Travels Resume

Chicago was a break in my journey, a resumption of my name, identity, and happy marital status. My wife flew in from the East for her brief visit. I was delighted at the change, back to my known and trusted life -- but here I run into a literary difficulty.
Chicago broke my continuity. That is permissible in life, but not in writing. So I leave Chicago out, because it is off the line, out of drawing. In my travels, it was pleasant and good; in writing, it would contribute only a disunity.

- John Steinbeck, "Travels with Charley"

In a way, I find myself faced with a similar set of circumstances. I woke up this morning (September 12th, the day after the World Trade Center tragedy) at a little rest stop in eastern Nevada. I pulled in here after dark last night, after driving most of the day yesterday. I find myself getting back into the "rhythms" of the road, which is very different from how I've spent the past 6 weeks or so. Unlike Mr. Steinbeck, I will end up writing about that time period (since my goals here differ from his), but I probably will at least separate it from the rest of the journal. I spent much of that time parked at a friend's house in northwestern Nevada, and 2 weeks at Burning Man. Both are things that I want to keep a record of, but both are also things that don't really feel like a part of the road trip. I spent no time hiking, I spent no time writing in my journal, and I spent essentially no time driving. So, for now, let's skip it. (Ok, one exception. I feel this picture pretty well sums up the month of August).
The last section of my journal had me still in Canada, at the start of July. Even discarding (for now) the month of August, this still leaves a month un-accounted for. Quite a good one, too. Sadly, I'm choosing to leave it unaccounted for for a
bit longer. I want to write about my current leg while it's still fresh in my memory.
The departure itself was quite an odd one. I ended up leaving a day later than I had originally planned. This resulted in my seeing the news about the World Trade Center immediately before I departed. Had I left a day earlier, it is entirely possible that I would not even know about it yet (Friday after the event). As it is, I'm still oddly removed from the national collective consciousness. It was just notification of this terrible tragedy, then off I go. I haven't really even been exposed to any news since that day. In a way, I'm glad for this. It allows me to shut out the full impact of what happened, the let it in a little bit at a time.
The day I left, I set out on Highway 50 across Nevada. The route of the old Pony Express, it's billed as "The Loneliest Road in America"; it would probably have lived up to this title were it not for all of the construction which was taking place on it. As it was, I didn't even make it to Great Basin National Park that evening (I dislike road-trip driving at night. I tend to get tired and have poor reactions. Plus, my eyesight is much less acute at night (especially after driving all day), and approaching headlights can seem to be coming from odd directions. For this reason, I usually try to figure out where I'm going to be parking before it gets dark. This is becoming more annoying than it used to be, now that the days are getting shorter due to the seasonal change, and I'm not as far north as I had been (when I was in Canada, the sun was going down at 10 p.m. - In eastern Nevada (being on the far eastern edge of the time zone), it went down about 7:00 the other night). Maybe I should start waking up earlier (naw, that's crazy talk).
Made it to Great Basin pretty quickly the next day, and took a tour of Lehman caves. It was a guided tour, about 90 minutes long. Lehman caves had some very interesting formations, including a number of "plates", which are apparently fairly rare (especially in the numbers they have them there).
The room that interested me the most (not at the time, but in retrospect) was the one they called "the lodge". Apparently it has had a number of uses in the past. It was used by Boy Scout troops (if my troop had done things that cool, I probably would have lasted more than 2 years) (and I really only stayed for that second year because, for some odd reason, I wanted to keep getting "Boy's Life". Can't remember why, but I'm pretty sure that was the main reason). It was used by a men's lodge group, "The Knights of someone-or-other" (paraphrasing, obviously), for their initiation rituals. They would take a prospective member in there (quite a good distance into the cave, I might add), give him a candle, and tell him "If you can find your way out of the cave, you will be a Knight of someone-or-other" (again, I'm paraphrasing). Naturally, they didn't tell him that somewhere along the way they'd have someone hiding to blow out the candle. Nor would they mention the person dressed up as a red devil, ready to leap out in front of him in a sulphurous flash. The one that interested me the most was the fact that, during prohibition, it would be used as a dance hall. Musicians would bring their instruments down there, and they'd play while people drank and danced the night away.
The dance-hall part of the history intrigued me so much because it rang a few bells. Group of young people goes off to some secluded, natural area. Many of these people ingest an illegal substance known to reduce inhibitions. Someone then cranks out tunes for them while they dance all night. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's a Rave. Kind of curious how many of the people working so hard on stopping these (in which many people do not ingest said substances, it should be noted) had parents who did this sort of thing.
From Great Basin, I headed across to Utah, choosing to remain on back roads as much as possible. Eventually, the Interstate became unavoidable, which was actually fortunate, as it took me past the northwestern entrance of Zion, the scenic drive at Kolob Canyons. I highly recommend this section to anyone who visits the area (it would be easy to miss if coming from southern California, as it would require taking the 15 for a bit past the turn off to the south (main) entrance. Trust me, keep going, then come back). There is a 5 mile drive in to the canyon, with some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. At the end is a parking lot with a 1 mile, moderate-at-worst trail out to a viewing area which gives you about 320 degrees of canyon. There are a few trails down into the canyon from the road out, but I didn't have a chance to explore these, as it was getting close to dark by the time I reached the area. Even if all you do is take the scenic road, however, you will not be disappointed (unless it's raining or something, I guess. Or if you're just a jaded fuck. But if you are, hell, you may as well stop reading right now anyway (except for you of course, Captain Sodium)).
I ended up staying the night at an "RV Resort", which for me essentially meant I paid twice as much as usual, but had electricity, a good shower, and (most importantly) a hot tub. Of course, I could really use one now, after 2 days of some good hiking (and my first since late July), but oh well, that's the way the ball bounces. In the morning (ok, afternoon) I headed in to Zion. Zion and Bryce both have a free shuttle system to take you along the road that goes deep into the canyon. This is to help reduce the number of vehicles that go along the road back there (the larger help is that they don't permit private vehicles past a certain point. Yep, that one's a big help alright). The shuttles come by very frequently (something like every 6-8 minutes during the peak hours of the day), so it's really no hassle at all (and you can really watch the scenery from the shuttle). It makes 8 stops total, and there are usually multiple trailheads at each stop. The first one I went on was "one of the most popular hikes in the park, and also one of the most strenuous", according to our shuttle driver. "Angel's Landing" is what it's called, and it damn near qualifies as "Angel's Launch", because it is UP there. Most of the trail up is a series of switchbacks (some of them cutting back every 20 feet or so. I'll see if I can find a picture on the web to point you at, it's really impressive looking). Being somewhat of an idiot, I decided that "one of the most strenuous" hikes in the park would be a perfect first hike after a month-and-a-half break. Not that I was entirely wrong, mind you. I actually did quite well on the hike itself (even keeping my usual "why are you walking so FAST?" pace, for the most part (I usually pass many people on a hike, and don't get passed very often. This isn't any sort of conscious plan, it's just how I walk (especially when I'm excited to be hiking again))). The one bummer was that I didn't check any weather reports first. So, when I was reaching the last set of switchbacks, sure enough, I hear a couple peals of thunder. Now I start doing some calculations - "how far off is that cloud, how much dark cloud is behind it (tough to tell in a canyon, unfortunately), and how long do I have to the top?" I decided I could continue up for the present, but would have to keep a close eye on the situation. Made it to the top just fine, but that still left the trail to the viewpoint. It worked its way along the top of the ridge, with a metal chain sunk into the rocks for added support. Now I had to make another calculation - "How close is that storm, how far is the end (wasn't visible from my vantage point) and how much do I like the idea of a metal chain being my lifeline in a lightning storm?" Fortunately, some people were just coming off the trail at that point, and were able to answer the "how far" part of the equation. "15 minutes" they said, meaning 30 minutes round-trip. Adjusting for my pace (especially since I was making a point of hurrying now), that would probably be about 20 minutes round-trip. "Ok", I decided, "I'll keep going, and keep watching the sky". Once I got about 10 minutes out, I finally saw the last stretch. Much further than I'd hoped. And apparently drops of rain were starting to fall out at the end. I decided to exercise some discretion and turn around. I considered waiting at the top (before the chain area) and see what happened, but if it did start to really pour down, the trail down was going to suck severely. As would be expected, once I was about half-way down, it started to clear up again. Still, there was no way I was going to turn around at that point, so while I did get an incredible view, I didn't quite make it out to Angel's Landing. Fortunately, the base of the trail was also the start of a different trail, which looped back to the previous shuttle stop. This was the "Emerald Pools" trail. The Upper Emerald Pool is a bit of a hike, but worth it. I then had a burger and a beer at the lodge (at the stop I hiked down to), and hopped on the shuttle to the furthest point, for the "Riverside Walk". This was a nice, easy walk alongside the river (as I'm sure you guessed). After this walk, I took the shuttle back to the visitor center, moved Vacilador into the campground, and hopped the shuttle into town for a bit of dinner. Still weaning myself off of the previous month, it seemed like a dinner in town among people would be just the thing for me. I decided to go to a place called the "Bit and Saddle", or something like that. Figured it would be a steak house (that or horse-meat). Turned out to be a Mexican restaurant. Maybe that should read "Mexican" restaurant. It was definitely catering to the tourist crowd (as would only make sense). A two-enchilada plate was $9 and change. This came with rice that was very non-Spanish rice, so-so pinto beans, and my two enchiladas (I chose one chicken and one cheese). The cheese enchilada had run out at the ends, so that at first I thought I'd only received one. The chicken one contained some of the least-seasoned chicken I'd ever had in an Enchilada. I knew it was a bad sign when they brought out the tortilla chips, and they were clearly store-bought (Mission tm brand "Restaurant Style" white-corn, if I'm not mistaken). At least the beer was good, and reasonable priced. One of the local micro-breweries (I had the brown-ale).
Let's see, we're now up to Friday morning (ok, fine - "And then I slept". NOW we're up to Friday morning). I drove up through the park and through the tunnel. Fortunately, my vehicle is only 82" wide, and I was able to pass through the tunnel without an "escort". No no, fear not - when I put "escort" into quotes like that, I do not mean to imply that a larger vehicle would require the services of a prostitute. Not sure how you could even think such a thing, actually. Wouldn't really make any sense, now would it? Anyway, what I mean by an "escort" is that they stop traffic at both sides of the tunnel until you get through. This is required for vehicles over 7' wide (including mirrors, etc), or over 11' 4" high. Vehicles over 13" high or 50' long (total length of vehicle and trailer, etc.) are not allowed through the tunnel at all. The reason I consider it fortunate is that the fee for such is $10 (which will take you through the tunnel twice within a week). The reason they have to do this is that the tunnel was built back before we had such monsters on the roads, or so many vehicle in general. It tends to wind around quite a bit, and the curve of the tunnel is a bit closer than on more modern tunnels, making it impossible for larger vehicles to remain in their lane the whole time. The tunnel is really cool, though. There are no electric lights in the tunnel at all. All there are (besides your headlights, of course) are a number of sections where the side of the tunnel is open to let in natural light. There is at least one of these openings per curve.
After Zion, I was bound for Bryce Canyon. Fortunately, the most direct route from the first to the second goes along Highway12, which is listed as a "Scenic Byway" (the gentleman at the visitor center tells me they're working on getting "National Scenic Byway" status. I have no idea what the implications of this are, but more power to 'em). I say "fortunately" because it seems like every few miles I'm marveling at the view. "Road of a Thousand 'Scenic Turn-outs'" they may as well call it. I actually found myself thinking today "If it doesn't stop being beautiful out here, I'll never get anywhere" (as I write this, I'm in a campsite for the night, which means tomorrow will be my 3rd day on Highway 12). The entry point (coming from the west) is "Red Canyon". As I pulled up to it, it hardly seemed real (and this is fresh on the heels of Zion, mind you). Much closer scale than Zion, and very different in nature. While Zion was very "rocky", Red Canyon (and Bryce, as it would turn out) had much more of a "dirt" feel to it. There were rock piles, but the bases were almost always loose dirt.
Anyway, eventually I got to Bryce. As with Zion, there is a free shuttle, and certain parts of the road are closed to private vehicles (actually, in Bryce it's only to RV's and trailers, but that includes me anyway, so my experience is the same). I drove in to one of the early parts of the park, "Sunrise Point", to check out the view. My plan was just walk the few hundred feet from my vehicle to the view point, then return and figure out my plan from there. Well, once I got out to the view point, I felt so energized that I at least had to walk along the trail for a bit. This quickly turned into following the trail down into the canyon. I quickly became quite glad that it was mostly overcast that day, as my sudden change of plans meant I'd left without hat, sunglasses, water, or snack. I knew the length of the trail (5.5 miles out), and figured I could make it under current conditions. I ended up having a bit of luck, too. Instead of just being 5.5 miles out and the same distance back, it ended up meeting up with the "rim trail", a mere 2.5 mile return once I'd gotten back up to the rim of the canyon. Having gone into and out of the canyon twice already (the main hike rose up to a ridge inside the canyon, then dipped back down before returning to the rim), this ended up mattering much more than I'd anticipated. My legs were no doubt still somewhat worn out from the previous day's hiking as well (and I was getting a blister on my right foot, and in Zion I seemed to have developed something akin to "diaper rash", from chaffing with the perspiration of the hike. There's something a bit humiliating about being in your early 30's and getting diaper rash (not so humiliating as to keep me from mentioning it on a web site, I guess, but still….). Especially having neither kids of my own, nor even experience with younger siblings. I realized that there had to be something at the drug store for such a condition, and settled upon talcum powder, but sadly this was back at my vehicle as well). By the end of the rim trail, I was thoroughly exhausted. I'm pretty sure I would have turned around earlier if I hadn't learned of the rim trail back, but wonder what how well I would have done if I had continued on and then started back the way I'd come. Definitely a hike worth taking (from "Sunrise Point" to "Fairlyland viewpoint"). Actually, if I had it to do again, I'd probably just take it as far as where the trail is about to dip back down the second time, then turn around. That was the most interesting part of the hike. It's hard to describe, but it was the area that most made me feel like "This is what must have impressed the early Mormon settlers with this area!" Made me really wish I could see the deserts around Israel and the rest of the "Holy Land".

Leaving Bryce behind me (with much of it unseen, but I'd gotten in an outstanding hike, so I was satisfied), I continued along Highway 12. Ended up camping at "Escalante Petrified Forest State Park", right off a small lake. The next day I finally took the time to clean out the back of my home and reclaim my table (explanation of this - for Burning Man, I'd converted my table over to a bed, so as to not have the morning sun beating directly upon me (as it did in the "pod" over the cockpit). When the time came to leave, I only had a brief window between sandstorms (the day before I left there was a 10-hour white-out), so I just threw everything into the back with a plan to sort it out later). The clean-up finally uncovered my camera, so I was able to take pictures again. I didn't worry too much about it at Bryce and Zion, since they've both been photographed so thoroughly, but wanted it for the rest of my trip, particularly my next planned stop, the "Devil's Rock Garden". This had possibly the coolest designation I've ever seen for an area. Not a "Park", not a "rec. area", this was an "Outstanding Natural Area". How cool is that. I really lives up to its name, too. Bunch of cool rock formations, wander around however you want. Be aware that there are rattlesnakes in the area, as well as scorpions, and oh yeah, plague. None of this Disney crap out here (although much of the terrain along highway 12 is the sort of thing they modeled "Thunder Mountain" on). Didn't wander as much as I would have liked due to the blister I mentioned, but had fun taking pictures again.
A few days ago I was warned that my vehicle would really start to perform poorly once I got to the higher altitudes of Colorado (due to the thinner air causing the fuel mixture to be too rich). I've gotten a bit of a taste of it already in Utah, on a peak that had a summit of a mere 8900 feet. 12,000 feet is really going to suck.

One problem I just discovered with the frequent stopping to look at the view. I had taken recently to climbing to the top of Vacilador to do a nice pan with the camcorder (too wide of views for my digital camera to be of any use). Well, it seems that I loosened some of the water seal on the roof, as last night I got a surprise coming down inside during a brief shower. Need to find a hardware store to caulk the offending areas until a more permanent solution is available.

One more thing I need to mention on Highway 12. I was turning a corner around mile 73 or so when I came by yet another scenic turnout. Having just stopped about 10 minutes earlier, I decided to pass it by. I'm glad I did, too, because just about a quarter mile past it (let's see, apparently at mile marker 73.86 (wording taken from their brochure. There is no actual mile marker at 73.86. It's just eighty-six one-hundredths of the way from mile marker 73 (which does exist) to mile marker 74 (which also exists). Ok, this is of course obvious to everyone, but it should be equally obvious by now that these sorts of things really bother me, and I at least want it made clear that the wording was not my own)) I came upon the "Kiva Koffeehouse". Had a stopped at the turnout, I probably would have just passed the Koffeehouse by, and that would have been a shame. It was a beautiful building, affording basically the same view as the rest stop, but with much more reason to sit there (such as espresso, a good thing when you're on the road all day) (I didn't end up choosing to get just then, opting instead for a "lime slush", but I stand by my statement that espresso is a good thing). The building was apparently constructed in the late 90's, based on traditional designs. It is open from May - September (no, I haven't received any money from them or anything like that, I was just really pleased to stumble upon it).

My last stop on Highway 12 (actually I'll have to check a map, I think it may have been after Highway 12 ended, but it's still basically a straight shot) was Capitol Reef National Park. I didn't get to spend much time there (there are still a lot more stops I want to make in the next 2 weeks), but did get in one good hike, and saw some excellent petroglyphs (I saw some in eastern Nevada as well, but there were nowhere near as cool). My goal was to at least make it to "Goblin Valley" (State Park) on Sunday (the day I saw Capitol Reef).
One thing that struck me on the drive between the two - the color of the earth really seems to make a difference in how pleasing it is to look at. I passed through one area where the formations were almost identical to what I had seen in Red Canyon, but everything was a beige color, and frankly, it was fairly disappointing. I'm trying to figure out why that might be so. If I come up with anything good, I'll write it down later.
So, on to "Goblin Valley". Anyone who has seen the Tim Allen/Sigourney Weaver movie "Galaxy Quest" (or, as in my case, has seen the previews and remembered the relevant scene) will recognize this as the area where these bizarre rock formations turned out to be living creatures. I must say, hats off to the location scout (or to the writer if he based the scene on the area). I spent a while walking around down there, and I must say, it really felt alien. Some of it was the odd formations, or the quality of the light when surrounded by all that red clay. The part that these pictures can't convey, though, is the odd nature of the ground there. It never seems to level, even for a moment. That itself is hardly uncommon when you're hiking, of course. The part that I think made it so disconcerting was the way in which it rolled. There seemed to be very little reason to it. Normally when you walk in a riverbed, all of the depressions tend in the same direction. Out there, however, you'll see little rivulets pointing every which way. Looking at it, I figured out that they ran away from the "goblins", and eventually worked on joining others in an overall tendency to east (I'm completely guessing on that direction, but it'll serve to give you the idea). Often there would be sections that seemed to rise up for no obvious reason, however. Not something that can be put into words (by me, at least), but the effect after 30 minutes or so (with no other people around) is really something.
Oh, those of you who no about my lifelong quest for the world's best BBQ beef sandwich, I didn't find it yet, but I did have a really good one in a tiny little town called "Hanksville", at "Blondie's Eatery". The criteria I use when judging are - Is the meat tender? If is shredded? Has it spent enough time with the sauce to make it really become one with the sauce? How is the sauce? What sort of bread is it on? Is there by default nothing else on it? For bread, French rolls are preferred, but hamburger buns are perfectly acceptable (sliced bread is an automatic disqualifier). Sauce should be tangy, and the default should not be a spicy sauce (though that is perfectly acceptable as an option). These criteria are based on the image I have in my mind of what a BBQ Beef sandwich should be. If you disagree with any of these criteria, you're missing the point - I'm looking for the tastiest example of ONE OF THOSE. Because that's what I want. And I want it to be as tasty as possible. Simple enough, eh? If you want the tastiest example of something else, go on your own damn quest. If you think you have an extra-tasty place to get one of what I describe, please let me know, I'd love to have one.

Woke up in Colorado this morning. Didn't start the day here yesterday, though, so obviously I've got some gaps to fill. Woke up yesterday in Goblin Valley. Even set my alarm and everything. My goal was to make it to Colorado by the end of the day, with a decent stop at Arches National Park. So, I set my alarm, woke up at a decent hour, and proceeded to relax, make coffee, and generally take my time. The real killer came when, just as I was about ready to leave, I discovered that the campground had showers. Well, I couldn't pass that up (especially since there was no coin-operated time limit on them, so I could take care of shaving face and head), and there went my time. By the time I was approaching Arches, I was getting hungry, and needed to get gas, so I continued down to Moab, where I filler my tank, and discovered the Moab Brewery (using the word "discover" very loosely). Anyway, by the time lunch was done, it was around 1:30 in the afternoon, and I had two decent ales in me, and my body was really focusing on digestion of the hamburger, so my initial hiking enthusiasm was somewhat dampened. After a bit of walking to some of the closer overlooks, however, I started aching for one of the better hikes. "I came here to see arches, dammit!" was roughly my way of thinking. I knew "Landscape Arch" was one I really wanted to see, and there appeared to be a number of arches on the same path as it, so that became my destination.
The path to Landscape Arch (and beyond) is broken into a few sections. The part that goes as far as Landscape is a pretty easy walking section - minimal up and down, nicely maintained trail. From Landscape to "Double O", the path is much trickier, with a lot of scrambling over rocks and such (almost all of this section is over rocks). It is also mentioned at the trailhead that it is "this section is not recommended for hikers with extreme acrophobia (fear of heights) or when lightning storms are near". I'm pretty sure the acrophobia warning is mainly due to one section where there is a steep drop-off on both sides of a fairly narrow stretch of rock. Fantastic view from there of the valley down below. For the last section, there is a short jaunt out to a formation called "Dark Angel", then you can either return along the same trail, or take the "primitive loop". Their description:

"This rugged portion of Devils Garden includes frequent scrambling and rocky surface hiking on a less-developed trail, difficult to follow in places. It loops around from Double O arch to Landscape Arch by way of Fin Canyon, adding a mile (1.6 km) to the return. Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy."

"Fin Canyon" is the one that the other path gives you such an excellent view of. Obviously, I couldn't not take this route, so down I went. After the relative hustle and bustle of the main trail, it was really nice to be out on a trail where I was the only person again (even if it was only a 2-mile stretch). There were a few points where I was decidedly happy that it wasn't raining, as some sections of rock would be very difficult if it were wet. I remember thinking how much it would suck to be at the midway of the rock section and have rain start then, so that either direction you'd basically be screwed. Fortunately, this didn't happen to me. Of course, once I was down in the bottom of the wash, that's when the thunder started. "Not good", I thought. I have a healthy respect for (fear of) flash floods. I knew it was fairly unlikely, but then again, I'd still rather be out of the wash than in it if one were to happen. The thunder seemed fairly distant, so I wasn't overly worried, but I did pick up my pace a bit. It wasn't long until the trail headed back out of the wash again, which was good. It also wasn't long until I started to hear thunder more frequently, and much closer, which was on the other side of good. The "bad" side. Time for another of those calculations: "Where exactly is the dividing line between 'in danger of being caught in a thunderstorm' and 'caught in a thunderstorm', and when do you stop trying to avoid being caught, and switch to taking those steps you've read about for when you are caught in one?" By this point I was moving at a quick jog most of the time, still working on the avoiding plan. I would have remained in a quick jog all of the time, but since I'm not a regular jogger, my body decided that it was already being generous with the "most of the time" plan, and that's all I would get. This fact then got added to my calculations, along with the following others: 1) Even when I got to the (top of the Primitive loop, there was still another mile and a half to go, so best case scenario I still had at least 20 minutes until I was off the trail completely; 2) I was rushing to the highest point, exactly where you don't want to be in a thunderstorm; 3) rain was starting to fall, and those last few peals were awfully close. Definitely time to find a rock overhang (I had been looking for one for a while, but they were pretty scarce down below). Eventually I found one that, while not ideal, looked like it would suffice. I took shelter there while the thunder got closer (I think the closest it got was abut 3-4 miles, based on the time between seeing and hearing. Certainly an impressive sound with it echoing around the valley, too). After a bit, I noticed the sound getting further and further away, and could see in the distance a column of rain with some spectacular lightning displays. Once it got to about 28 miles off, I figured it was a good time to head back out. It was still cloudy above me, but seemed fairly safe. Good thing I started back when I did, too, as the sun was just about finished setting. I was treated to a very impressive lightning show for the rest of the drive (through the park, back to the highway, and all the way into Colorado).

On to Colorado