I woke up early with a smile on my face. This trip was going so well and today I had the hopes of meeting Jutta, my grandmother-in-law from Germany. She’s Caroline’s mom and has come to the States for the last ten years or so for weeks at a time – to make her plane ticket worth the cost. Until I was 25 my dad was scared of me – like most parents are of shitty diapers, but they change it somehow. This was how our relationship went until I was invited with him and the wife on a trip to D.C. in 2009 – I was only 23.
Not being around in my daily life and sometimes being absent for years made him nervous of how I might’ve turned out. Even though my mom was there every day she worries just as much. Whether it was that or just poor scheduling on both ends I hadn’t been able to meet her yet, but I had seen pictures of her all over the U.S. I had heard how my dad gave her a hard time and how she tried harder. She broke her hip in March 2013, but I couldn’t tell when I saw her. Anyways… I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the hotel.
We are on the highway heading south towards Tuzigoot National Monument and get to watch the sky change from a bluish-gray to shades of salmon pink, hot yellow, fiery orange with a purple tinge to a light blue sky with clouds that look like they have been smeared on a canvas. I wish it hadn’t been so early and I would’ve paid more attention to my location. We could’ve driven through Sedona. Instead I will have to be happy with the sign on the highway – Drive Hammered, Get Nailed – short and catchy.
The visitor center looks simple enough, but is full of artifacts that tie us to the past and make us confront the future with what we are doing in the present. I wonder how long it took them to make the tips for their arrows, the bowls for their food and water, their yucca fiber sandals and polychrome straps, and their stone and shell jewelry. They seemed to have plenty of beautiful supplies to work with and just the majestic landscape to do it in – though it may be hard to think about that now with the mining damage in the distance.
In their day all they could see were prairie grasses, running water, short shrubbery, other dwellings, and mountains for miles. Luckily all that is still here – just not as much of it and there are also roads, hot air balloons, trucks, helicopters, and plenty of houses. Outside to the left is a trail that leads to the ruins – the camouflage ones that we didn’t see when we parked. I guess I’m not as observant as I thought. The structures here were built over a period of three centuries and over 700 years ago and parts of it still seem sturdy enough.
I’d rather live in a community that has to have the walls of its homes and city redone every half millennium than in a society that feels the need to replace houses and businesses every forty years because of mold, asbestos, lead, etc. What’s left of the rooms is now grass and dirt with a water drainage system, to protect from more erosion now that most of the dwellings are roofless, and evidence of where they ground their grain and then cooked it. Back out the way we came and two minutes north will have us at the exit for Montezuma Castle National Monument – some backtracking, but still going south.
There’s a short road that loops around the western half of the park – without crossing the river, and leaving us with a short peaceful walk to the abandoned homes built into caverns on the rock face. This park invites us, by signs posted, to bring our pets along – rather than leave them to die in the car in Arizona’s typical 113 degree day – but since people have coats on we figure they will be fine with the windows down and away from the other larger dogs that are having fun sniffing all over the path.
Inside is a timeline comparing the settlement of this area with other major events around the world. Before the common era this land had nomads and mammoths, then 700 years later came villages and trading until the mysterious disappearance of the Sinagua. The Spanish came in the 16th century and left the area alone for over 200 years until the Americans headed west. In 1906 President Roosevelt approved the preservation of the park and in 1937 the acreage was doubled to offer additional protection.
Outside, at a table, is a man showing the gathering crowd his selection of bone flutes. It’s amazing to hear him play and now I think I should’ve bought one, but I have a b-flat clarinet at home that I’m still relearning how to play after I stopped in high school so many years ago. I’m glad I was able to hang on to it. Music is good for the soul whether from an instrument or software program, whether on stage or your neighbor’s porch, or whether at a park or recording studio – it’s the sound of our people, our history, our skills, our love.
I’m glad that someone is playing music here. It makes the place and occasion seem all the more special. Of course I want to get a ladder and go up and inside. I want to grind grains and drink from the river and watch the leaves blow in the tops of the trees. I want to run barefoot among the leaves and try the honey from the comb the bees built in the cave. I want to sit around and laugh with friends and weave or paint pottery. I suppose most of these things I could do if I were allowed off the path and had brought some art supplies. I can still imagine – and oh how great it is.
Visitors used to be allowed up, but rangers soon noticed how quickly all those footsteps and curious hands could damage the alcoves and cavates, so today there is a model that shows what might have been in the different rooms for sleeping, food preparation, and storage. As we leave this park we are only 75 minutes away from my dad’s house. Part of me wants to surprise him, but the other part knows it’s nearing lunch and his mother-in-law is in town and they may not be home.
It’s a good thing I called. Caroline and Jutta were getting ready to go the art museum – the one Caroline wasn’t looking forward to because she really wanted to go to the new Butterfly Wonderland exhibit, but the line had been too long yesterday. And my dad was on his way to pick up Joe, his employee at PSOIH, so they could get some work done during a fast food lunch. The girls waited on us, I said hi to my dad on his way in and our way out the door, and we were on our way to see some winged arthropods.
I let Caleb out of the car to get in what seemed like an extremely long line, but by the time we parked in the dirt lot in the back and joined him up front he had already bought one military ticket and three regular priced tickets forgetting to get Jutta’s senior discount. Everything but the floors are covered with butterflies – ornaments on the tree, cutouts on the ceiling, and framed ones on the walls. We join the end of the line and at first I want to speak slowly in front of Jutta so she has a better chance of understanding, but Caroline seems to be talking quicker than usual. If Jutta wants a translation, she knows to ask for it.
We try not to get too carried away reading about the different species, their migration patterns, their lifespans, and that they are cold-blooded and need the sun’s warmth on their wings for flight because we could quickly lose our spot in line as a family tries to form a second line beside/ in front of us. There is some beautiful butterfly art and I would love to make one at home, but I’ve only come across maybe a sixth of what they have displayed lying on the ground dead. I will have to start small.
Fifteen minutes of waiting earns us the next seat in the theater. We are told about the atrium’s beginnings and how the founders want to do more for the environment by educating the people who live here about the other animals that need this space too. The 3D film is twenty minutes long about the migration of the Monarch butterfly from Mexico to Canada and back each year. It had some macro footage of eggs being lain, cocoons being made, and wings being spread for the first time. I would love to have that up-close of an experience… and I will be given the chance in the next room.
Along the wall is a chrysalis viewing case. Once you get past the phones, tablets, and cameras you can see cocoons of shiny black, bright yellow with black spots, brown, neon green, light yellow, reflective silver, old papery leaf looking, midnight green shell shaped, little spiky air puffs, a hairball cigar, and green speckled with yellow. Out of these ‘changing closets’ come striped, spotted, thin, wet, fuzzy, and colorful wings. Some will hang on for a while, others climb the walls, and some choose to explore the mossy floor.
Next is the main attraction – America’s largest butterfly atrium. Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens holds the name for largest conservatory. We get to go through an air-tight door so that in case some do get in the door they don’t escape fully – better for them to eat flowers in here than the exhaust fumes in the parking lot. The brochure tells us that there are over a thousand butterflies inside. To that I don’t disagree, but I only spot twenty different species landing on shirts, dusters, leaves, apples, walls, flowers, signs, necks, vents, dirt, the sidewalk, and the netting on the ceiling.
I’m not complaining and neither is anyone else. Kids aren’t hungry or tired, but they sure don’t want to leave – and neither do the adults. It’s really humid in there and my nose is telling me that I’m starting to sweat, but no one cares as they point and smile and pose and try to get the butterflies to land on them – hand, head, or shoulder – everyone is happy. There’s so much excitement in the room. Once you’ve seen one side of the wings you want to see the other. Some match, but others are so contrasting – an epitome of natural art.
As we start to wind down from all the fluttering we take some time to watch the koi swim in their pond – complete with waterfall. Then we watch the boys squat beside it and stick their hands in trying to pet, and try to catch, the fish swimming by. The boys don’t fall in and the fish get away. Time to take some pictures of us sitting on the pond wall and Caroline takes some of Caleb and I in a large metal butterfly chair. Then it’s out of the rainforest experience, into the room with the mirror to check for escapee butterflies, by the café, and onto ants, bees, rainbow fishes, and round rays.
After mother and daughter get their hands wet in the pool in the middle of the aquarium room it’s time to look in the gift shop for something cute, and easily packable, to take back to the granddaughter, Katharina, in Germany. I noticed a shirt about a cricket eating the skin it sheds, and other crazy insect facts, but they didn’t have it in my size. There are butterfly lunch boxes, electric fans, magnets, flags, hats, chairs, games, and posters. I wouldn’t have minded taking home the tall multi-colored leaf lamp I saw, along with a few other items. I love the fun, colorful, and educational items they have for sale.
I started getting hungry an hour before we left – and I was grateful for the appetite with the lunch destination that Caroline had in mind. She knew of another Wildflower Bread Co. location that happened to have the sweet potato sandwich on the menu – the same one we had back in September – with a different salad. We shared that with cups of blackberry orange lemonade and Georgia peach with whipped cream. And for a sweet that would be eaten later we got a chocolate chip scone.
Back at the house and there is one person that’s not family there – that person must go. I ride with my dad to drop Joe off at his house. His car is the one parked outside that doesn’t work for whatever reason. I’m only grateful to have my dad’s attention back, even if momentarily between traffic and picking up coffees, on this short visit. The attention will be less and the visit longer than planned. With the five of us back together we spend hours learning, laughing, singing, and knitting. I enjoy watching my dad and Caleb get along so well while grateful to witness Jutta and Caroline singing together.
Dinner will be at the Cheesecake Factory. We hadn’t planned on staying this long, but we had the time, and I didn’t feel like driving home at 6:30 pm even though the only traffic on the road would be border patrol, drunks, and late shift workers. So to the shop of the cakes that are cheesy we went to spend a gift card that Caroline got from work. It was such a happy evening – some of us skipping, and smiling, and the four of them holding hands – and all wearing blue shirts. Caroline will braid my dad’s long beard while we wait to be seated at a booth.
My dad orders drinks for the ladies – a flying gorilla for the mother-in-law, a mojito for the wife, and a mango something for the daughter. The men will stick with water. My dad orders steak and an asparagus salad. The rest of us will share a warm asparagus salad, fresh kale salad, avocado egg rolls, tomato and basil flatbread, and garlic noodles with mushrooms and asparagus. When ready for dessert we set up our plates and silverware in an artistic manner. I’m proud of Caleb’s creativity.
My dad’s favorite used to be a slice of their Oreo cheesecake and now him and the wife indulge in a pineapple upside-down cake. Caleb and I will get a slice too, but it doesn’t seem to matter the sugar levels as the elderly and the employed will be the first to bed leaving father and daughter up to chat and giggle – no more laughing out loud after 11:00 pm as it may disturb the neighbors and all the people passed out around us. Jutta let me know it was ok to shake and yell at her in the middle of the night if I caught her snoring, but I would’ve had to wake up first – which I would not do until morning.
Upon rising, we were able to get five people in the toilet – not all at once, and two dogs walked before going to breakfast at U.S. Egg where Caleb would bring up Gebran – a man he works with who just happens to share his last name with the owner of our dining choice. If there is any relation it is prior to 1881 when part of the family went into the food business and the other into government work. To complement my eggs Benedict and my dad’s charm we had a nice and humorous waitress. It was a dine – pick up your dogs – give us hugs – and drive home kind of day. We made it back at 3:00 pm.