The Glass Cactus

Jun 24, 2024

When I was 11, my family took a trip to the western United States for the first time. I was completely uninterested in the breathtaking beauty of my surroundings and was more focused on getting to as many gift shops and American Girl Doll stores as possible. I complained, whined, and groaned about the lack of civilization around me, a city child at heart. A girl just wanted some Starbucks!

The one saving grace of the entire trip? The small, souvenir glass cactus I saw at a shop on the side of the road. Having already spent the $20 I had been given for the trip, I was denied the glass cactus and told to move on. That silly little decoration stuck with me for years.

A now seasoned traveler (and much more pleasant young adult) I was given an opportunity to travel west again. Of course, feeling like I ruined my last experience, I eagerly accepted and created an itinerary that I was incredibly excited about. I couldn’t wait to see everything I ignored last time,simply because we weren’t in New York City or at the beach (sorry Mom and Dad…).

My primary purpose for this trip was to learn more about Navajo culture, an indigenous tribe living in Arizona. The experience was incredible – I got to have dinner with a Navajo family, learn about their lives, and dive into the realms of Native American culture.

I have a passion for learning about other cultures. Knowing so little about the Navajo people piqued my curiosity. I’ve always felt that this history has been completely ignored by the American education system. It was enlightening to have a face-to-face connection with the Navajo people and to tour their canyons in which they take great pride. These canyon tours are the perfect depiction of cultural tourism – a blend of exploring beautiful places while also learning about the Navajo lifestyle.

Although this trip was about meeting the Navajo people and exploring their culture further, my father and I decided to make a week out of it. Both of us are up for any adventure, anywhere at any time. We drove through the gorgeous state of Arizona while blasting Taylor Swift and letting the hot sun sink into our fair skins (we don’t get enough sun up in Pittsburgh…ugh). We went where the wind blew us, a beautiful adventure that truly captures the essence of exploring.

The wind may have blown us to Vegas, and the eleven-year-old in me was thrilled that we did incorporate a big city and a little shopping into this excursion. The wind also blew us to the Hoover Dam, Zion, and towns like St. George and Phoenix. I thoroughly enjoyed simply driving through the land, surrounded by mountains and mesas with my dad just doing what we do best – adventuring, and racking up Starbucks star rewards.

But the coolest part of our story? A small, $15 piece of glass currently tucked into my suitcase. I was open to anything on this trip, a flowing itinerary if you will. However, one thing was not optional- I must secure a glass cactus. And, I most certainly did.

If I’m being honest, the small piece of green glass doesn’t hold much physical value. Knowing myself, it will probably be broken before I even return home. However, the value of the cactus is not the cactus itself, but the desire and yearning to come back and explore what I had neglected before.

What would life be like if all of our knowledge was only surface level? What would we accomplish if we didn’t want to explore? To traverse the world and situations in our life with depth and grace?

Not only will my newly acquired glass cactus remind me of the wonderful daddy-daughter trip, but it will encourage me to always take the road less traveled… hear the stories of other people, see and understand the world, and most importantly, feel the passion for exploration and the need to always go further. Find your own glass cactus.

Be sure to look for more on Molly’s visit to the Navajo Nation in an upcoming article.

Written by Molly Geissler.