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RSW Living Magazine

On the Road to Sedona: what we did on summer vacation, things had to change

The author and her son during their trip to Sedona, Arizona. Photo by Paula Michele Bolado.

We were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime and I was imagining how silly it could be; my 13-year-old son Aiden screaming out of the window, his hair billowing in the wind and myself at the wheel, pointing to the cacti ridiculing us with their inappropriate poses. I had laughed at that thought while packing for the summer’s two-week haul from New Mexico to California.

Actually, my son and I are silly enough to not need anything new to induce more craziness, but we had a tough year, and the silly in us had started to seep out as 2017 waned. 
Things had to change … and maybe this environment would do it. 

There’s something about rocks that tell a lot about a place. So many times during our trip west my son and I would say repeatedly “Look at that” while gazing upon some rock formation in the desert. From where the bleach-white sandstone cairns surrounding Santa Fe called the “Garden of the Gods” shifted to red towers like Bell Rock in Sedona, to the giant gray smudges painted across the Mohave Desert, rocks became a kind of talisman. 

Dotted around these rocks are cacti and junipers, listlessly berated by wind and sand, appearing unmoved, defiant to the scorching sun. In California, all that rock suddenly subdues as it becomes grassy, then turns serpentine in the vineyards, before it all plunges into the Pacific as a darkened version of its desert self.  

Photo by Paula Michele Bolado.

While driving Santa Fe to Sedona, we hit the Petrified Forest National Park. But as the light was fading, we hurried back on the highway. Closer to Sedona, it didn’t take long before anxiety to set in. “I’m lost. We’re lost. What the hell is this road?” I asked, desperately trying to understand Siri’s directions. We were south on U.S. Route 89A, apparently the Oak Creek Canyon scenic route that had turned from asphalt to gravel and dirt.

“Mom, calm down. You’re always freaking out. Why do you have to make things so difficult?” 

This was the question that brought out the year’s undiscussed bitterness between us: the move to Florida, a new school, a new job, a mother as a teacher and a son as a student, new peers, new friends, and a whole set of new expectations. I said some terrible things, and he did, too. We cried, we forgave, and we hugged. I prayed through the night that the new day would set a new tone for the rest of the trip. 

That day brought us to Cathedral Rock, where Georgia O’Keefe’s blue skies meet sienna sandstones pulled forth like divine threads from the desert floor. As the trail ascended steeply beside tight ledges before opening up to the view, Aiden was visibly tired and out of breath. I had more fierceness in me to hike higher. I told him to wait below at the lower summit, but he said, “No, mom, I’m going with you.” 

We climbed over a deep crevice and relied on the few toeholds notched into the rock to help us ascend. There under the afternoon sun, upon a bald rock, we hugged while panting and our hearts racing. “You did it,” I said to him. “I’m so proud of you.” 

The landscape of the American Southwest was a dramatic backdrop for this mother-son journey. Photo by Paula Michele Bolado.

I was so proud of him for not letting me dissuade him but pushing himself on his own accord. Our independent motivations to climb this rock reflected the need to adjust our expectations with each other back home. 

We waited before descending. We hit the swimming hole beside the rock and swam for as long as our body temperature could take it. Shivering slightly in our wet clothes, I picked up a red rock, warm from the sun, and gave it to Aiden to hold and warm up. The warmth of the rock remained that way throughout the evening, as if it held some magic power. This rock sits upon my dresser now, along with other rocks collected in the desert, and although this one is darkened and cold like rocks get, I remember it was part of the moment we reclaimed our relationship: different, independent, but always mother and son … on the road to Sedona.

Written by Paula Michele Bolado, a freelance writer and a professional educator living in Southwest Florida.