Miles Today: several
Total Miles: 12,990
Days on the Road: 209
Classically Beautiful, ain't it?
2 Pronghorn Antelopes
10 or 11 Bugs
Mountain Lion Tracks
Since crossing into Utah, we've hit a wilderness jackpot -- five National Parks and a handful of National Monuments all within a few hundred miles of each other. In the midst of all this public land we found a dearth of internet access, which resulted in two things: (1) a few hastily hatched and quickly abandoned schemes to plant an internet café in these far reaches, and (2) laziness in giving each of these parks their due props on this website and opting instead for the simpler, leaner Utah Roundup. Here goes...
W.W.E.D. (What Would Ed Do?)
We approached Moab, Arches' gateway community, thinking about a question heard muttered by a few people we'd met along the way: What would Edward Abbey think of this place now? During his stint as a park ranger at Arches in the late 1950s, Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire, which buoyed his position as one of the most recognized defenders of the American West and an outspoken opponent of the forces of commercial development that threatened its survival. We'd heard at least a few Abbey fans suggest "he must be turning over in his grave at what's happened to Moab," referring to the city's daisy-chain of billboards and flashing signs advertising fast food, cheap hotels and roadside attractions. Although we tend to side with nature in the whole man vs. nature struggle, we had to cross party lines, at least for a night, and get a hotel room to avoid physical meltdown in the 100 degree weather.
Arches boasts the world's largest concentration of natural arches, including the aptly named Delicate Arch, one the park's crowning jewels and a popular sunset destination. An easy 30-minute hike from the parking lot makes this arch accessible to just about any and all park visitors, which is pretty much who we found when we arrived -- a hundred or so people snapping photos under and around the grand arch, waiting for the perfect sunset light, then hissing at anyone who entered their perfectly framed shot during those ephemeral moments.
The following morning, we joined a ranger-led tour through the Fiery Furnace, which it turns out is neither fiery nor a furnace. Nevertheless, we enjoyed wandering through the mostly shaded narrow sandstone canyons and crawling through, around and over a few tight spots. We only wished someone would have told the two senior citizens in our group that they'd need to be able to walk on irregular surfaces and occasionally take a long step from one rock to the next in order to not slow down the group. We sort of got the impression they wished they'd been warned off as well.
Next Stop, Capitol Reef
This seems to be the least visited of Utah's National Park's, and, in our selfish desire to keep it unspoiled, we don't want to say too much about it. We will, however, tell you that after driving miles and miles through arid desert and seeing only rock, sand, sky and asphalt, we were bewildered and overjoyed to enter the lush valley oasis of Capitol Reef, where the fruit was ripe for the pickin', literally. These bountiful fruit orchards, planted by earlier Mormon settlers, are now maintained by the park service and open to the public through a u-pick and pay honor system arrangement. We loaded up on apples, plums and one unripe peach that later ripened quite nicely and was enjoyed by Liz.
This land of milk and honey, we later discovered, is also the land of chocolate waterfalls, in which we swam, frolicked and rejoiced before our sweaty drive to the next destination, Escalante.
The Grand Staircase
It was all "last time this, and I remember that" as we coasted into the six-block stretch of downtown Escalante, where Liz had "gotten a crush on the southwest" two years ago during a Thelma and Louise style road trip with one of her girlfriends. Actually, she admits their road trip had none of the gunpoint robbery, high-speed road chases or canyon jumping stunts seen in the movie, but they were two girls in car in the southwest. So there you go.
As Liz was reliving the memories and offering suggestions on where to hike, stay and eat, Anthony wondered aloud if we were here to recreate the previous trip. Although that wasn't the intention, is was sort of difficult to avoid since the local choices for camping and food were pretty much what they were two years ago. Even the library, where a sign reading "ox bow hunting" (Meaning, it turned out, that the librarian had gone out ox bow hunting for the day. We didn't even know ox bows lived around here.) had prevented Liz and Jen from checking email in 2000, now reported a two-week-old unsolved computer issue that dashed our hopes of internet access.
We were happy to find one recent addition to the townscape at UtahCanyons Outdoor Store, a colorful, homegrown business offering everything from guide services to camping gear to tasty Missouri barbeque, plus friendly homesteading and self-employment stories and tips from Julie and Drew, the nice folks running the place.
Not wanting to get caught in the rain, much less in a flash flood, we spent a couple of days around town discussing the weather with just about every merchant on Main Street before heading out for an overnight hike in nearby Escalante Canyon. After exhausting our ability for small talk, we drove 12 miles from Escalante to the trailhead, packed our backpacks and walked all of 50 feet, from the parking lot to the two-lane road, where we would wait for the next hour with our homemade sign reading "Escalante". To make the straight 15-mile hike from Escalante to the trailhead where we'd parked the Badunk, we had to either find our own ride to Escalante or pay $30 for a shuttle service. Being cheap, and possibly stupid, we tried our luck hitching.
Exactly one hour after we unfurled our sign and threw out our thumbs, a mere six cars had passed in our direction and not a one of them had the heart (or available vehicle occupancy) to give us a ride. It wasn't looking good. Just as we were about to pack it in and resort to a shuttle service, a white sedan pulled up and a young Chinese man rolled down his window to wave us in. Leave it to a foreign tourist to be hospitable and friendly when all of our fearful fellow Americans have left us in the dust. When we asked whether he'd ever picked up hitchhikers before, he didn't seem to understand the concept, leading us to believe that he may have picked us up because of a confused idea about American customs and some belief that he was obliged to provide this taxi service. We were grateful, even though his mountain driving gave us goose bumps and his punchy braking gave us whiplash. He got us where we needed to go.
The hike, following the cut of a river along the canyon floor, was pleasantly lonesome and quiet. We crossed the river something like 27 times before finally trading our trail shoes for sandals and wading through shallow waters. Something about the overgrown and dense embankment foliage, the murky water and desert heat made us feel like we were in Vietnam (although we've never been there) and imagine slinking through this canyon on hands and knees, carefullly keeping our packs above water. Thankfully, we only stumbled in the river a few times, somehow managing to keep the camera, dinner and other non-waterproof perishables out of the river, and Charlie was nowhere to be seen.
More Hoodoos, Tourists
We were warned about the unavoidable "National Park freak-out" we'd find at Bryce Canyon, and boy, did we find it, sandwiched somewhere between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point, where all the tourists (us included) flocked at the corresponding times. If we had the job of giving out Darwin Awards, we would've handed out a couple to the two dudes who somehow thought it was a good idea to climb out to one of the precarious and ancient sandstone fins off the marked trail. It's times like that we wish we were park rangers, and also times like that we sometimes pretend we are. We gave them the international gesture to cease and desist, and, when they attempted to backtrack after they got that precious snapshot, they found themselves blocked by the line of other idiots who were chasing the same Kodak moment in true lemming fashion. Where's a small earthquake when you need one?
Our effort to break free from the pack didn't get us far -- our car stalled while we waited on some construction just a few miles along the park's scenic drive. We returned to the campsite, disheartened and daunted by the task of fixing the car, again.
Looking for any reason to put off working on the car, we spent about an hour and a half at one of the strangest rodeos in the West. Granted is was Anthony's first rodeo ever and Liz' first in quite a few years, but we'd never heard of a rodeo event where kindergarten-age boys ride sheep, while an assistant (usually the kid's dad) runs alongside to keep them from falling off. That whole sheep-riding thing, plus a background soundtrack of AC/DC music and an event announcer who sounded he was doing commentary for a silent action or a seminary graduation. Could a rodeo be any more weird?
Bryce was beautiful, but next time we might forego the summer frenzy and see what the hoodoos, fins and canyons look like under a thin dusting of snow.
Classically Beautiful Zion
With dashed hopes of driving the 300-mile roundtrip to the Grand Canyon, we limped the Badunk along to Zion. The park has a handy shuttle service that runs the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, with stops at many of the park's hiking trailheads. Feeling hot and a little burned out on the whole "national park thing", we took a couple short hikes, spent the night in one of the park's campgrounds, then, tentatively, at daybreak began to coax the Badunk toward Vegas.
It's probably a good thing we skipped the Grand Canyon detour. Considering our mounting frustration and impatience with this temperamental car, there's no telling what might have happened once the Badunk came face to face with that great chasm.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.