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..: stories

..: Time Travel

My journal starts in Scottsdale, just outside of Phoenix. The landscape is flat except for deliberate piles of dirt and rock that you can see from the 10 Freeway. The overpasses and cement is different here, it's red in tone, and matches the state's older license plates as they pass. The rocks are red, clay red, and in the city, and as you approach Scottsdale on the 51 that dead-ends into Bell, the roadside is decorated emaculately with landscaping. It is easy landscaping. They call it desert landscaping: Rock, a well-placed cactus or bush, and more rock. Cement, different shades of clay and red with angular designs and patterns. The sun is setting, and I can see the freeway is still under construction past where it emptied us onto Bell. Someday, it will stretch out far beyond Scottsdale, turning Scottsdate into "city" and some other place into the sub-suburb.

The drive from Tucson to Scottsdale was about two hours. We drive by Pikacho Peak. As we approach, we know exactly which formation it is -- it's the one that looks like the Pokemon character Pikachu. From 14 miles away, we see Pikacho coming. We exit. We-- I, want to take pictures. I am fantasizing about the perfect photo, something outdoors, something caught, something dusty red in tone, impromptu, with landscape and sense of peace. We talk about my unicorn picture, and how in the past years I have grown increasingly impatient with what kind of travel photos I really find valuable.

I find I am pursuing the pictures my father took of me when I was young boy, when we travelled across America those couple of times, stopping in every conceivable state along the way. I am seeking those same places, those same road-side landmarks, and I suddenly feel sad, because what I am seeking is not a photo opportunity, but time-travel. I am seeking a place and time when my father enjoyed his family, and loved to travel with us, driving us in a little Datsun wagon to far off places where people only lived on KOA lots in tents and mobile homes. From national park to national monument, we saw them all. In the pictures, I was always smiling and happy. Why couldn't I remember that time, that feeling?

We exit at Pikacho Peak RV Camp. A woman walks down the offramp, holding a small blonde child and moving away from her minivan, which is loaded down by luggage. She is thin and dark, too dark to be a tourist. At first, I think she is in need of help, but then she ignores us as we drive past, and so we in turn ignore her walking along the side of the road, in the heat, in the middle of this nowhere place. We make a left towards the peak, which looks like Batman, buried up to his neck and covered with dirt. We pass the Arizona Nut House. We see the Pikacho National Monument State Park sign and pull over into the gravel and rock. Climb out, and allow the 5pm heat to cover us. We take a camera and the tripod and move to the large wooden sign. I compose a picture of us before the sign, with the peak in the background. The tripod is close to the ground, and I fuss with the controls on my wife's expensive camera. I am looking for the timer, and accidently shoot off a picture. I look up to see what I've captured. It's Kj, looking off to the left, waiting. I set the timer and we embrace, posed. The flashing light on the camera become more agitated, and finally the shutter clicks. She takes the camera off the tripod and takes a few more shots of the cacti around us, and I see in my mind I would rather have pictures of her taking pictures, and so I tell her, "stay right there." I come back with yet another camera, and take a picture of her taking a picture.

Eventually, we leave, and now, I am even more discouraged in my itch to find that unattainable travel photo.

We stop in Sedona, a very strange town full of slackers and lazy artists with little or no real talent, except to evade the responsibilities that come with living in the real world. Here we meet Dhee, a tanned, forty-something graphic designer and web site designer with his own freelance gig. We talk about the design needs of Sedona (everyone tries to barter, he says), and also the Hawaiian Islands where he wandered and freelanced a bit. He knows the Southern California area too, that's probably where he decided he wasn't cut out for a normal day job.

Heading north from Sedona, we make our way out of a deep and lush canyon, up and up until we come up into Flagstaff. More miles, a few more hours of driving. There's our exit for the Grand Canyon. A few more hours, and we'll be there. By the time we get to the Canyon, it will be dark. Best to go straight to the hotel; we'll see the Canyon in the morning.

Just before sunset, I find what I've been looking for. To the left, halfway between Williams and Tusayan, is a large campground completely themed on the cartoon, The Flintstones. A thirty-foot Fred Flintstone greets people next to an even taller sign that reads "YABBA-DABBA-DOO means WELCOME to you!" I swerve and pull into the dirt lot, and I drive right up under the sign. The wooden car with the stone wheels is still here, after all these years. The surrounding structures are just as I remember them. Kj is wondering what we're doing here. The sun is going down, she's thinking. But I can barely contain myself. "Kj, remember that one picture in our wedding slideshow of me when I was a little kid sitting in a Flintstones car, with the Fred Flintstone sign and the smaller sign that said 'Take your first picture here'?" It immediately registers with her; incredibly, we had stumbled upon the site of one of my favorite pictures from my youth, from my adventures across the country with my father. I must have been, what, five years old when he took that picture. I knew what to do even before we put the SUV in park. I had to get a picture of myself, sitting in that Flintstones car. I could approximate and mimic the angle of the original photo. I think I can get pretty much the same shot.

The sun was going down fast, and so I took my pictures pretty quickly. The car was made out of a huge log, cut at the ends to crudely form the shape of a Bedrock soap box racer. The seat was so small, I couldn't imagine actually sitting in this thing. We got a few pictures of me on the car, and then Kj wanted to be in the picture with me for the next one. In that moment, my mind came out of whatever time travel cloud it was in, and at once I realized the space of all the years that have passed. It's now been about 25 years since I last sat here, and now, I'm married, and I have the means to travel here on my own, with my wife, and I don't need my dad to do it.

I have a wife. I don't need my dad. The formula hung there for a moment.

I have a wife. That's certainly good. I really do delight in her. She is here with me, time travelling, how can it get better?

I don't need my dad. Is that good? I used to need him for everything, didn't I? So much so, that when we travelled, I learned not to bother with asking about what town or state or national park we were in, because he never told me. He was adventurous, but rarely stopped to explain context of where we were, or what I was doing there, or why this place was important. That's why I never knew the location of this Flintstones campground; he might have remembered if I had asked him, but I have long since learned to not ask him for information. At least, never for information that actually mattered to me. In my life, I knew I would be left to find truth on my own. If I wanted to know what to do, where I was -- who I was -- it wouldn't come from him.

When next I looked up, the sun had gone down on my campground. The wind was making my wife cold, and she moved back into our SUV. I lingered a bit, trying to cull another memory from the spot, and came up with little.

I pulled back onto the road, and we continued north to the Grand Canyon. In about an hour, I would realize that I no longer needed to take the unattainable picture. Not that I had taken it. I got something better, I got the time travel experience my soul was hoping for.

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