We landed in Phoenix early, before ten Friday morning, and followed the signs to get our rental car. There was a line of them, different colors and models from all different places. We chose a blue Versa with Arizona tags. “The Grand Canyon State,” it read. It was the same tag Jennifer and I saw three years ago that got us talking about how much we wanted to see it one day. From there, it evolved into a four-day road trip up and down the state.
For three years, we didn’t do much planning…which worked out for us. We thought we’d check into our Tuscon AirBNB and head to Tombstone for the afternoon. Instead, we went downtown, we walked through history at the Arizona State Museum. We rested underneath the Women’s Plaza of Honor on the University of Arizona campus. Al, our neighbor for the night, recommended El Charro for dinner. The appetizers were pretty good, but I didn’t care for the entree or margarita.
Some people judge a city on the food. For me, it’s all about the bookstores. In Tuscon, it’s Antigone Books. With a healthy feminist section and a larger LGBTQ+ section, that was the first moment I felt I didn’t want to go home. The first but not the last because, after a night of margaritas and chocolate chip cookies, we stopped at Cafe Luce (try the Azteca Mocha, it’s delicious) and headed south to Tombstone.
On I-40, the signs read El Paso, and I got the feeling that I could just keep driving forever. The sun was shining, and hills with rocky cliffsides reached out in all directions. The speed limit was 75 mph, for crying out loud. I felt good. No: I felt free.
But we did stop at Tombstone for a taste of the Wild West. We saw a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, had a drink at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, and placed our bet at The Bird Cage Theater, a historic casino/brothel (not a working one though, Mom, I promise).
With the wildness out of our systems, we went for a little peace underneath the world’s largest rose bush, one that’s been standing for over a hundred years. Standing there, looking out over its branches, I started thinking about the hundreds of coincidences that’s led to this moment. Almost 24 years ago, my father gave my mom roses because she’d given birth to me. Over the years, roses became my favorite flower.
But I wouldn’t have gone to Tombstone if Jennifer and I hadn’t had one class together a decade ago, if we hadn’t reconnected during my college years, if her family hadn’t been obsessed with the movie, or if we hadn’t seen one random license plate in Gaston County, thousands of miles from its home. If one thing had been different, I wouldn’t be standing there.
All that to say, we’d already been astounded by The Grand Canyon State before we’d even made it to the Grand Canyon.
There’s a lot to be said for its size. It stretches further than the horizon so that you can’t see the end of it. It’s so deep that the helicopter flying through it was the size of an ant to us as we watched it from the South Rim. But the size is only part of its majesty. There’s a reason it’s called a Wonder. Sitting on the ledge overlooking the cliffside, I could only think this:
“I keep thinking about how far it goes…just on and on and on. About the thousands or maybe millions of years of coincidences that led to the exact formation of those rocks. And then I think about the thousands of coincidences that led to me being this woman that I am in this place right now, at this point in my life.”
And as we left Flagstaff for Phoenix and the airport, we drove several miles down Historic Route 66. I feel ready for that adventure. If this trip has taught me anything is that, plan or no plan, through thousands or millions of coincidences…we do end up being exactly where we need to be…exactly when we need to be there.
So I may have to wait a little bit longer for my Great Escape. It’s all part of the journey, and I have faith in the timing of it.