Working for an airline afforded me the luxury, never taken for granted, to travel a great deal more than I ever would have, without such a privilege. It was why the job had appealed to me in the first place, apart from having my family dispersed to three continents.
Some of the most wonderful views I ever saw, however, were right here in the USA. And there are many that I have not seen. I often wonder if the American people realise what a truly beautiful land they have inherited.
I had always assumed that if my mother died first, my father would simply give up the will to live and quickly follow her.
Mum had always done all the looking after, the cooking, cleaning, gardening, writing cheques, all the rotten boring stuff my father could have so easily taken on but didn’t.
If I had given it serious consideration, I would have known he would want to stick around.
But it never occurred to me that he would even be capable of living by himself and so when he was suddenly alone, it was a matter of some concern.
It soon became obvious that Dad intended to go on for a good while and soon things settled down on that front.
Back in New York, however, I was reaching a breaking point in work stress and disillusion. My equivalent position became available in Seattle and when I inquired about it, the local manager said he would be pleased to have me.
It was largely because he knew I wanted the job permanently and would put a doorstop in the revolving supervisors’ door!
Grosvenor Arch, UT
It was obvious he was sincere, though, because when I told him I was committed to taking my old dad on a holiday, meaning I would not be able to sign on in Seattle until late June, he said “I’ll wait”.
Sometimes two simple words can change a life!
In the meantime, Dad flew to New York and from there we flew to Cedar City, via Salt Lake City. I had been to Utah briefly two years before, to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. When I talked to Dad about it he expressed an interest. It was certainly sunny and warm, two of the essential requirements of any holiday involving my father!
One does not expose an elderly parent to the vagaries of “space available” travel, so I booked full revenue tickets, thus taking a lot of stress out of the proceedings.
My father had mellowed, as I’d discovered when I took him on holiday the year before. My aunt had just died then and the mental state I was in somehow kept at bay the anxiety I might have felt about travelling with Dad.
The dad I remembered from my childhood was cranky and difficult in the extreme.
But Dad emerged from the British Airways 747 looking chipper and cheerful.
Cedar City was the closest jumping off point for Bryce Canyon, the northwest side of the Grand Canyon. The large hotel there seemed awash with tourists and I was glad I had found a tiny motel in Tropic. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating. And the weather was bliss.
Dad, a photographer all his life, went mad with his camera and was most impressed that we were able to get his films processed nearby in a matter of hours.
I had rented a car at Cedar City Airport, and with a big map of Utah, I worked out a route. (No GPS then.)
Before moving to our next overnight stop, I took Dad to Kodachrome State Park. It seemed apt, as Kodachrome film was what he had used so often in his professional life.
And there was a brilliant arch to see: Grosvenor Arch.
The drive was a little intense but it was worth it.
The road is fine now. 5 years later, my brother and I went back, to scatter Dad’s ashes at this place he had so enjoyed.
Earlier that day, I had taken him to Cottonwood Canyon. There had been “something to see” which involved a slight hike but Dad was happy to stay in the car. So off I went and got lost!
Expecting to be gone less than 30 minutes, I took no water, not even my camera. I climbed a ridge, walked along it and down the other side.
Failing to find what I was looking for, I decided I should go back to Dad, climbed back up the ridge and had no idea where I had come up from. I was stunned.
I never realised how easy it is to get so lost so quickly. At first I didn’t worry because I had gone no distance and knew the car was nearby. But everywhere I looked was wilderness. I thought “well for sure if I squat down to pee, someone will appear”, but that didn’t work.
First I walked one way and then I went the other but I was getting myself more lost and there was not a soul in sight, not a sound, not even a puff of wind. After an hour I began to worry not just about myself but about my dad, alone in the car. It was his 88th birthday.
Finally, far in the distance, I saw a car approaching. They were going to have to stop to pay an entrance fee. I had to get there in time to catch them. It was probably the last time I summoned as much energy! They had no room in the car but I think they thought I would become hysterical if they left me, so they stuck me into the back with their kit.
We drew up, after some 15 minutes next to Dad, who turned his head with an expression that said “Oh God, not people!”, then he saw it was me and he said “Oh, hello!” He wasn’t bothered at all, hadn’t any idea there could be a problem. I felt like a total idiot.
But Dad thought the whole day was just splendid and I was happy to forget my faux pas! We went on to Torrey and looked at Capitol Reef which was stunning.
Next, we drove over Boulder Mountain with a view of Haystack in the distance. It was so gorgeous. Then we came to Goblin State Park with all those strange sandstone formations. It was fun.
At Moab, I had found a wonderful bed and breakfast inn called the Red Cliff Ranch, right on the Colorado River.
By co-incidence, I was born at RedCliffe Square, and lived there till I was 8.
In the morning we had breakfast on the porch with deer out on the grass and hummingbirds hovering on the fuscia plants nearby. It was magic.
That day we went to explore Canyon Lands and Arches National Park.
From Moab, we progressed through La Sal, Blandings and Bluff and stayed overnight at Mexican Hat before passing into Arizona. My dad was keen to see Monument Valley, famous from so many movies he had seen as a young man (he was a movie buff). So we went to Kayenta and were taken by Jeep:
We were nearing the end now, but we stopped for a night at Lake Powell and went out on a boat and saw the real Rainbow Bridge, the tallest natural bridge in the world.
Until 1909 the Rainbow Bridge was only known to the local Navajo tribes to whom it is sacred.
It is certainly an impressive sight.
Then we just had to stop at Best Friends to catch up with my old friend Julius.
He was a cat with neurological problems and he was just lovely.
I was quite amazed that my Dad was actually interested in the sanctuary. He had never shown interest in anything I did before!
Kanab is adjacent to Zion State Park, so we went there.
In the evening we had dinner at the lodge in the park and enjoyed the most incredibly bad service I can ever remember in the USA. I say enjoyed because we laughed about it.
Then we left the lodge and almost fell over a porcupine.
He was quite polite about it.
Zion State Park
From Kanab, we drove to St George and I turned in our car which was looking a trifle dusty from driving down the Moki Dugway (called the most dangerous road in the US!) to the Valley of the Gods.
I think my dad wondered that day if this would be his last adventure! But he got a kick out of it.
It’s nice that at the end of his life, I actually had a little fun with Dad. It’s something good I can remember.
Valley of the Gods (not my pic)