We drop down into the next valley, on the road from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountains are red around us. Scattered throughout the valley floor are the roofs of houses and trailers, still tiny in the distance like whitecaps on a mottled brick-red sea. In a few hours we will be staring into the Grand Canyon, a gash in the earth so inconceivably immense that it must be a Hollywood set, an enormous painted backdrop. Look, the other side of the canyon is hazy, blurry. Even the high-def presentation of actual real life can't handle this scene.
Three days later we drive away from Phoenix, on an immaculately paved two-lane road laid like a carpet over the rolling land. This is the high desert, with grass and brush instead of dirt and cactusp; the elevation is 6000 feet, and everything is short. Anything of notice is lying below the horizon. No, there is a strange factory there in the distance, like a run-down Emerald City, but we are not getting any closer to it. We don't seem to be getting any closer to anything. Occasionally the road rolls enough that we can't see over the next hump, but inevitably it is the same.
As we grow nearer to New Mexico, the ground lifts up and exposes jagged rocks and dirt, a world of red and gray replacing the yellow and green of dried grass and scattered bushes and trees. Rain begins to fall, as if to fill the cracks in the earth and the crack in our windshield.
The sun has set. In the dark the world here is both more and less lonely. We now know there are other people out there, because the lights from their houses can be seen in the distance; in the daylight they would be invisible. But that's all that can be seen beyond our headlights. Looking off to the starboard side, I count ten specks of light in a sea of black. Oh, there's an eleventh. But, no, the first has disappeared. We haven't done almost any night driving on the tour so far, and it is a completely different feeling. It's harder to sleep, for me. At night I'm supposed to sleep in a bed.