The last two weeks, I showed you the photos. But how was Dar’s vacation?

Uhhh…not bad?

Flying vs. driving presents trade-offs for us. Flying is efficient but expensive, considering we’ll still have to rent a car wherever we go. Also, Dar has been known to melt down on planes, which can turn into a nightmare.

We tend to drive. Despite the added transport time, Dar mostly likes road trips. I believe he likes watching the scenery go by. But there are limits, and I believe we reached those limits on this most recent trip. On Day 1, we drove all the way from Berkeley to Primm, Nevada, thirty minutes south of Las Vegas. That…is a long-ass drive, even (especially?) with breaks. Not only was Dar screaming by the end, but he wasn’t too happy in the car during Day 2. On Day 2 we only had to drive another 4 hours or so to Zion, but there’s no way to tell Dar that. His face and body language indicated that he thought he’d be stuck in the car for a week.

This led to a course correction on the way home. We left Sedona a little earlier than planned, and drove a little further than planned, to break up the driving into two six-hour days at the end. Which mostly worked for the penultimate day, though the final day had way too many shrill screams of misery.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How was Dar while we were in Utah and Arizona?

Mostly fine. I mean, it’s always hard to say. He can’t tell us. Even his body language doesn’t really explain.

On our first day in Zion, wifey and I were determined to try to tackle the Narrows, which is America’s most famous slot canyon. (Not Antelope Canyon, although we’ve done that one.) The truth is that we’ve had this goal for years. Our previous time in Zion, Dar screamed so much that we never made it very far upriver to where the Narrows really begins. This time we pushed past the point of distraction and just kept on walking. Dar does pretty well when I hold his left hand. For whatever random reason, he believes in my authority in a way he doesn’t believe in wifey’s. Also, because of the cerebral palsy, his left hand is weak. If I tried to lead him on a path while holding his right hand, we wouldn’t even make it for five minutes.

That day, despite watery distractions, we walked the 40 or so minutes on Zion’s Riverside Trail…to learn that the Narrows was closed. Oops! I guess the water flow was too much at the time. Oh well, just have to book another trip to Zion. #toobad

Dar’s very easy on walks back. Like, you can let go of his hand and he’ll walk a lot of the way himself. He impresses me that he knows that it IS the way back.

Dar always wants to be in or near or touching water. That is his THANG. Dar spent a bit of time in some of Zion’s rivers, but we budgeted a lot more time for him at the hotel’s pool. (Why don’t we camp, you ask? Dar. He doesn’t wake up screaming everymorning, but when he does, it’s not exactly a way for wifey and I to earn our Campers of the Month badges.) Dar loved this hotel’s pool. And this one 11-year-old girl, Kate, made a connection with Dar, and followed him around the pool for…an hour? That really warms my heart. I know it’s temporary, but it’s so sweet. Three other kids, closer to Dar’s age, treated Dar like a monster. They would look at him, he would come over a little, they would scream and get away, as you would if Dad was “playing monster.” At one point the mom of at least one of them came over to apologize to me. I said it was nothing. I said that, but I do wonder why some kids act like hers and others act like Kate. I don’t think nurture has much to do with it; I’m crediting nature.

One morning Dar and I hiked to the Canyon Overlook. Dar’s brother decided the trail and its drop-offs were too scary for him. I don’t know about every autistic mind, but Dar’s autistic mind isn’t scared of deep water, heights, or the Harry Potter ride at Universal (Dar’s brother finds all these terrifying). That can be nice. That said, Dar can be annoyed at being pulled too far. That happened by the time we reached the Canyon Overlook. I wanted to stare at “red Yosemite” and soak up all the scenery. Dar wanted to head back to the car. Luckily there were no real drop-offs in the overlook area…except the one fence that every hiker was clustered around, the one that Dar was assiduously walking away from. Fortunately, Dar didn’t seem entirely sure of the way back. That gave me a few extra seconds to take a few extra selfies.

Dar was not thrilled with the drive to Bryce Canyon. However, he wasthrilled to walk around Bryce Canyon. In this he differed from his brother, who heard thunder, saw lightning, and assumed we would be speedily killed amongst the canyon hoodoos. I am starting to feel that Dar’s lack of fear is one of his strongest assets. We walked around Thor’s hammer and environs, and he was terrific. In fact, Dar wanted to run off to vertiginous cliffs…which did NOT happen.

Dar would be better in the car if he would watch the videos that we have bought and saved for him. But he refuses to do that. The minute he gets the iPad he flips over to YouTube, then becomes frustrated at the lack of internet, a lack that keeps him from flipping around Sesame Street YouTube videos as he does at home. Sighhhh.

Our Grand Canyon day was not Dar’s finest. In his defense, we knew it would be rough; a drive from Zion to Sedona around the east and south of the Grand Canyon that would take at least eight hours. But boy, was there ever a lot of screaming. At those times, he reminds me of a caged animal. At those times, I think of the kids in cages separated from their parents who brought them to places like Arizona seeking asylum. At those times…I don’t like those times. Doing a very quick Grand Canyon hike, I actually saw a hiker unironically wearing a Make America Great Again. I covered Dar’s eyes. I’m kidding. I was too busy pushing the dude into the canyon. I’m kidding again. So serious in Arizona!

In the Grand Canyon’s visitor center’s gift shop, there was a video playing of Elmo and Murray visiting the Grand Canyon. Perfect: Sesame Street to distract Dar! He watched for five seconds or so. Then he flopped on the floor and pulled off his shoes. Not really winning Gift Shop Customers of the Month either.

Sedona turned out…uh, okay. Uh, except for that night when Dar woke up screaming at 1:00 and wouldn’t go back to sleep. Wife and I have a protocol for such occasions. If I’m not driving us the next day, well, I can stay with him. But that day, we had planned to drive from Sedona to Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest National Park. So…I had to find somewhere to sleep. It’s 1:30am. The car? Ask the front desk if a room is available? Book another hotel outside our hotel? Instead I grabbed two couch cushions and my sleeping bag and made myself a little bed on our hotel balcony, with a panoramic view of Sedona’s red rocks and 1000 stars. The glass door to our balcony blocked out all but the loudest of Dar’s screams. And with the desert smells and sights, I slept like the happiest of campers. I was almost (almost) grateful for Dar’s condition.

Dar loved Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, and Petrified Forest. Perhaps I should say he loved the portions where he got to run around. Seeing the desert and forest from the car…not so much. Again, the comparison with his 7-year-old brother was stark. That kid seemed a little distraught at the idea of physical evidence of something that could, you know, fall from the sky and kill him. I do have a tiny note for the Meteor Crater curator. If you’re going to have one display that says history knows of only one person who has ever been injured by a meteor, maybe don’t ALSO have a brand new display about the 2013 meteor that hit Russia and, according to you, injured more than 1,400 people. Maybe change one or the other? Just a thought!

Dar did enjoy the pool at our Sedona hotel, but…not that much? Not sure why. Maybe no Kate. Instead we hung out a lot at this gorgeous little stream surrounded by leafy green trees and chi-chi restaurants. I thought Dar would want to stand in the stream, but oddly…he wasn’t interested. Go figure. It may be that Dar knows his limits; the current was mildly strong and might have moved him downstream if he’d fallen in (not that I was going to separate from him).

Meanwhile, next to the stream, in a grassy area with wood beach chairs and a nearby bar, we met this other family with twin boys who are…two weeks away from Dar’s age. And they played and played…with Dar’s brother. They kinda had nonstop fun for two days. Ah, such random joy really reminds me of childhood. Dar would…sometimes join them. They would throw him a ball, and he would…sometimes throw it back, sometimes roll it back, sometimes pitch it near the creek. I got to see how R describes his brother to new kids he doesn’t know. “He has autism.” “He might do something weird.” “He doesn’t usually understand.”

Maybe none of us do.

As I already mentioned, the ride home…had challenges. Dar was actually great on the first day, from Sedona to Barstow, and miserable on the second day, from Barstow to home. Oh well. At least he was only making US miserable.

We really ought to learn to tune him out at those times, right?
But that’s like saying we really ought to get used to the beauty of Zion and Bryce and Sedona. I mean, they’re just rocks, right?

But they still take my breath away. And so does Dar. For different reasons. Symbolizing emotional opposites that I will always live with, but never quite reconcile. And that’s okay.