Last summer, my husband Chuck and I took an epic, “Griswold,” vacation. We bought a 1992 Minnie Winnie, packed up our dogs, and headed south. We visited a variety of interesting places, starting with the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. During the tourist season, they show Close Encounters of the Third Kind every evening at dusk. From there, we stopped at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, an old military outpost that is now a state park. It’s famous partly for the fact that Crazy Horse was killed there. It’s a beautifully restored park with a variety of museums, old barracks, a hotel, and a playhouse where they show musicals during the summer.
From Nebraska, we went to Kansas and Missouri where my cousin Susan and her husband Mike live. We toured Kansas City and then went to Table Rock Lake in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri—in the Mark Twain National Forest—for the Fourth of July weekend. We had a fabulous time on their boat, enjoying the good life. We left Missouri via the northwest corner of Arkansas, traveled through Oklahoma to Texas and stopped in Amarillo for a night. I wanted to see, “Amarillo by Morning.” We ate dinner that night at The Big Texan restaurant, which has a gift shop and other attractions, including a large rattlesnake in an aquarium.
Finally, after we left Texas, we arrived in Santa Fe. Santa Fe, New Mexico, was one of the places I really wanted to see. Never having spent any time in New Mexico, I had images of desert rock, earth tone colors, sunshine and warmth, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I immediately loved Santa Fe, so we chose to spend a precious two days there. We went to a Bataan Memorial Museum and visited the Loretto Chapel, home to the most Miraculous Staircase. We spent the better part of two days walking around the historic downtown area, eating excellent food, drinking excellent tequila, and taking in the wonderful history and culture of the southwest.
My favorite part of Santa Fe (aside from the tequila) was the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. I knew who she was and I recognized her artwork, but I did not know her story. We entered the museum just after a short film about her life had started playing, so we sat and watched it, learning about the woman Georgia O’Keeffe. Immediately, I felt drawn to her; she was a passionate woman with an independent spirit, yet she was unsure at times during her life and questioned herself, to which I could relate. I loved the photographs of her: she was both beautiful and plain at once, sensual and serious. Somehow, I felt like I knew her.
Her paintings have always appealed to me; I love the flowers, dramatic, vibrant red, orange, blue, and green hues, and her desert landscapes are spectacular. In one room of the museum, visitors can see photos of the landscape O’Keeffe saw out her New Mexico window, alongside her remarkable paintings of the same. Not an artist myself (at least not a visual artist), I’ve never had a strong connection to artwork or artists, yet I felt compelled to know her better, to understand her life and her passions. In the gift shop, I bought a collection of cards with her artwork, some of them depictions of New Mexico landscapes and others of the New York area. I wondered at the time if I would be able to part with them and actually send them to people. I have, but only to favorite recipients. I left there regretfully, knowing that it would be easy to lose that strange sense of familiarity and artistic essence once I returned to my crazy, chaotic, hectic, real life.
We continued our journey by driving north to Durango, Colorado. It’s an old mining town and kind of reminded me of Red Lodge. It’s a quaint little place in the southern part of Colorado, and my son, Adam, spent a few months there when he worked for the Southwest Conservation District. In a weird way, it made me feel close to him, just visiting there. From Durango we turned south to the Grand Canyon; it was another important destination for us, and we spent one night on the south rim and one on the north side. Photographs cannot do the Canyon justice; it’s spectacular, and we spent many hours just observing the grandeur of nature. Zion National Park was our next visit though we didn’t stop there. At the first tunnel waiting for traffic to clear, we visited with a ranger who said the Grand Canyon experience was like “looking down,” but the Zion experience was of “looking up.” He was right, and both made me aware of my perspective of the world. We continued through Utah, finally spending the last night of our “Griswold” vacation with my friend Laurie and her husband Brett, where I drank way too much wine. We returned home the following day, after spending a couple hours in Dillon while Chuck replaced the fuel filter on the Minnie Winnie.
I knew that our vacation would be an experience I would look back on (especially about midterm of the semester), wishing I could transport myself through time just to feel the serenity and peace of long days stretching ahead of me without a single responsibility except caring for our dogs. The warmth of the July sun and the lack of obligations—to anyone or anything—allowed my type A personality to slow down and take in the beauty of my life, savoring each sweet moment without simultaneously anticipating the next moment or day ahead.
Before I left the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, I came upon a small, slim, cuff bracelet; it was inexpensive, only $15, and I paid for it happily, knowing I would have paid much more because it was clearly meant to be mine; it summed up perfectly my summer vacation, my visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the important lessons I learned. Inside is inscribed, “Georgia O’Keeffe,” and on the outside, “Take time to look…”