Taking the road not (previously) taken

Yesterday I came to a fork in the road and, boy, did I ever make the right choice.

It was the road less traveled, except by those visiting the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. It was the road, on a previous trip, I’d not taken, in the interest of saving time.

This time, though, I took Highway 89 A, as in alternate, and it all but took my breath away, partly because we were getting up around 8,000 feet, partly because it was so stunningly beautiful.

Ace and I left Flagstaff around noon, and drove past mountainsides left charred by the still smoldering forest fire that’s being blamed on a campfire not doused.

We passed through Navajo country, resisting the urge, for now, to return to the Hopi reservation, where I once spent an unforgettable week working on a story about Native Americans and war.

In Bitter Springs, we came to the fork. We could bear right, and go up through Page, the less circuitous route and one I’d taken before, or we could take 89A, a highway that all but doubles back on itself, takes one through the Vermillion Cliffs, then winds through Kaibab National Forest.

I realized, as we headed toward Marble Canyon, that for the first time on our trip — though we’d seemed to be in the middle of nowhere several times — this time we really were. You could see almost forever in every direction. You could get out of the car, slowly turn in  a complete circle, and, other than the road you just pulled off, see only nature — no signs of man or his intrusiveness. No houses, no power lines, no telephone poles, no malls or even Indian trading posts, no gas stations, no fences.

Along the way there were only a few outposts of civilization — like Marble Canyon and Cliff Dwellers, where Ace and I stopped for lunch. Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Restaurant welcomes dogs in the lodge, and on the upper portion of the restaurant’s outside patio.

The owners of the lodge have a Newfoundland, and my waiter, who lives at the lodge part of the year, an aging Australian shepherd.

Ace helped me eat sweet potato fries and a roast beef sandwich, all while gazing out an amazing desert view.

After lunch we went back for a closer look at the strangely formed rocks we’d passed on our way into town, though it’s not really a town.

Those included the one to the left, which, in addition to bearing a striking resemblance to Dick Cheney, I think, provided shade for the Navajo women selling jewelry at a roadside stand.

From there it was up into the mountains of Kaibab National Forest, a winding, vista-laden journey, where I stopped at so many pullovers, I think it got on Ace’s nerves — for it meant the air conditioning would be turned off.

As we climbed up, the temperatures cooled, and I rolled down all the windows, sun roof included. Out of nowhere, a summer rain began to fall.

We kept the sun roof open and let the rain splatter us as an amazingly fresh scent filled the car, clearing out the doggie smell and cigarette smoke better than any air freshener ever could.

From there it was all downhill. We sailed through Fredonia and ended up a few miles later at our destination, Kanab, Utah, where today we report for volunteer duty bright and early at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

I’m sure we’ll learn much from that experience, but today’s lesson is this: Always take the winding road.

(To read all of “Dog’s Journey, from the beginning, click here.)

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