Three days, 300 miles


From Bluff, we slide southwest into Arizona, past worthydetours: Goosenecks State Park and Valley of the Gods. Then the carmine mesas of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park rise into view.

For generations of moviegoers, this is the American West. JohnFord directed the film Stagecoach here in 1939, then followed itwith My Darling Clementine and The Searchers. But for its Navajoinhabitants, the valley is no mere movie set. It is home. To spendtime here is to suspend yourself between myth and reality in a wayimpossible anywhere else.

Not far away is another reminder of the deep roots ofcivilization in this land: Navajo National Monument, its Ancestral Puebloan dwellingsworth the 5-mile hike it takes to see them up close. Then we veernorthwest to Page, Arizona.

In Page, old West and new collide. The John Wesley Powell museumcelebrates the man who led the first expedition down a wildColorado River. Today, the Colorado has been tamed by the GlenCanyon Dam. The dam's curving white face rises 710 feet; beside it,high-tension power-line towers, looking like gigantic Hopi katsinadolls, march across the desert to carry electricity to Phoenix andbeyond.

Back on the road, we begin the drive to the North Rim of theGrand Canyon. Tom suggests a side trip to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. He wants to see theobservation station for the California condors; wildlife biologistshave periodically released birds into this area since 1996.

It's getting late, so I veto the detour. "You know," I say, "I'malways in places where there are supposed to be condors, and I'venever seen one. Not one."

By the time we reach the deck at the Grand Canyon Lodge, the airhas taken on an energizing chill. There's a palpable serenity aspeople from all over the globe settle into the rough-hewn chairs toponder the view of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Heaven should be so mellow― and also serve cold beer.

Out on the Transept Trail, we edge along one of the rockypeninsulas that reach into the canyon's emptiness. We pause when abird soars overhead, 20 feet above us. A huge bird, a primordialwinged thing, with a bare pinkish head and white markings along theundersides of its wings. Apparently ― but not definitively― a condor.

And so, on our way back home, we debate whether or not thisbeast of the skies was in fact a condor. In the end, we reach noconclusion, which is fine. Traveling through the red rocks and therainbow canyons, you make a journey that is about potential, into aland still wild enough for a condor and empty enough to hold allyour imaginings. "Now is now," my friend Tom says. And on thisroad, you never know what now will bring next.

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