Monday, October 27, 2008

Road Trip: Day 4

We were still a little achy when we finally broke camp and we seriously looked forward to not spending another night along the US 50 Breezeway. Looking on the bright side, we both gave the camp bathrooms “A” ratings and we were a little sorry we didn’t get sick last night because we might have slept better.

Lilith said the North Rim was about 330mi away and that fit pretty well with our own rough estimates based on our time on the road. And Lilith also said the North Rim was 449 miles away, and that fit pretty well with what we suspected was the truth …

So, we had another long day on the road ahead of us. There would be no early check-in. No lounging in a rocker on the balcony of that grand old lodge. No leaning over the rim and looking into the innards of the earth.

The north rim is hard to get to. There is no quick little detour off the main road or a Vista Point turnout. In fact, there is no main road. And the detour takes over an hour. When you finally get to the end of the road you see only the Grand Canyon Lodge. It's not a terribly impressive structure from the street, but it is big enough to completely hide from view anything behind it. Not until you enter the lodge and look beyond the guest registration area to the Sun Room and through the two-story picture windows do really know where you are. It reminds me of the drive to the valley of Yosemite National Park along Hwy 41 out of Fresno. You might turn a corner and get a brief glimpse of the valley, but it’s not really until you pass through the tunnel that this natural wonderland comes into view … and then you can’t catch your breath!

The Grand Canyon Lodge was originally built in the 1920’s and the design was in homage to the canyon itself. A split level masterpiece of wood and stone, the multiple levels blended right in with the canyon walls and the various altitudes with their flat roofs mirrored the flat-topped formations of the canyon. Each level seemed to crawl up the side of canyon and finally over the rim. Like so many of the grand lodges in the National Park system, this one burned down but the remaining stone skeleton was used as the foundation and frame of the current structure. The only real difference is the pitched rooflines which apparently help with shedding the massive winter snowfalls here.

We’d probably arrive after dark and the canyon itself would be invisible. We’d see only an immense black void. On a truly dark or moonless night a first time visitor, not knowing what to expect, might think they were looking out over a vast lake or a small sea. The blackness would be punctuated only by distant lights from the opposite shore.

There is no way to describe it, but this place is that big and it can be that mysterious and that cool…

Sadly, the canyon itself would probably have to wait until tomorrow because all we’d see tonight was the inside of our cabin. Which wouldn’t be all that bad.

But for now we had miles and miles of Utah.

I’ve been to Utah before, many times. This does not make me a Utah expert, but I certainly have opinions which I am always eager to share. Usually at inappropriate times …

It’s been many years but I remember Utah as a rather provincial place:

Little towns with little phone books contained on single 8x11 sheets of paper;

Crickets, so big they can’t move, and so many you can’t help stepping on them;

Yellow Jackets – I didn’t know they were carnivores until I visited Utah – that chased me into my car to eat dinner (yes, you can read that either way …);

The absolutely worst Nachos in the entire world;

The Oak City Mall - A two pump gas station with a poorly stocked and rather inconvenient convenience store that is hardly ever open. (I actually had the privilege one afternoon of directing a traveler to the mall. I pointed behind me and said, “Here it is …” and they said, “Really?” I’m serious. This truly happened.);

And the strangest rules governing alcohol consumption - Like you can BYOB to a restaurant. But you can’t open it yourself. And there is a state imposed corking fee… But they can’t serve it to you … you have to go and get it from them and pour it yourself … even at cool places like Alta, Sundance, Park City and Brian Head;

And yes, Utah has some of the best skiing anywhere;

And some of the most unique and incredible scenery imaginable.

One thing I’d forgotten was just how big Utah is. Neither of us remembered how long it could take to get from one place to another. Compared to California, Utah is puny. It is also significantly smaller than Colorado. But it’s significantly larger than even Nebraska and Illinois and more than twice the size of Indiana. And the Interstates don’t go to places like Bryce, Zion, Glen Canyon, or the Grand Canyon.

I-70 itself is a consumer wasteland. There are no outlet malls, no coffee shops, no filling stations, no stores – convenient or otherwise, and no fast food. No services of any kind for miles and miles along the Interstate. Only the Cisco off-ramp looked promising, but to get to anything you had to drive another 28 miles to get to Cisco.

Fortunately the views were spectacular and neither of us had to use the bathroom. We truly enjoyed cruising (as fast as we could without attracting the attention of the Utah State Troopers) through this place. I-70 winds through a part of Utah that is beautiful in a lonely and desolate sort of way. Signage is nearly useless since there isn’t really anywhere to go and I’m not even sure why they have Stop signs. But the land formations, stunning as they are only hint at what lies just south in the Arches, and the canyons.

Utah is not devoid of life, but nearly so. Not much evidence of significant rainfall except for dry river beds. I’m guessing the animal life consists mostly of very small things that would either make us jump up on chairs or die a slow venom induced death.

It’s a hard place.
We saw a lone house on a ranch in the middle of Nowhere, Utah. I can’t even guess as to what they raised or harvested there. Snakes? Crickets?

Our I-70 tour came to an end near Sevier, Utah where we jumped on to US 89, a narrow two lane highway that winds through some deep canyons. We headed south and it seemed like we were going mostly downhill. But doesn’t it always seem like you’re going downhill when you drive south?

We did the rest stop routine for lunch. This particular rest stop also looked like the ATV version of Sturgis, S.D. The only others there without helmets and leather was a couple from New Zealand on an extended Northern Hemisphere holiday. Back in Indiana, the privileged winter in Florida. I guess the Kiwis winter in the USA.

I have a friend in New Zealand and he refers to himself and other New Zealanders as “Kiwis” and they are so named for New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, rather than the fuzzy skinned fruit Shawn and I have been enjoying with our lunches. So I thought it might be funny to offer our new acquaintances some kiwi:

“Oh, we’ve been eating kiwi every day for lunch.” (You guys eat Bald Eagle down there in New Zealand, don’tcha?)

“They sell them at Trader Joe’s.” (These quaint little import/export specialty stores housed in the shacks left over from the Pony Express days.)

“They’re fresh and individually wrapped.” (It’s all health code stuff. Even the old trading posts have to comply.)

“We like them raw and we just dig the meat out with our teeth then scrape the carcass with a spoon.” (Then we splinter a bone and use it as toothpick.)

“Would you like some?”

But for the moment I decided to put off indulging my warped sense of humor and inciting an international incident (I knew the ATVers would side with me …) and we asked them about their trip.

They’d already seen a lot of cool places and were on their way to the Grand Canyon but hadn’t decided which rim to visit. They asked if we had a recommendation and in an instant we were no longer provocateurs. Suddenly we were tour guides …

Experts that we are (based on our one visit to the North Rim over 20 years ago); we lean toward the North Rim. The South Rim is hard to get to from Utah. The Canyon itself is about 10 miles wide but it’s a 21 mile walk or a 200 mile drive to get across. But it is without a doubt more user friendly over there. It’s much more developed than the North Rim and it’s easier to see more of the canyon. Many people, especially photographers and other artists feel the views are superior from the south.

If the Kiwis went south, there would be a couple fewer people up where we were headed. Besides, the parking is really limited at the North Rim and since they were already done with lunch and would get there before us …

“South Rim,” I said.

“Definitely South Rim,” said Shawn.

We met our Kiwi friends once more in the bathroom and I wanted to ask them if they got dizzy watching our toilets flush.

Upon finishing with that part of the rest stop experience we smiled and waved as they headed for Flagstaff and we sat down for our leisurely PBnJ and kiwi fest. The Utah rest stop was alive with activity from the ATV rally and the counter-clockwise swirl of toilets but besides that, there was nothing remarkable going on here. No corn or Teepees. Not even Wifi or gale force winds. It took the yellow jackets all of 15 seconds to swarm around our lunch. There was really nothing about this rest area to convince us that Utah had changed much in the nearly twenty years since our last visit. We left the skin of a freshly filleted kiwi on the brim of a trash can as chum for the Yellow Jackets and made a dash for the car.

Back on the road, sans any predatory wasps, the downhill trend through these canyons was confirmed when we stopped in Marysville for gas and calculated our fuel economy at an amazing 49mpg! Our little Beater was loving this road.

The final approach to the North Rim took us right past the roads to Bryce and Zion. We resisted the temptation to take a detour and pushed ahead to Kanab, Utah and on through Fredonia, AZ.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Thanks for your incredibly detailed blog posts - really interesting, fun to read and great pics! Complete opposite of mine - lots of pics and very few words.