You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2007.

The first item on our to-do list upon arriving in Vegas on Sunday: find a self-service car wash to remove all evidence of off-roading from under the hood. Though the hoses retained a light coating of dirt, thank heavens, the rest came clean with little effort. What a relief! Perhaps we didn’t ruin the car after all. Knock on wood.

Second item on agenda: check in hotel, find lazy river and boat drink and proceed with intense relaxing. Checking in went just fine. Our hotel room was nice enough with a large king bed (which Stuart loves, but I find myself spending half the night hunting him for a cuddle). What I didn’t like about the hotel: so over-sized that it takes half an hour to walk from your room to the pool, or anywhere else within the hotel grounds for that matter. By the time we got situated, the pool was about to close and we hadn’t eaten, so we decided to postpone pool fun until Monday and grab dinner after checking out the Strip. So we did just that…Monday and Tuesday, we got up earlyish, found pool chairs next to the lazy river and pretty much camped out all day. If I’m ever so filthy rich that I don’t know what to do with my money and I forget all about those rural people in Utah and Arizona, I’m building myself a lazy river, with a built-in bartender who makes slushy frozen boat drinks. What lovely fun.

On Monday, I was confronted with a certain question. I was in Vegas. People gamble in Vegas. An idea occurred to me, “I could bet on my Orioles!” So, even though Cabrera was pitching, and it was the Orioles playing, I bet on my team, fully expecting that I would lose my money. There’s wisdom in limiting the influence emotions have in decision-making when it comes to business or gambling, unless you don’t like your money. However, the Os are my team, so there was only one option for me. I am so proud to say that they won and turned my twenty dollars into $38. That’s money right back in my pocket. They quiver in Vegas when they see me coming. Of course, I didn’t bet two days in a row. That would just be stupid.

On Tuesday, I happened by the sports booking area (truly – it was on the way to the sandwich shop) and don’t you know, MASN was on! I discovered another treat, watching multiple baseball games at once. In addition to the lazy river, if I’m ever richer than God, I’m doing that multiple television bank thing.

One of the best things about Vegas: there’s no shortage of characters. Overheard conversations were pretty interesting. We passed one woman saying into her cellphone, “I didn’t touch your money, much.” Oh boy. I bet the follow-up to that conversation was pretty intense. In a bathroom stall next to me, a woman was having a lengthy discussion about her friend’s admission to the emergency room, “$20,000?!! Did you stay overnight? What did they do to you? My stomach surgery was only $30,000 last year and I stayed overnight and everything. Oh…that’s deep!” When I was watching the Os on Tuesday, a young kid came and sat next to me. He didn’t look old enough to drink, let alone gamble, but he told me it’s how he makes his living. Every weekend he drives from Southern California, a three hour drive, to spend the weekend betting. He offered me some free drink tickets that he got from “betting a certain amount of money.” He told me which bets I should make and then told me what his “big games” were. I worried for him, but I guess he has some sense. I asked, “I bet you don’t ever take the Orioles, do you?” With a chuckle he said, “No. They’re bad. Really bad.” As I watched the game and the Blue Jays continued to score runs against the Os, he would offer in sympathy to my laments, “They’re bad. Really bad.”

I didn’t get to see the end of the game Tuesday night because Stuart had another surprise for me. He bought tickets to see Cirque du Soleil. We had the night planned out, Cirque, then the all-you-can-eat buffet. (He’s the best husband ever!) Unfortunately, we were both a little disappointed in the show (Ka). It was more like Cirque du Mauvais Nuit, if you ask me. We both thought there would be a lot of acrobatics, but it turned out to be a sort of opera/play, but to a soundtrack, and wordless, with a bizarre plot line that I spent the entire show trying to decipher. There was only a little bit of acrobatics and generally the whole thing seemed pointless. Half an hour into the show I started getting the restless legs and dreaming of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese and wondered how much longer the show could go on. I thought, “boy if I’m this bored, and I love plays and operas, Stuart must be out of his gourd.” Towards the end I found myself thinking, “oh God, please let this be it” and fortunately, after only another torturous thirty minutes, when I really had to fight the impulse to shout, “FIRE! FIRE!!” it was. When the lights came on and the cast came out for bows, there was resounding applause and standing ovations. Stuart and I looked at each other quizzically. Maybe these are all the rural people from Utah and Arizona who came via a fund raiser and are really, really starved for entertainment. I didn’t get their excitement even a little.

I guess it’s another one of those expectations things.

The buffet was expensive and not all that good. Truth be told, I’ve had incomparably better food at the Golden Corral. Vegas is not the destination it used to be where you could get good food, cheap. It’s not really a place you go to have a good time. It’s over-crowded, overdone and it’s a place to go to gamble and shop. I’m not sure what will keep drawing people back without the allure of reasonably priced activities. For the kind of money you spend on a hotel in Vegas, you could go to the real New York, New York, shop, see a real show, go to amazing museums, have a variety of ethnic food and have a much better quality experience. But I suppose if you love gambling, there’s no better place to be.

All in all, we had a good time in Vegas, but of the choice to be home or be in Vegas, I’ll pick home any day. I love and appreciate Charlotte more than I ever have. There’s just so much to hate about Vegas: the excess, the over-priced everything, how over-priced everything is, how they gouge you coming and going. True, they have the lazy river, but I can just head down the road to Carrowinds for that. And, I have MASN, right from the comfort of my own couch where I can make my own boat drinks, strengthened the right amount to suit the particular Orioles game that I’m watching.

For the first time in my life, I appreciate in a new way being in a city and the benefits that commercialism and chain stores offer. I still prefer to shop at mom and pops when I can, but I can’t imagine ever living somewhere where I can’t get my camera or computer serviced without driving hundreds of miles. For now anyway, we have fresh drinking water and, even though I’m still conservative with my water usage, I don’t have to berate myself with guilt for the occasional long shower. Living in Florida taught me the preciousness of fresh water, but touring out west has reminded me what a valuable gift water is, that even during a drought we don’t have to haul water tanks to our property to supply drinking and bathing water.

There’s more to say about the trip and my dream husband, but the pictures will capture what I haven’t. I’m slowly uploading them as time permits: Enchanting Sunshine.

Now it’s back to the vacation aftermath.

We’re back in civilization again and it seems a bit surreal. How could my vacation be over already, so soon, as if it never happened? I find it hard to believe that I’m sitting in a cubicle again and wonder why time passes so quickly when you’re happy, but so agonizingly slow when you’re waiting for your computer to be fixed or a shipment of purchases to arrive. At any rate, I must come to acceptance that, here I am at work, and all the anticipation of our vacation has now turned to wonderful memories and digital images.

I suppose it’s time I summarize the rest of our vacation. I wanted to write more from Vegas, but the MGM Grand feels like they don’t milk you for enough money with the hotel expense, they also charge $12/day for wireless Internet access. There was no way I was paying that, and besides pecking anymore on a tiny keyboard with a little wand was more than I could bear.

Would you be surprised to hear that our car broke down on the way to Vegas or that we got pulled over for a traffic offense and spent the night in jail? If not, then you haven’t been paying attention to how our luck runs, but actually, none of those things happened!

Despite our car maintenance light giving us an ominous warning, we decided to push our luck to its limits and take the long road to Vegas via a sight-seeing tour along Route 66. Years ago, National Geographic did an article on Route 66 and ever since I’ve wanted to see it for myself. We were there, so we thought, “may as well.” Plus, there was an actual ghost town on the map, just north of Oatman, AZ. How could we miss that? After all, how often do you get to see a ghost town?

So, we set off along a very long, deserted road through desert and mountains and saw very little of anything, except the occasional lot of trailers and dirt roads. The ghost town turned out to be an abandoned gold mine. We didn’t see any other signs of previous life, no houses or stores, nothing that would suggest that humans had ever spent any time inhabiting this land. We didn’t even realize we had passed the so called ghost “town” until we arrived in Oatman, a two-block long tourist spot (population 128) that looked like it could have been the original town center. We were surprised to see a number of cars parked there and people milling about. The lonely drive suggested that we were the only people to have ever passed that way.

The best thing about Oatman was the free Internet access. When I got out of the car to take pictures, I noticed one of the houses at the top of a very big hill had several large satellite dishes and I figured one must be for Internet. I pulled out the Pocket PC and was able to connect right away. How odd. The whole trip was that way–Internet access in the most unlikely of places and yet unavailable in the many of the more populated areas.

The rest of Route 66 was a lot of nothing. Desert as far as the eye could see, spotted with tiny little communities and a pocket of houses in the middle of nothingness that left us wondering why, of all the places on earth, the residents chose that spot. When we got to Needles, it seemed like a veritable city in comparison. According to Zip Skinny, the population is 5471. It was huge. There was an entire subdivision and a school. Passing through Needles reminded me of the Three Dog Night’s, “Never Been to Spain.” Since it was notable enough for them to sing about, here’s what they had to say:

“…Well I never been to England
But I kinda like the Beatles
Well, I headed for Las Vegas
Only made it out to Needles
Can you feel it
It must be real it
Feels so good
Oh, feels so good”

I’m not sure what feels so good, and the song makes even less sense to me than ever, if that’s possible. Did people of the seventies have any standards for lyrics?

When we eventually got to Vegas, it was even more jarring than it’s ever been. What a stark contrast to the many impoverished areas we passed through. Where the median household income is $20,000 or less in the rural areas we passed through, you wonder what possible opportunities one could have for education or advancement, or a way out. The Indian Reservations, in particular, seem as hopeless as any place I’ve ever seen. I mean, rural is wonderful if you love isolation, but if you’re trying to give your children options, it’s hard to see how it’s possible in the middle of such nothingness. I feel like I should defend myself now…as an environmentalist, I see nothing wrong with nothingness. There is great value to me in undeveloped spaces. I think it’s admirable to be able to survive in such an inhospitable place where water and rain are scarce, and I understand why people stay for emotional reasons, to remain connected and attached to one’s roots. It’s just that once you’re there, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of options for leaving and I wonder how many stay by choice.

One of the biggest towns we passed through, Cameron, (before reaching the Grand Canyon – not on Route 66) had a number of Native Americans in the restaurant where we breakfasted. The population of Cameron is 2,125, 94% Native American. The median household income is $20,625 and 25% of the residents have a high school education. For many hours along our drives I found myself wondering what kind of business I could open there, if I were that sort of capable person, to create jobs. I wondered how I could bring education and resources, open a library perhaps, if they would want it. It’s nearly impossible to pass through such places and not want to do something to help. It gives you a whole new perspective on poverty and the contrast between inner city poverty and rural poverty. They strike me now as two very different things.

That’s about all there is to say about Route 66. The interesting part must be the other direction, to the east of Kingman.

In contrast, when we arrived in Vegas, it was utterly shocking the amount of wealth dripping out of the many towering hotels and casinos. The last time I was there was in July of 2000. At the time, the new Aladdin was almost ready to open, after the previous incarnation had been imploded and a new building erected in its place. Sunday, after we arrived in Vegas, we were walking down the Strip and I wondered, “where did the Aladdin go?” That one is gone too. The new building was remodeled to make way for a bigger and better casino, Planet Hollywood. All along the Strip, there are enormous buildings created in such lavishness, air-conditioned to 60 degrees, ornate and energy-demanding displays and lights…All in the middle of the desert, a place not meant to support the number of people who live and vacation there. I couldn’t help myself thinking, “what if just one of these casino owners donated a few million dollars to build some libraries, maybe with computers with Internet access, for the rural towns all around Vegas? what would life be like for those residents?” When is it ever enough money? When do people ever have enough? I know, I know, I think too much. I’ve heard it forever.

So, that said, we arrived happily, uneventfully in Vegas…which I’ll describe further in the next post.

Here ends the skinny-maker portion of our vacation.

As you might expect, our helicopter tour was canceled. When we went back for our rescheduled appointment, we knew the news already, as thunderstorms and hail added to the mix of already bad weather. As the forecast was for storms at least the rest of the weekend, we decided to see the IMAX film that we had free tickets for and then say goodbye to this amazing, breath-taking, exquisite place and head for our hotel in Kingman.

The film was good enough for being free. It had some great views of the canyons, and a short history of the Anasazi and the adventures of the slightly insane John Wesley Powell, who was the first to make the trip down the Colorado. My favorite part of the story was when one party of the expedition, after going through multiple rapids, and losing one man, finally had enough and essentially said, “I’ll take my chances with the Indians and mountain lions, find my way back to the top through treacherous cliffs and breath-stealing elevation, than continue this nonsense, you one-armed, crazy son-of-a-bitch.” Maybe those are my words, but after losing one boat and its occupant and risking my own life in Class 50 rapids, that’s what I would have said. The film said Powell never heard from the team again. I suspect they made it out of the Grand Canyon just fine, but were so bitter at getting talked into such an insane and life-threatening adventure, they stayed as far away from Powell as they could manage, probably hitch-hiking back East and then boarding the first boat to Europe. Obviously, the Civil War did its part to rid Powell of any sensible amount of fear, an emotion that is useful in, say, steering us away from activities that are likely to kill us.

At any rate, lots of people since Powell have found themselves missing those life-preserving thinking skills and willingly and voluntary raft down the Colorado. In the store at the theatre there was a book titled something like, “Death in the Grand Canyon.” It has stories about the first expeditions and a list of everyone who has died in the Grand Canyon until 2005. Most of the recent deaths have been solo hikers who died by slipping off the trail. One recent one was a 70 year old who plunged to his death as his wife watched. He had slipped off the trail, but managed to hold onto a rock. As he was climbing back up to the trail, he lost his grip and fell. Another hiker had a good pre-4th of July celebration with fuzzy navels and beer and then fell from the trail. He was 35.

I have to say, when my time comes, I’d either like to be at an Orioles game (preferrably and, sadly likely, a losing one, to make a point), or hiking in the Grand Canyon.

So now we’re in Kingman on the famed Route 66, where we spend the night before driving two hours to Vegas. On our way here we were treated to quite a bit of rain and then a GORGEOUS bright rainbow. How fantastic!!

It’s time for dinner, especially since we skipped lunch, and to find another do-it-yourself car wash. Curiosity got the better of Stuart and he opened the hood of our impromptu off-roader. Let’s just say there’s mud there too and the “maintenance” light is lit now on the dash. Uh oh…

I sit at the moment at a regular computer with a regular keyboard, and I’ve never appreciated it more!!

I’m in an Internet cafe and the charge is $3.75 for 15 minutes and 25 cents a minute after that, so I have no time for leisurely strolls through the Internet. If there’s one thing I never want to live without again in my life, it’s high speed Internet. This trip has shown me just how much I love regular keyboards and working monitors.

As we’ve had these days driving through so many indescribable natural sights, we can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude for all the beautiful things we have. Here’s a short list I was thinking of on the drive yesterday, as we meandered slowly along the Desert View entrance of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon:

1) High-speed Internet
2) Pocket PC with Internet access with serves as a great backup when your computer decides to die on the first day of vacation.
3) ICE!
4) Camelbacks and clean water.
5) Eyes to behold all these natural wonders.
6) Vacation time to have these amazing trips.
7) Supermarkets.
8) Good coffee, when you can find it.
9) Electronic stores, chain or not.
10) The best husband anyone could ask for, who plans our vacations, finds us clean, safe and comfortable hotels and organizes so many details including finding the good restaurant to eat in for dinner.

Here’s just one example of why I’m the luckiest wife on the planet. When we arrived yesterday at our hotel in the Grand Canyon, he said to me, “Well it’s supposed to be a surprise…” I wondered what he meant. I knew we were going to the South Rim and we had just checked into the hotel. Then he finished his thought, “Tomorrow, if the weather holds up, we’re taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.” WHAT? What did he say? I was so stunned, I was speechless. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, unless of course, he’s planning to push me out mid-flight, and who would blame him?

Interestingly though, the forecast for the rest of the weekend is rain and today, Saturday, I sit in the Internet cafe because the weather has cancelled our appointed flight time. We rescheduled for later in the day, but we’re not sure if we’ll actually get to fly. I’d say this is part of our usual luck, but I really just feel so grateful for the thought, that my kind husband did so much planning and made the reservation in the first place (while preparing for a Java exam at the same time), that it’s hard to feel too disappointed. Of course, I hope we do fly and get to have that experience, but really, the thought counts just as much.

Now we’ll head off to the IMAX theatre and maybe if I have more Internet access again, I can finally talk about the fun people watching we’ve done.

We’re driving though Monument Valley and once again find ourselves wondering how any settler made it out here and why they stayed. It’s not that it isn’t beautiful, it is. But one wonders how they survived. How did they know where to go to find water? What did they eat? How did they care for their horses? How lonely were they for their families and civilization?

The film at the Canyonland Visitors Center said that some famous bank robber whose name eludes me now, hid out in the park because it was so primitive and unknown that law enforcement wasn’t comfortable pursuing him. Okay, so you can understand why outlaws came west, but what about normal citizens? How desperately did they believe in a better future to endure these conditions?

And what I wonder most, is why people stay today. As someone who enjoys camping and wilderness, I cannot imagine living here.

Traveling through this land this reminds me of a conversation I had 17 years ago in Tampa with a cab driver from Liberia. He had been in the United States long enough to form the opinion that he had no sympathy for the laments of the poor. He loved the US and was amazed by what he saw as the unseized educational opportunities. In his village there was one textbook that had to be shared among all the students. There was no excuse for not being educated here, he opined, but laziness. Driving through this part of the country I find myself more sympathetic with his position. Even though there is still gross disparity between the quality of education between rich and poor communities in the same city, at least there is access to education and libraries, compared to areas here, where there are schools, but the residents live so remotely, getting to the school is an undertaking all unto itself.

Like everything else in life it’s all about perspective, being grateful for what you have and not taking it for granted. It’s all relative. I’m sure the kids on these large expanses of Indian Reservation would love a school that required less than an hour commute.

While I love that there are rural places, and I love visiting them, I see how soft and spoiled I am. I’m not a princess, but neither am I a cowgirl. I feel so grateful for the luxuries that city life gives me, most particularly plentiful educational opportunities, and ice water.

If there’s one thing a vacation in Utah reminds you of it’s The Grapes of Wrath. I read it in high school, but I can’t really say it made my sense to me, not having the context of this hard desert land. Utah is the windiest, dustiest, and most remote place I’ve ever been. The entire state is rural. I’ve never driven so many miles where consumerism is so absent. I both love it, and crave a city where one could have reasonable hopes of finding an educated employee at just one, one dammit, well-stocked computer repair store. Where do people buy groceries, I wonder? I see with complete clarity the need for companies like Dish, Directv, Wildblue, and Current. I bet these people know the tv guide by heart, living for a new episode of anything in the way we city-folk can’t imagine. If I lived here the UPS man and I would be best buddies. We practically are now.

In the East where farmland is disappearing at an alarming and disturbing rate, it’s refreshing to see people who don’t worship shopping malls. These are some tough people.

It also occurs to me that the Mormons must not have expected anyone to follow them here. Given how remote it still is in 2007, I’m sure they were convinced they would be able to worship in peace for as long as they liked, with as many wives as they pleased, completely undisturbed.

When passing through one of the towns, which I estimate to have a population of 100, I turned the radio on, curious to see how many and what types of music selection one had here. Oddly enough, the dial stopped every few frequencies and was chock full of stations.
There were at least three NPR stations – or similar format, country, rock, 70s. Go figure.

Maybe there are more people you can’t see that literally live in, under, or behind the rocks?

Of course, in all this remoteness, there are certain driving perils, specifically suicidal/homicidal wildlife. Several rabbits ran across the road just as we were approaching, almost seemingly deliberately, like they were daring each other or undergoing some extreme hazing ritual. The scariest wildlife incident was on our way to Mexican Hat. In the middle of the road stood an elk. Just standing there, in the middle of the pitch black night. Waiting for us to soil ourselves, which we nearly did. It was the biggest animal ever to be that close to any car I’ve ever been in. As Stuart slowed down to avoid him, we could see him towering over the car, and I’m sure I heard laughter. I shudder to think how that could have turned out differently and am reluctant to travel that road ever again.

At 9:00 local time, we were passing through the last town before our destination for the night, Mexican Hat. We’ve learned one thing on this trip and that’s if you want dinner, get it before 9:30, the hour at which everything for 250 miles shuts down simultaneously in accordance with some Hassle the Starving Travelers Ordinance. The town of Bluff had about four establishments and since all of Mexican Hat would certainly be asleep when we got there, we decided to get dinner at the Cottonwood Steakhouse.

Places like that make my heart ache. There were 15 or so tables outside, some under a tin roof, and others under a huge Cottonwood tree, which the proprietor said was only 20 years old. There was a little joke cemetery marking the graves of bad patrons and a cat, Johnny, who skittishly wandered over to our table but generously let me pet him. The bathroom was a one-stall room with a notice that they were on a septic system and to please not flush objects. Behind the fence delimiting the outdoor seating was a trailer that looked perhaps to be the living quarters of the owners.

Within minutes of sitting down, the owner came over to ask how we were doing and where we were from. He proudly invited us to come inside to see the collection of coyote skins on the wall. Though I’m not a fan of that sort of the thing, I was really drawn in by his obvious innocence. As with so many exoeriences on this trip, I find it hard to articulate my feelings. I had the sense that everything they did, they did with care, knowing that in a town of perhaps 10 people, or so it seemed, one had to put great thought into how to treat customers and generate business. The bathroom wasn’t maintained by some teenager out of obligation, with little regard for the end result, it was cleaned with care, and the food was prepared by the hands of someone whose livelihood depended on good service and who took pride in what they did. I love the sweetness of privately owned businesses where money supports someone’s dream and you can feel the love they put into their work. The owner’s pride in animal skins was that of someone who wasn’t softened by city life, who found the whole idea horrific. I’m sure living this life in the wild, he would never be able to understand why on earth I’d think that skin belonged with the fox and not on his wall.

I have to wonder how much outside social interaction the residents get in these small towns, even with the number of tourists who pass through. Here is a portion of my conversation with the owner, as I was asking about seeing The Natural Bridges Park:
Me: “So the Natural Bridges is worth seeing then?”
Proprietor: “Okay.”

I guess we’ll figure it out tomorrow.

I haven’t even gotten to the Canyonlands portion of the trip. Earlier today we drove through Canyonlands and Dead Horse State Park. Like all the other places we’ve been I can try to describe it, but my words wouldn’t be adequate. I can say beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent, unique, but whatever I said would fail to capture these incredible scenes. I can only hope my pictures turn out well enough to, if not do the scenery justice, to capture in some small way what an amazing and diverse place this is.

P.S. When we got to Mexican Hat at 10:30, the hotel owner was sound asleep, and though he looked like he wanted to hang our skins on his wall, he politely checked us in.

I’m a bit behind in my posting. It’s been hard to get Internet access and typing on a Pocket PC is very tedious. Currently, I’m using our hotel computer – they actually have one for public use. What a treat!

After our adventure Sunday escaping Roads, we headed to Bryce Canyon. I don’t even know how to describe the rocks, except drippy. There are trails that go down into the Canyon that aren’t too strenuous and are short enough to fit a tight schedule, so we meandered down through the cliff walls to see what views we could find. As we wandered down in between the canyons, we were treated to the sounds of a flutist, who must be a native here, because I could barely get enough oxygen for hiking, let alone, hiking and playing a flute.

After Bryce, we headed to Zion where we stayed at the nicest Best Western I’ve ever seen. They had a big pool, the best jets of a hot tub I’ve ever been in, a spacious room and a view of the Zion cliffs. I wanted to never leave. We spent Monday hiking to the top of Observation Point, a 2100 foot elevation change over 4 miles (one way), to the very top of the Zion cliffs, with a gorgeous view overlooking the valley. It is spectacular! For some reason, even though it was the exact same distance and elevation as the Kaibab hike we did in the Grand Canyon, it was brutal. I have done the same hike eight years ago, but somehow blacked out everything past the first 1000 feet, which somehow made me think the hike was considerably easier than it actually was. Stuart and I huffed and puffed the entire way up. It’s good a few days have passed so that I can write this, because I wasn’t actually speaking to myself for a good day. The view at the top though is worth every bit of hard work to get there and if my computer were working, I could point you to some pictures, but that will have to wait until I get home or get my laptop fixed, a prospect that doesn’t seem promising…more on that later.

Anyway, Zion was magnificient. The way down from Observation Point seemed to be as long as the way up. With each switchback down, you can see the valley floor coming closer and closer, but simultaneously, it doesn’t seem as if you’ve made any progress. Somehow we managed to get back to the valley in time to also do a small portion of the Zion Narrows, a trail that is the Virgin river that winds in between the canyons at Zion. Years ago, the only way through the canyons was through the river, but now there is a mile long paved trail that one can walk to get to the good parts. Since I’m rushed for time, I’ll have to wait to tell more about that later, hopefully accompanied by pictures (damned computers!!).

Tuesday, we drove back to Willis Creek to see if we wanted to give that slot canyon one more go. Without question, we decided it wasn’t a good idea. There was a large dip now at the bottom of the hill, no doubt created by our tire tracks. Oh well, maybe another time, with a some honking off-roader.

On we went on our way to Moab, where I write from now. It was a six hour drive through Capitol Reef National Park and land that isn’t designated as park, but looks like the rest of the landscape here. I believe we’ve now seen every possible combination of rock. White rock with red rock, vertical rock with sloping rock, sloping rock on top, sloping rock on bottom, moon rock, sandy rock, lava looking rock, drippy rock, treed rock. Really, there’s every possible combination in Utah.

I would have enjoyed the drive more if my camera had been working. At some point changing lenses, I suppose, some dust or dirt got inside and I’m unsure how much of it is visible in the pictures. Many attempts to clean the camera have been unsuccessful and, that, combined with all the other troubles in my life in the last year, most particularly my laptop choosing to break now, put me in an unrecoverable funk. With every turn of the road, there was another different, gorgeous view and the thought that I couldn’t capture it put me in an increasingly surly mood. Perhaps I was a bit over-tired, as well. I had hopes that once we got to Moab, there might be a camera shop, and perhaps a computer store, but when I looked at the map and saw just how the little the town is, it became clear that my next best hope of getting anything fixed won’t be until Vegas. I’ve never hated rural America so much.

Of course, a good night’s sleep does wonders and yesterday I was back to normal, as long as I didn’t dwell for too long on my luck with electronics. We went to Arches to see yet another variation of rocks on the earth’s surface. Another beautiful park! Fortunately, there are primarily only short hikes there and we’re both worn out, so we settled for the easiest views. Then we returned to the hotel for laundry, pool, hot tub and then out for a pitcher of beer and a burger. Perfect day!

And I know you must be wondering if I’m going through withdraw without the Orioles, and the answer is “Yes.” Apart from my hatred of not having access to a single computer store that can fix my laptop for 250 miles, Moab is a great little town. It’s full of people who come here for their love of the outdoors. But there’s no MASN, and therefore, makes it unliveable in my eyes. I have noticed the Orioles continuing losing streak and admit to taking it a bit personally that they started winning the minute I left town. They’re losing again though, and in a strange way, that makes me happy that I’m not to blame. I’ve really missed the Camden Chat too, but nothing is better than a vacation, even the Orioles.

Stuart is back now from the second car wash and will be breathing down my neck to get going, so I have to wrap up. We’re off to Canyonlands…

So here’s the rest of the story of our adventure exiting Escalante. We did manage to escape, driving all 20 miles before the rain made the road impassible. Using the GPS we counted down each half mile until we reached paved road. We were so relieved. Don’t get me wrong, Escalante is interesting, but not a place I’d like to be stuck for days.

Giddy at escaping several days starving in a desert, surface of the moon rock landscape, we proceeded on to our next destination, Road 500, where we were hoping to find a slot canyon at Willis Creek. We passed over a dry creek bed on our way up a sandy muddy hill, and as we did Stuart said “I mean the thing isn’t going to fill up is it! What’s it going to be a rushing stream?” I promise you dear reader, I am not making this up. He really challenges the gods that way.

Once our Corolla was safely at the top of the long muddy hill, we ate our lunch and deliberated whether it was wise to continue. After all, it had already been raining for several hours and the storms were visible nearby. It was just a question of which direction the weather was heading.

I stepped out of the car for a quick potty break and when I returned to the car, my shoes were caked in a thin layer of mud from the earlier storm. We both agreed that since the storms were continuing, we didn’t want to risk it. It would be a pity to escape Escalante, only to get stuck on another Road. We headed back.

When we got to the bottom of the hill where we had crossed a dry creek bed earlier, we discovered to our horror, in only twenty minutes, it had become a rushing stream, getting fuller by the second.

We paused for a brief moment as Stuart asked if we should go for it. Without waiting for an answer he gunned the engine. I was still weighing the options when we found ourselves in the middle of a muddy river praying that our spinning wheels would get us safely to the other side. For the first time, I understand all those pictures I’ve seen in my life of cars floating on flooded roads. I used to ask myself how the drivers got themselves in that situation. Now I understand.

We did make it to the other side of the stream, but not without a fair amount of mud flying in through the open windows and nearly giving us both a heart attack. I immediately got out to take pictures, but I was shaking so much, I doubt any of them are clear. Our car looks like it went through a mud bath, which of course, it did.

Since then, we’ve been a bit of our own tourist attraction. People consumed by their curiosity have stopped us to ask what happened, always with a smirk and a chuckle. One tourist asked, “Is it a rental car?” We heard another couple walk past and joke out loud, “That’s a rental!” They tap on the window and ask if we mind if they take a picture of the car. Park rangers do double takes before asking the story. As we drive through parking lots, heads turn and stare, companions are tapped and fingers point the direction of the attraction. Yesterday, as we were leaving Arches National Park, I noticed someone had drawn a smiley in the dirt on the car. It’s really been quite entertaining and given us many laughs.

Last night though, Stuart insisted that we get the car cleaned, just to make sure we have enough time to remove all evidence of our off-roading from the rental car company. We used a clean-it-yourself car wash, and got most of the mud off, but there’s still the interior mud to address, as well as the areas deep within the rubber window trim. That should be interesting to remove.

There are more storms forecast this weekend, so it doesn’t look like we’ll get to any slot canyons. Utah seems to be short on asphalt becauase when you look at the map, there are as many unpaved as paved roads. Off-road vehicles must be great sellers here.

Now we too, are wise in the way of off-roading.

Today started peacefully enough. We woke before the alarm, got packed, discovered that the group of women who sang happy birthday to me last night at the restaurant were our neighbors and exchanged cordial greetings…we even got on the road on schedule. Once in Kanab, we searched for somewhere open early on a Sunday to get breakfast and lunch to go. We found a delightful coffee shop called Larry’s where there was not only yummy coffee, but breakfast and lunch sandwiches, Wi-fi and the charming and entertaining Valerie…a story for later..

Our first destination was Escalante National Monument. As usual, the scenery on the way was beautiful. The landscape of the West is so different from the lush green of the East. It’s arid, yet colorful, with the tall red and white layered rocks dominating the view skyward. The land is alternately barren and speckled with desert-loving bushes. Wherever a river flows, the banks on either side are lush with green vegetation creating a greater contrast to the sandy white and brown everywhere else. Black-eyed Susans or a flower that resembles them are plentiful.

After a two hour drive we arrived at the Escalante park entrance. The road through the park, Road 400, is a dirt road for 50 miles. In Utah roads named “Road” are dirt roads.

In Stuart’s diligent research, he read that the road was impassible when wet and was best traveled by an off-road vehicle. Since our rental car is a Toyota Corolla, we had a moment of doubt, but decided if ever we were going to see this park, it may as well be today. Besides, what were the chances it was going to rain? In case you never spent too many hours in English class analyzing literary elements, that was “foreshadowing.”

We took our time sight-seeing through the park, partly because when you’re traveling on a gravel and dirt road in a small sedan, you don’t really have any other choice. At one of our stops, the park ranger happened by and warned us of a coming storm. He pointed at his pick-up truck and said, “I can’t even get out of here when it rains. If you get stuck in here, you better have a couple of days of food and water.”

We heeded his warning and left immediately. We were 20 miles from a paved road. In the distance we could see several storms throwing it down. We started counting down the miles, 19 18, 17, 16, 15…

I’ll be cruel and leave you with that cliffhanger for a day before I reveal what happened to us.

We meet again Sir N. Kaibab. Today is the rematch. When last we met, I think we can both agree that you won soundly and definitively. But 40 years ago today, at 9 pm, my mother graciously brought me into the world (Thanks Mom!) and I’m filled with renewed vigor to teach you some manners. It’s true I’m 13 years older and have 10, okay 30 extra pounds, but’s 30 lbs of experience more than last time I endeavored to walk your sandy, winding, mule-dung covered trails. A few years ago, some hero of mine invented a device called a “Camelback.” You see you will no longer be able to drain my energy from dehydration. I’ve hiked Half Dome three times since you defeated me lo those many years ago, That’s right, Punk, three times. I know what you’re thinking, “Is she gonna cap my ass or isn’t she.” But I think you need to be asking yourself, do you feel lucky?

Well, do ya, Punk?

September 2007
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