Sometimes it is good to see other places

  • Jonathan Vickery, managing editor for The People-Sentinel, poses for a photo at the Grand Canyon.

As someone who writes and talks to people for a living, I’m rarely at a loss for words.

However, a recent vacation out west left me in awe – and honestly a little speechless – after witnessing the natural beauty, culture and history of a part of this great country I had not previously explored.

I was part of a tour group through the Holiday Vacations company on a trip hosted by WRDW in Augusta, Ga. We started in Salt Lake City, Utah embarking to the Grand Canyon, several national parks in Utah and many other fascinating places.

The shapes, colors, textures and elevation of the landscape constantly changed as we journeyed via a charter bus on our 10-day adventure. The only constant was that it was stunning and clean.

Several friends have asked me which place was my favorite, but that’s a really tough question to answer. You would think if you’ve seen one park, you’ve seen them all, right? Well, that’s not the case at all.

Each place was beautifully magnificent in its own unique way.

When we made it to the Grand Canyon about midway through our trip, it was breathtaking. There wasn’t a lot of talking because we were too busy taking in all of the never-ending beauty of the landscape.

At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and (I’m not telling you how many) pounds, I’m not exactly a small person. However, the Grand Canyon left me feeling really small. I guess that’s how an ant feels.

We also witnessed a number of wildlife up close, including a family of deer, an elk and some super cute squirrels who posed like models as I snapped pictures.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah was another highlight as we saw some of the 2,000 known arches, some of which resemble people and objects. Some are pretty distinct while others require a little more imagination. One called “The Gossips” looks just like three women gossiping.

I would be remiss if I left out Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. Both are vastly different but equally beautiful. The “hoodoos” at Bryce Canyon are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are formed by erosion – and will actually keep eroding until they turn into a pile of sand – and mean “dead man standing”.

In addition to the beautiful scenery, we learned a lot about various cultures, such as the Native American culture that is woven throughout Utah and Arizona. We were fortunate to learn about some of it at various stops.

One highlight was Newspaper Rock, although it’s neither a newspaper nor a singular rock. It’s one of the best examples of petroglyphs in America. Some of these carvings are 2,000 years old.

The Navajo name for Newspaper Rock is “rock that tells stories”. I love telling a good story, but I couldn’t begin to decipher what stories the Native American people were trying to tell. Some petroglyphs give directions while others have a spiritual meaning or other message.

I descended down a ladder into a real “kiva” at Edge of the Cedars State Park, an Ancestral Puebloan archaeological site, museum, and archaeological repository. Kivas were rooms used by Puebloans for religious rituals and political meetings. Hearing how people lived is one thing, but actually seeing and being in an example of their buildings really was educational.

A trip to the Into the Grand restaurant in Page, Arizona was more than a typical meal. While the Navajo taco was delicious, the real treat was watching young members of the Navajo tribe perform Native American dances. Seeing one dancer form different animals and objects out of hoops during the hoop dance is an image that is forever etched in my mind. The murals of the Grand Canyon, which we saw up close and personal just days before, painted on all four walls also made for a memorable evening.

While much of our trip was planned out, one unexpected, yet pleasant surprise was getting to meet Peter MacDonald, one of the Navajo Code Talkers from World War II.

This group of Navajo helped win the war by coming up with a new code to relay messages that would not be deciphered by the enemy. For example, the code word for hand grenade was the Navajo word for potato. The Code Talkers had to memorize the entire code because writing it down could have jeopardized the entire top secret mission. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a feat to memorize the amount of codes they did. I’m doing well to learn a few lines of a script when I do plays at Circle Theatre in Barnwell.

We also learned a lot about the Mormon Church, including the pilgrimage of the Mormons in the 1800s to Utah led by Joseph Smith. Our tour director told us of the Miracle of the Gulls, which is when seagulls miraculously appeared in 1848 to save the group’s harvest from a swarm of insects that were feeding on crops. That’s why the seagull is now the state bird.

During a concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the sound was almost angelic as 360 choir members sang eloquent hymns accompanied by an orchestra of 80 musicians. It was quite a production. I feel humbled and blessed to have been part of the live broadcast.

As much as I love Barnwell County and the resources we have here, it’s nice to get away sometimes and see other places. There is a lot to explore in our great country!