When I was a junior in high school I traveled to the Grand Canyon by car with my mother and father and grandmother. It was a typical drive-by vacation for those days. I do remember that my grandmother found a place with a hot spring and boiled some eggs in it, and I remember standing in very cold water, awkward and spongy-looking in my murky tie-dye, trying to represent . . . something. My parents were the royalty of drive-by vacations, as I have written elsewhere. But that trip was the first time I fell in love with red rocks.
Decades passed. People got ill, died. I went to college, got married (repeatedly) and had kids (repeatedly). I personally swore off the drive-by vacation. There was this miraculous day in 1986, I believe, although I could be off by a few years. My best friend at the time, Brooke Battles, and I were working at CES in Las Vegas. Now, there is nothing quite so abominable as working a trade show, especially as a woman who is not a booth babe (and I think they have a hard time of it as well). Brooke and I got it into our minds to go to Zion National Park, a quick 3-hour drive north of Las Vegas. Maybe one of us had seen a poster or something. We had no idea what we were in for.
We rented a convertible in spite of the fact that it was an average of 110 degrees after 2 pm every single day. I remember we pulled off the road in Rockville, on the way to Springdale, to lie in the grass that someone had recently watered. We followed the Virgin River upstream (for downstream, of course, it is the Weeping or Prostitute River, ending in Las Vegas). We found a place where I would stay again and again—alone, with family, whatever—that was a fabulous B&B run by Steve and Barbara Cooper. We cozied in that night, and in the morning, we went to the park.
What hits you first is the magnitude of the place. What hits you next is its oddness of the rock formations. There are a series of peaks that look for all the world like gigantic breasts; the Mormons called them “the Patriarchs.” You see twisted rounds of Navajo sandstone peaked with pink and white sandstone that, perhaps, eroded at different rates. The river runs through it, oh yes it does—despite 5 re-routings to widen the highway—with an ecosystem seemingly dominated by cottonwoods, jack-rabbits, and a peculiar sort of lizard that had a bright turquoise tail, hence some possibly unsavory comparisons in a Wired interview I had—but I digress.
I went back again and again, with my mother and family, my husband, by myself, and with each of my girls, separately and together. I went twice with crews working on projects in interactive media. In the summer of 1989 Rachel Strickland, Michael Naimark and I went to shoot parts of a documentary explaining “telepresence.” I can remember the three of us up among the hoo-doos past the end of the tunnel but before checkerboard mesa trying to shoot a scene where I was speaking. First, there were the cars. Automobile traffic moves one way through a very long tunnel carved through a mountainside. There are hundreds of cars and RVs bumper-to-bumper, then a brief pause during which we would try to shoot, then hundreds of noisy, smelly vehicles moving the other way. At one point Naimark lost it. “Get outta here! Get outta here! This is MY park! This is MY shoot!” We called ourselves tri-Scorp productions (and you can see why). Finally, when we were really ready to shoot the scene a thunderstorm was brewing up in the west, and lightning struck just behind me. It was a hell of a shoot.
In 1997 I took another production team from Purple Moon to Zion to shoot for our game, “Secret Paths to the Sea.” We hiked to all of our favorite picturesque spots, shot video and recorded Tibetan bowls, falling water, and our big Celtic drum. We needed some splashes, so Rob and I went to the beginning of the Narrows where he recorded spatialized audio and I tossed rocks of increasing size into the river. You can hear him on the tape exclaiming, “Hey, you got me wet!”
My daughter Brooke, named for Brooke Battles, and I went several times together for ‘birthday trips’, the most recent being the sweetest. We hiked Angel’s Landing in glittering ice and snow. Near the top, one of the rangers came jogging by, not even out of breath, in a t-shirt and shorts. When we reached the summit, he was sitting in Lotus position meditating in the sparkling morning sun. Brooke and I shared a thing for age-inappropriate men, but this blew Russell Crowe right off the map.
I finally got to hike into the Narrows a few weeks ago. It had always beckoned but had always been threatened by flash floods. Not this time. I was staying at Red Mountain in southern Utah. The area was in drought and the high temperatures were topping 110 regularly. I went with a group of nine. Three of us were unable to resist swimming whenever the water was deep enough. Of course you cannot photograph the majesty of the place. I tried to visualize the forces and the time that made it what it was. Then, we turned around and sloshed out.
The last two days I was at Red Mountain I went hiking alone in Snow Canyon. The rock formations are formidable, although perhaps not so steep or regal as those in Zion. But the ages and colors of the place, the forces that made it, are the same. I went out alone before sunrise and photographed little footprints in the sand that told of the previous night’s action. I scrambled up huge red Navajo sandstone formations. On my last hike, I re-found a little slot canyon that our wonderful guide had led us to on our first Morning Meditation hike. All week I was afraid that my heart would not open to the rocks as it had every time before. Age, grief, guilt, stress—a kind of numbness can set in after a long piece of living. But that morning as the sun rose, I felt a kind of release in my breastbone, a kind of tearing, and I began to cry. Red light poured into me. And there I was, part of the Canyon, indistinguishable and whole.