You are currently browsing the daily archive for September 20, 2007.

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.

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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.

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