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.