energy in preparation for the amount of times we would have to pick our jaws up off of the floor of Bryce Canyon. The park looks more like a Salvador Dali painting than anything close to reality. Hoodoos, pillars of rock formed through natural processes of erosion, inhabit the series of amphitheaters that is Bryce. As you move through the canyon itself, the walls and hoodoos shift shape and color. What once looked like an abstract attempt at an acupuncture arrangement from above now towered over you. The geographical characteristics are made only more surreal by the wildlife in the area. The first thing we saw as we approached the view at Bryce Point was a bird that looked like more of a sabertooth tiger with wings. What kind of bird was it? I have no idea. What I do know, however, is that a flock of those things could take over a small country if they wanted to. I swear to God.

Monstrous birds aside, my parents once again thrived. This hike was by far more taxing than our time in Zion, yet the challenge seemed to make them stronger. This is a microcosm of who my parents are. Despite difficulties, they will always persevere. My mother and father are not the braggadocios type, they are the kind to put their nose against the grindstone and work until the job is done. It just so happens that this job was more enjoyable than the ones they are used to. Once the hike was completed, high fives dispersed, and all oohs and awes expressed, it was time to get back on the road.

Despite cruisin’ forward at ferocious rate, the road towards the Grand Canyon felt as though we were simultaneously going backwards in time. A little known fact is that the largest CD collection on the planet exists on the shelves of David’s bedroom. Spanning from the musical influences of our parents up to contemporary artists, David’s collection has everything. Any genre, any mood, and any feeling can be found on those shelves. The ability to browse his collection for something I hadn’t yet listened to while growing up was a blessing. From the days of listening to my Walkman on the bus ride to school, up through driving to high school and eventually college, I would go in and pick out a CD for the trip. This was a focal point of how my oldest Brother and I bonded. This leg of the journey felt more like we were back home geeking out over a Smashing Pumpkins album than being in an unfamiliar place along the vast interstates of the U.S. The natural beauty of the world around us momentarily took a backseat to the screams and shouts of Slayer as we cruised through Nowhere, Arizona.

We arrived at sunset.

While Maverick held down the fort on the RV, we stood in silent appreciation of the landscape sprawled out before us. As the sun slowly fell behind the horizon of the canyon, shadows bloomed and slowly dissolved into darkness as if the Grand Canyon itself was going to sleep. This was an ideal tease for the surprise that David had in store for all of us.

We spent the first half of the next day on foot exploring the Southern Rim of one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. The second half was spent in the air. David had arranged for us to go on bush plane tour of the Grand Canyon, a next level experience that we had no idea even existed.

Standing a mile deep and eighteen miles wide, the canyon is grand to say the least. It is genuinely impossible to take it all in on foot, however, being airborne is a different story. The bush plane itself was rickety, and I’m pretty sure our pilot wasn’t even old enough to have his drivers license, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity so up we went. As we took off and gained altitude the ground below was filled with lush greenery. The trees and rivers existed in a world of their own, we were a distant audience to the world’s often unappreciated details. The earth disappeared as we moved over the precipice of the canyon.

The absence of space below us generated a combination of tranquility and appreciation. Never did I think I would be able to look down on paradise while surrounded with the ones I love. Thoughts of the lightning storm from the flight into Las Vegas crossed my mind. We were arranged almost identically. I was seated next to my Mother, with David and Lindsey behind us, and my Father a few seats away. I couldn’t wait to get off that plane on the way into Vegas. I never wanted this flight to end.

Was I okay?

We were great.

 

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

  

 

   

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