However, I don't have photos from our last evening at the Grand Canyon anyway since we were saving camera batteries, and I do have a lovely story to share.
After recovering from our big hike and spending the afternoon trying to write up our experiences (while Mike drove around the park to see the train again from a better angle and took in a Navajo dance presentation), we returned to our camp for a nap before our planned cook-out dinner. The site next to ours had been vacated, but new neighbors were starting to set up, and we awoke to the sound of tent-pegs being hammered into the dirt and the occasional snatch of conversation... auf Deutsch. We had heard plenty of foreign languages at the national parks, including quite a bit of German and what may have been Dutch (or perhaps unintelligible German dialect since I really only have a decent grasp of Hochdeutsch, the non-region-specific version.) Until now, we hadn't had much reason to strike up a conversation, but I thought it would be nice to introduce ourselves to the neighbors.
By the time we went over, only Dad was left minding the tent as Mom and the two little boys, probably 7 and 10 or so, had gone off to see some sights. I found out that they were on a 6-week excursion from München (Munich) to a whole bunch of U.S. national parks, and in fact the boys had gone to check in and get badges for the Junior Ranger program they were participating in during the trip. We made small talk until I dropped my bombshell: did the boys know what s'mores are? I made an invitation to visit our campfire later that evening if they wanted some firsthand experience with this truly American delicacy.
We set up our fire and had dinner shortly thereafter, while our neighbors did the same. The kids repeatedly looked over from their picnic table, as if to check on our status and see if we were setting up for the fun yet. Mike and I read for a bit to wait for the sun to go down a little more, and kept the fire going. A little while after they finished their dinner, the boys had some kind of project going on. When it was finished (and with encouragement from their parents), they eagerly approached with a small package taped to a piece of paper in their hands.
Here is the card that they made (which we will keep forever):
Vielen DANkeThat's "Many thanks for the food!" Signed, Daniel and Florian. The antelope is cut out from some park publication or other, while the package was attached on the left and wrapped in several layers of paper towels (with lots more tape, for good measure). We chatted about s'mores (they had seen a "s'mores kit" at the park grocery complete with marshmallows already on sticks, so they were passingly familiar with the idea) while I opened the gift, which was... a rock! It was pinkish and wedge-shaped, and unfortunately I don't have a picture because it is currently with my parents (along with several keepsakes purchased on our trip that were left behind in their hotel room when we returned to St. Louis). Needless to say, I realized immediately how precious a gift it is for little boys to give up a member of their carefully curated rock collection. I'm sure their folks loved the idea since rock collections can be tricky for the weight restrictions of international travel...
Für Das Essen!
Mom (Sabine) and Dad (unfortunately I now can't recall his name) came by after they cleaned up the rest of their supper dishes. Sabine had studied abroad in Milwaukee during college and her husband likewise had a perfect grasp of English, so Mike could follow along as we switched back and forth. Florian, the older boy, wasn't quite brave enough to try out the English he'd been learning in school, so the boys regaled me in German with stories about school, their trip, the junior ranger program (showing off a binder full of badges), and of course their impressions of the entire s'more-making enterprise. Quoth Daniel when I explained the etymology of the name s'more: "Mehr und mehr und mehr und mehr und mehr!!!" (Translation is exactly what it sounds like.) My German is rusty enough and they were so excited that I caught a little over half of their continuous babble, but we had fun!
As the fire started to die down, they departed to try and catch the evening ranger lecture at the amphitheater, which they were eager to hear despite the language barrier. We were getting ready for bed by the time they came back, but I hoped we'd be able to say goodbye before we left for our return trip to Albuquerque the next morning. As luck would have it, they were stirring a bit by the time we had loaded everything into the car and were about to leave. Since we were done with the camping portion of our trip, I ran over and offered the remaining chocolate, half bag of marshmallows, and box of graham crackers for them to keep. Daniel and his dad were up, so I made my offer and the dad grinned and said he'd have to check with the boss... and turned around and asked Daniel if he wanted to accept our offer. He shrugged shyly. (Dad: "Ich glaube er meint 'Ja,' aber gerade ist etwas schüchtern...") When I handed over the stuff, Daniel shot back into the tent to tell his brother all about their good fortune!
The whole experience more than made up for our bad luck with camping neighbors on the first night at Mesa Verde, plus we got a really cool rock!
When I get the rest of my photos together I'll conclude the story of our trip, including hopscotching back to Route 66 as far as Albuquerque, and then returning to Edmond, OK for my brother's wedding, a little bit more of Route 66 back to St. Louis, and finally our triumphant (though sadly somewhat smelly) return to Chicago!