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We’re home from our first road trip since the COVID pandemic hit in February 2020. We drove to northern Arizona with Donna’s sister Georgianna and her husband Don to see the Grand Canyon and Sedona, with side visits to Flagstaff and Cottonwood. Arizona’s opening up again, ready or not, and there were crowds everywhere we went. Were they vaccinated? Who knows! The four of us are vaccinated and felt safe, but still took precautions, masking up to enter shops and restaurants, even wearing them in crowded outdoor areas.

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I thought it interesting that the National Park Service requires visitors to mask up everywhere on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, outdoor trails included. We saw only one or two visitors not wearing them (not counting taking them off momentarily for photos, as above). Grand Canyon visitors, in general, are tourists from outside Arizona, many from areas where the pandemic is still raging, so no surprise there.

Elsewhere in northern Arizona, visitors mingle with locals who are less likely to wear masks. Shops and restaurants in Flagstaff, Sedona, and Cottonwood still post signs requiring masks to enter. Tourists comply. Locals, though? Some do but many don’t, and no one challenges them. It’s mostly older people going barefaced, and as I hinted earlier, it’s impossible to tell if they aren’t masked because they’ve been vaccinated and feel safe or whether they never wore ’em in the first place because COVID’s a hoax and Trump won by a landslide. We could’ve asked, but decided instead to mind our own business and spare ourselves the aggravation.

At the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Lodge, tables in the restaurant are spaced for distancing, as they are in Flagstaff restaurants and cafes (Flag being a college town, a spot of blue in a deep red Arizona). In Sedona and Cottonwood, Trump country, restaurants and bars are operating at full capacity, as if the pandemic had never happened, tables jammed together in a most nostalgic manner.

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For years, whenever we overnighted in Flagstaff, we stayed at a military recreation camp in Fort Tuthill, just south of town. On future trips, we think we’ll pop for a motel in town. The rooms at the military camp seem shabbier every time we stay, and we’re starting to get a little embarrassed bringing non-military company there. This time, they’d removed all the chairs from the rooms, meaning you could only sit on your bed or in the lobby, which, naturally, was closed as a COVID precaution. I took my book to the lobby anyway and they let me sit there, but I had to wear a mask even though I was the only occupant, “by order of the installation commander.” I think I’ve had it with installation commanders!

Otherwise, glorious scenery everywhere, perfect weather (although windy on the South Rim), and except for a horrible homeward-bound surface street detour through Phoenix after some asshole took a shot at a motorcycle cop on the freeway, a great drive. We rented a big SUV for the trip and had plenty of room for four adults, luggage, and coolers full of drinks and snacks.

I brought along two of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels to read during our trip, and had the idea I’d buy a Joe Pickett hat (a Stetson Rancher) in Sedona. There was a hat store on the main street, as I remembered from a previous visit, but they didn’t have anything nice. Instead, I’ll visit Arizona Hatters right here in Tucson. First, though, Donna and I have to take the rental car back to the airport, and I have a book club Zoom meeting in the afternoon. The hat store’s probably not open Sunday, so my impulse purchase will have to wait until next week (I guess, as determined as I seem to be to get that hat, it’s gone beyond impulse purchase territory).

Mister B stayed with Donna’s friend Millie, who has three dachshunds of her own. She sent us daily proof of life photos while we traveled, including this one of our boy sitting cheek-to-cheek with Klara.

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We stopped at Millie’s on our way home to pick up Mister B, who, judging by the way he acted when he saw us again, must have thought we’d handed him off to another family forever. When we got home half an hour later, he ran from one end of the house to the other, checking everything out to make sure he was really home again. As always, it’s nice to be reunited after a trip. We’ll take him with us on our next one, when we visit our Las Vegas kids in May.

I posted periodic OTR (on the road) updates to Facebook and Twitter while we traveled, and was the recipient of friendly cautions from friends and family, warning me that vaccines aren’t 100% safe. To which I can only say “What is?”

I’m more than happy with the odds … the Pfizer vaccine, which Donna and I got, is 95% effective in keeping people from catching the virus and/or getting sick from it, and somewhere over 90% effective in keeping people from carrying the virus and passing it on to others. That’s as good as any vaccine ever gets, including the ones for polio, measles, and smallpox. Get your shots, friends, and get back to living in the world again! It’s great to be back!

© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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