Thursday, March 30, 2006

Kanab to Hurricane, Utah


The Bryce Amphitheater


11:30 p.m.

Comfort Inn, Hurricane, Utah


THIS MORNING

Left the hotel in Page at 11:00 this morning. A clear day with a high, hazy layer of cloud.

Before leaving city services behind, added air to the front tire. It was about five pounds low.

Just outside Page, I crossed the Colorado River bridge and pulled into the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor’s Center. Inside the facility, there is an observation deck offering a view of the dam. But walking up to the entrance in my riding suit, I could see security screeners processing visitors, just like airport screeners. I didn’t want to subject myself to this treatment just to look at a dam. Turned away and climbed back aboard the bike, returning to the relative freedom of the road.

Crossed back into Utah. I had planned to visit Grand Canyon’s North Rim, however, last night I viewed the park’s website and learned the Rim doesn’t open to the public until May 15th. Took a coffee break in Kanab, finding "Willow Canyon Outdoor", a little independent shop advertising espresso. Stopped outside, but wavered at the entrance. It looked quirky. Two young people walked past me and entered, tipping the scale. I followed.

Inside, I found a fascinating mix of coffee bar, expedition outfitter and book store. Met one of the partners, Charlie Neumann. He makes an outstanding cappuccino. We got to talking about California and he spoke of his days in Oceanside, surfing the famous “Trestles” point on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.

I asked if he had heard of my brother, Drew Kampion, who had lived and worked nearby, surfing the same spot. He had, and credits Drew with bringing literature to the surfing world. He said he avidly followed Drew’s writing when he was editor of "Surfer" magazine.

Charlie offered advice for a brief visit in this region: “go to Bryce, snap some photos, then Zion, then stay at Springdale, not St. George.” Throughout this trip, I've relied on the suggestions of locals to guide my next steps.



In Kanab, Utah, I met Charlie Neumann, co-owner of Willow Canyon Outdoor. His store carries books and outdoor gear, and serves excellent coffee drinks. Charlie is a geologist and long-time surfer from Carlsbad, California. He credits my brother Drew with bringing literature to the surfing world. On the shelf is Drew's book "The Way of the Surfer".


Continued on up the road. Kanab’s a cute town. “Not a bad place to live,” I thought to myself as I rolled away, (though Charlie reported the very conservative city council can be difficult to work with.)

I keep returning to the question of “what's next?” Riding doesn't seem conducive to exploring this in depth. Constantly on the lookout for deer, traveling unfamiliar roads, gazing upon ever-changing landscapes, intellectual activity never seems to delve beneath the superficial. (The perpetual-motion part of my being doesn’t coexist with the problem-solver part.)

The waves of new development haven’t reached this corner of Utah yet, and to me it’s refreshing. Mt. Carmel Junction is still a small crossroad. Though there are some seasonal resorts on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park, this country has a wonderfully-pastoral feel. Despite the clear sunny sky, the afternoon was very cold, as I once again climbed a high mesa to the park.

On top of the mesa, at about 9,000 feet, there were two or three feet of snow on the ground. The road through the park was closed a little over half-way out to Yovimpa and Rainbow Points. But the actual Bryce Canyon overlooks (Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce Points) were all accessible. The landscape was so incredible, I moved from one overlook to the next, gaining different perspectives on the sandstone formations, taking lots of photos, and delaying my departure. I was very aware of the sun lowering in the west, and the falling temperature. And I still hoped to get to Zion, and beyond before dark.



Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah



These limestone spires in Bryce Canyon are called "hoodoos"



Bryce Canyon hoodoos


The day now racing away, I left for Zion about 4:30. Getting down off the plateaus, it was warmer, but still chilly.

On state highway 9 through Zion, everyone must pay a park entry fee, regardless whether it’s their intention to visit the park. Long tunnels add to the drama. When you finally emerge, you’re deep within a fantastic landscape. In Zion, the perspective is “bottom up”, as the road travels the floor of deep and narrow canyons. Here you wander among groves of trees along the Virgin River, towering rock sentinels above.

As I reached “The Great White Throne”, the sunlight departed, leaving the entire valley in shadows. I tried to capture at least one photo in the twilight. Then I noticed the camera was still set for incandescent lighting. I had used the setting inside the Kanab shop. So, all the Bryce photos were captured with the wrong "filter", which would result in an overall bluish cast. It was difficult to accept.

In the valley, wonderful old trees and meadows add a softness and contrast to the harsh canyon walls. Barren branches are starkly beautiful, though sprouting buds add a greenish tinge to the grayness.

On the western edge of Zion is Springdale. I don't even remember there being a town here 35 years ago. It’s clearly a popular destination, a quaint, artsy tourist village. Inquired about a room at one hotel. Over $100 per night, it was far too expensive. The manager said all accommodations in town would be similarly-priced. Anyway, they were full. So, it appeared I'd be staying in St. George after all, another 75 miles down the road.

Springdale looked like a fun place to eat though. Asked the hotel clerk for a restaurant recommendation and she said, frankly their restaurant, "Pentimento" was the best in town. Stayed, though the white linen table cloths at first made me uncomfortable.

The food was very good. I tried their “broasted chicken”. I recognized a flavor I haven’t tasted since the 1960s! Delicious (though probably one of those “heart-attack-on-a-plate” meals.) Actually tried a glass of “Sutter Home” Cabernet Sauvignon. Probably the first time ever.

Continued down the mountain canyons in the dark. The juxtaposition of two town names on this road amused me long ago. It had me laughing again tonight: La Verkin and Virgin, La Verkin Virgin.

Coming to the suburbs of St. George and the familiar clusters of chain hotels, I began the inquiries. The Hurricane “Days Inn” was full, but across the street I found a room at the “Comfort Inn”, just over $50.

Called Janie and Otto to report I’m closing in! Only 150 miles to Las Vegas.

Immigration policy is the main topic in the news and on talk shows. I have to wonder if this issue has been raised just to divert attention from the Administration's failed Iraq strategy.

“Comfort Inn”, Hurricane, Utah

Left the hotel in Page at 11:00 this morning. A clear day with a high, hazy layer of cloud.

Before leaving city services behind, added air to the front tire. It was about five pounds low.

Just outside Page, I crossed the Colorado River bridge and pulled into the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor’s Center. Inside the facility, there is an observation deck offering a view of the dam. But walking up to the entrance in my riding suit, I could see security screeners processing visitors, just like airport screeners. I didn’t want to subject myself to this treatment just to look at a dam. Turned away and climbed back aboard the bike, returning to the relative freedom of the road.

Crossed back into Utah. I had planned to visit Grand Canyon’s North Rim, however, last night I viewed the park’s website and learned the Rim doesn’t open to the public until May 15th. Took a coffee break in Kanab, finding "Willow Canyon Outdoor", a little independent shop advertising espresso. Stopped outside, but wavered at the entrance. It looked quirky. Two young people walked past me and entered, tipping the scale. I followed.

Inside, I found a fascinating mix of coffee bar, expedition outfitter and book store. Met one of the partners, Charlie Neumann. He makes an outstanding cappuccino. We got to talking about California and he spoke of his days in Oceanside, surfing the famous “Trestles” point on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.

I asked if he had heard of my brother, Drew Kampion, who had lived and worked nearby, surfing the same spot. He had, and credits Drew with bringing literature to the surfing world. He said he avidly followed Drew’s writing when he was editor of "Surfer" magazine.

Charlie offered advice for a brief visit in this region: “go to Bryce, snap some photos, then Zion, then stay at Springdale, not St. George.” Throughout this trip, I've relied on the suggestions of locals to guide my next steps.

Continued on up the road. Kanab’s a cute town. “Not a bad place to live,” I thought to myself as I rolled away, (though Charlie reported the very conservative city council can be difficult to work with.)

I keep returning to the question of “what's next?” Riding doesn't seem conducive to exploring this in depth. Constantly on the lookout for deer, traveling unfamiliar roads, gazing upon ever-changing landscapes, intellectual activity never seems to delve beneath the superficial. (The perpetual-motion part of my being doesn’t coexist with the problem-solver part.)

The waves of new development haven’t reached this corner of Utah yet, and to me it’s refreshing. Mt. Carmel Junction is still a small crossroad. Though there are some seasonal resorts on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park, this country has a wonderfully-pastoral feel. Despite the clear sunny sky, the afternoon was very cold, as I once again climbed a high mesa to the park.

On top of the mesa, at about 9,000 feet, there were two or three feet of snow on the ground. The road through the park was closed a little over half-way out to Yovimpa and Rainbow Points. But the actual Bryce Canyon overlooks (Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce Points) were all accessible. The landscape was so incredible, I moved from one overlook to the next, gaining different perspectives on the sandstone formations, taking lots of photos, and delaying my departure. I was very aware of the sun lowering in the west, and the falling temperature. And I still hoped to get to Zion, and beyond before dark.

The day now racing away, I left for Zion about 4:30. Getting down off the plateaus, it was warmer, but still chilly.

On state highway 9 through Zion, everyone must pay a park entry fee, regardless whether it’s their intention to visit the park. Long tunnels add to the drama. When you finally emerge, you’re deep within a fantastic landscape. In Zion, the perspective is “bottom up”, as the road travels the floor of deep and narrow canyons. Here you wander among groves of trees along the Virgin River, towering rock sentinels above.

As I reached “The Great White Throne”, the sunlight departed, leaving the entire valley in shadows. I tried to capture at least one photo in the twilight. Then I noticed the camera was still set for incandescent lighting. I had used the setting inside the Kanab shop. So, all the Bryce photos were captured with the wrong "filter", which would result in an overall bluish cast. It was difficult to accept.

In the valley, wonderful old trees and meadows add a softness and contrast to the harsh canyon walls. Barren branches are starkly beautiful, though sprouting buds add a greenish tinge to the grayness.

On the western edge of Zion is Springdale. I don't even remember there being a town here 35 years ago. It’s clearly a popular destination, a quaint, artsy tourist village. Inquired about a room at one hotel. Over $100 per night, it was far too expensive. The manager said all accommodations in town would be similarly-priced. Anyway, they were full. So, it appeared I'd be staying in St. George after all, another 75 miles down the road.

Springdale looked like a fun place to eat though. Asked the hotel clerk for a restaurant recommendation and she said, frankly their restaurant, "Pentimento" was the best in town. Stayed, though the white linen table cloths at first made me uncomfortable.

The food was very good. I tried their “broasted chicken”. I recognized a flavor I haven’t tasted since the 1960s! Delicious (though probably one of those “heart-attack-on-a-plate” meals.) Actually tried a glass of “Sutter Home” Cabernet Sauvignon. Probably the first time ever.

Continued down the mountain canyons in the dark. The juxtaposition of two town names on this road amused me long ago. It had me laughing again tonight: La Verkin and Virgin, La Verkin Virgin.

Coming to the suburbs of St. George and the familiar clusters of chain hotels, I began the inquiries. The Hurricane “Days Inn” was full, but across the street I found a room at the “Comfort Inn”, just over $50.

Called Janie and Otto to report I’m closing in! Only 150 miles to Las Vegas.

Immigration policy is the main topic in the news and on talk shows. I have to wonder if this issue has been raised just to divert attention from the Administration's failed Iraq strategy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Holiday Inn Express, Page, Arizona


"Ode to Vermeer, or Hans Veneer, the primal architect of visions in the mirror, of things quite near, little queer spaces in space and light outside the drear plod of time." - Drew Kampion


Since this is the best rate I've had for a Holiday Inn Express, I decided to stay on another day. (Is that an adequate excuse?) Perhaps this is the break in the momentum I've been awaiting. Besides, it was raining.

After breakfast, I asked to change rooms. They moved me from 203 to 327. At first 327 smelled like smoke. I was going to stay put in 203, but I always adapt. I would soon find 327 to be better.

Outside, rain and hail. Took out the camera. “I’m still on assignment.” It is odd: given the “right mood” you can find something interesting to photograph in any circumstance. In one set of photos I tried to capture the pleasure of being inside, safe and warm, on a stormy day. In another, I wanted to show how I spend so much time: unglamorously seated at a desk, working on the computer. But even that vision can have an artistic quality. However, the inspiration is fleeting.



Hanging out in Page, Arizona. A chance to watch the weather go by while collecting my thoughts.


Blogged the day through! Tried to stay away from TV. Pasta, leftover from last night, was my main meal. Took a break to watch Democracy Now! on-line. Went out for some fresh air in the evening and picked up some groceries at Safeway.

Only managed to finish about three journal entries today. Another 16 or 17 in the queue!

Not a lot of luck with this hotel. Last night it was the BIG guy pacing in the room above. Tonight, it's the fellow next door who may have had a bit too much to drink. He's singing along with the commercial jingles and talking to his TV.

With his help, I was up until 1:00 a.m.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Moab to Page, Arizona


Monument Valley



11:40 PM

Holiday Inn Express, Page, Arizona


THIS MORNING

Local Moab advertisements include "Highpoint Hummer and ATV Tours". You can ride in an Army-style Hummer (not the SUV-type) over slickrock landscapes. Or maybe you'd prefer "skydiving through Arches." A picture shows a skydiver coming in for a landing under one of the natural arches. Then there's the upcoming "24 hours of Moab" mountain bike race, October 14 & 15. This place barely sleeps.

Another kind of ad on TV also refers to Utah's remarkable lands: Kerr-McGee is currently conducting a major public relations campaign, trying to convince us how benign and "in harmony with nature" is their drilling of natural gas in Utah's Uinta Basin. The camera pans across a wild and desolate landscape to show a single well atop a mesa. But I have flown over this region, and have been shocked by the many wells and the web of access roads below. It's not a harmonious vision. They should be ashamed.

The anticipated weather front coming in over the western mountains, I stopped at Peace Tree Juice Cafe for a final meal in Moab. (The Jailhouse might have been more appropriate!)

Left around noon for Monument Valley. Couldn't bring myself to stop at a small winery on the southern edge of Moab. I drove the perimeter of the vineyard and past the farmhouse, but just couldn't stop. Too much like work, and the rain was coming. I didn't want to linger.

It grew stormy as I climbed toward Monticello. Put on the rain gear and kept going. (The mesa on the southern edge of Monticello looks like another good area to invest. I picture lots of vacation homes there in the future.)

Following Ben and Brad's suggestion, I took a detour south of Blanding, traveling west on State Route 95 to highway 261. They said this is an amazing road which descends the mesas to the "Valley of the Gods" and Monument Valley. Storms flowed out of the west, sweeping around the Abajo Mountains and hitting me head-on with wind and heavy rain.

Turned south on 261. A sign indicated "narrow gravel road 20 miles ahead." the guys in Moab didn't tell me about that! With all the rain, I was anxious about what I'd encounter up ahead.

The pavement ended at the mesa's rim. Down the rock wall to the valley below, wound a narrow dirt and gravel road. It turned out to be no big deal, though just as dramatic a drop as Shafer Trail.



Approaching Monument Valley from the north


There were some signs of clearing skies as I approached Monument Valley. Over the years, a Navajo Tribal Park has been developed in the center of Monument Valley. Not the typical Corporate America development, this is a modest business venture. A visitor’s center with restaurant and gift shop, a campground. Clearly, resources are scarce.



Monument Valley


The valley floor is now open to those wishing to take a self-guided driving tour among the buttes. Many years ago, I recall watching the lights of a single vehicle below, wandering far out into this lonely landscape. Today, I could spot 10 to 15 vehicles on the winding dirt road.

The trading post has an exhibit on the Navajo "Code Talkers" of World War II. In the Pacific, the military used the native Navajo language for passing important information. The Japanese were never able to "break the code". Explored their offering of jewelry, still on a mission. Nothing delicate enough though.



At the Navajo Tribal Park Visitors Center, this display case included many items with "pawn" tags attached


The weather had been kind, holding off during my brief visit in the valley, but now that I was continuing the ride west, I again met the rain head-on. After an hour, I turned north on Arizona Route 98 toward Page, and seemed to avoid much of the weather.

In Page, this Holiday Inn Express offered one of the lowest rates I've seen: $59.75, all taxes included. I was a very happy traveler!

Out to dinner at Italia's Family Buffet, a couple blocks away. I was their last customer of the evening, as they closed at 8:30, because it was so quiet. Dean Martin serenading me, I tried the “Grecian Pasta” and a glass of Montes Alpha Malbec from Chile. Met John Mesler, the co-owner. “Are you from Canada?” I asked, noting his accent.

“Near there.” He said he was from from Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Orchard Park, New York. Small world! I told him I was born in Buffalo and lived in East Aurora, near Orchard Park. It’s John’s ninth season operating the restaurant in Page.

Back in my room, a really big person paced the floor above, obviously on a cellphone, for hours. I finally pounded on the ceiling. It continued for a while longer.

For weeks now, my upper back has been plagued by sharp pains. I need a deep massage. Trying to work out the knots myself has been ineffective.

Moab, Utah

I've been on the move for the past three weeks, exploring in a very general way this amazing country. I haven't spent enough time in one place to collect my thoughts and put them down here. (I've actually been recording them, but it's the editing and "polishing" which seems to require my being stationary for a few days.)

I thought Moab would provide an opportunity, but there is simply so much to see in this area, that writing is relegated to the "back burner". This town is certainly a mecca for outdoors people. Mountain biking, climbing, hiking, skydiving, kayaking, rafting, bicycling, soaring, four-wheeling, off-road motorcycling. The number of activities is mind-boggling.

When I arrived a few days ago, Moab was hosting a rodeo, volleyball championship, extreme sports competition and unicycling event. And those were just the ones I heard about.

I last visited Moab thirty-five years ago. About the only activity I recall back then were the sedate river cruises (which are still offered.)

Apparently, Moab's uranium-based economy suffered a severe depression in the 80s, but those days are long gone. The Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels arrive next year. (Wal-Mart attempted to come in, but was rejected. They will build to the south, in San Juan County.) There is no going back to the sleepy mining town days!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Canyonlands National Park


Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park. An overcast day produces an almost monochromatic image, emphasizing form over color. The "White Rim Sandstone" that caps the mesa below is harder and more resistant to erosion than both the sandstones above and below.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Checked out of the Silver Sage Motel at 11:00, talking with Ben and Brad (who works for Ben) about activities in the area. They both said I should visit the local wineries, and gave me directions to one nearby.

On the agenda today was a ride out to Canyonlands National Park, then I planned to work south toward Monument Valley. Filled up on gas and checked tire pressures. The front was about 7 pounds low.

Not much quieter in town now that the weekend was over. Went to The Jailhouse for breakfast. (The building actually did serve as the jail for a period of time.) The staff's t-shirts proclaim food "good enough for a last meal!" and the restaurant serves "the best Eggs Benedict" around.

Waited on a patio outside for a table to become available. Overhead, contrails created a hazy web, the air saturated with moisture.

Laughed when someone's cellphone rang. It sounded just like a telephone from the 50s or 60s (which actually had bells inside that were struck by a hammer, as opposed to an electronic ringer.)

Of course, I had to order the Eggs Benedict. And fresh orange juice! Over breakfast, I thought about how this has become an even more solitary journey in my own country. It's strange. I've had so little contact with other people of late.

Moab is a "young town" now, not what I'd call a "party town", but clearly youth-oriented. And it only serves to emphasize for me how sports- and competition-driven our society is. We work so hard in our leisure!

I can't help but think all this energy could be better used, doing something constructive for the nation, which needs help so desperately! (And I often examine and judge my own use of energy from this perspective.) How could we make such a proposition "fun" and attractive?

Then I realize it is far better they are doing this than sitting in front of a TV! It's great that so many people are pursuing healthy lifestyles.

***

Long ago, when I traveled this country on motorcycle, the thirty-mile ride out to the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands was quite an adventure. The roads were unpaved, and I was riding a street bike. Today, the main roads are paved and in perfect condition, which makes these amazing vistas accessible to all. Not a bad thing. It certainly doesn't detract from the experience.



At the Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (The artist is Marie Jenkins.)



View through the Mesa Arch



The dark patches in this photo are "crytogamic soil" (also called "cryptobiotic crust") , a very "delicate living community of lichens and cyanobacteria that plays a vital ecological role" according to the Canyonlands literature. Apparently, seeds that fall into this soil have a much better chance of germinating.



Despite efforts to educate visitors about the delicate nature of the landscape, some tourists feel the need to leave established trails. The cryptobiotic crust they destroy can take decades to recover.


It is useless to try to describe the views from Green River Overlook, or Grand View Point (or the Grand Canyon). Pictures may help convey the magnificence. But anyone who has stood at the edge of these cliffs and looked out at the panoramas has probably experienced the same thought: it looks artificial. Like a painted backdrop or diarama. You want to reach out and touch it, to see if it's real.



Underneath the "White Rim Sandstone", the "Organ Rock Sandstone" erodes more rapidly



View eastward from Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park.


Something that's easier to relate to are the informational signs at various overlooks and at the Visitor's Center. The schematics of rock formations, landmark identification charts. Some signs teach us about the delicate "cryptobiotic crusts" (or "crytogamic soils") which are vital to preserving ecosystems on these mesas.

Another explains remarkable adaptations living organisms have made in order to survive here. (The Kangaroo rat never drinks and its kidneys are so effective, it urinates dry crystals!) Very slowly we are being re-educated to respect and cherish nature.

Far below the "Island in the Sky" mesa overlooks, I became aware of The White Rim Road, a 100-mile long "jeep road" open to park visitors. The highways are so tame now, I yearned for some challenge, but felt there wasn't enough time to make that journey. There was, however, an alternative route back to Moab via what's called the Shafer Trail (also used to access the White Rim Road.)

Shafer Trail descends the canyon face to the White Rim Mesa 1,000 below. I was initially apprehensive about "going over the edge", but as is often the case, telling myself that "many people have done this before" continues to be a reassuring argument.

Starting down the rocky trail, I was too busy avoiding the obstacles to pay much attention to the sheer drop off to my side. And thus preoccupied, in a fairly short time I was half way down, and much more at ease. In the shadows, melting snow banks created some muddy areas, but nothing very challenging. It could have been a different story, and impassable, a few weeks earlier.



On Shafer Trail Road



Shafer Trail Road. Moab is beyond the distant cliffs.





The thrill of being off-road again was energizing. There was nothing technical about this ride, but it reminded me that it's still possible to experience "adventure riding" in the United States.



Overlooking the "Gooseneck" on the Colorado River



Descending from the cliffs in the background, this is taken on the "White Rim Sandstone" mesa


Shafer Trail connects to Potash Road, which leads to the mining camp of Potash. From there, the road is paved as it runs along the banks of the Colorado River. This stretch of the river appears much less popular, yet just as beautiful as the "Scenic Byway" east of Moab. I even had the opportunity to see dinosaur footprints! I was very tempted to camp along the river tonight. (There were plenty of sites available in campgrounds out here.)



Percolating ponds for the recovery of potassium salts (potash)



Dinosaur footprints! They're about half again as large as my hand. (Who finds these things?)



See?


Instead, I decided to go back to the Silver Sage Motel and spend another night in town. Went out to another popular restaurant this evening: Zax Pizza. Checking another item off the list, I tried the local Castle Creek 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is actually produced by the Red Cliffs Lodge. Very good - surprisingly so!

Once again this evening, people were lined up at the restaurants! It must be wild here in summer.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Moab and Arches National Park


Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah


Had to seal up the tent last night after I discovered the wind was depositing a layer of sand on everything inside.

Another chilly morning. I was eager to get moving before any officials discovered me.

A few miles from the camp, I came to the turn-off for the dramatic Fisher Towers. It took some effort to overcome the tendency to take all this in from the comfort of my motorcycle. For a change, I got off and went for a walk.

At the trailhead, I learned about the use of "cairns", small stacks of stones that mark trails. They're especially helpful in this "slickrock" country, where trails may traverse expanses of rock and there are no foot tracks to follow.









Group of climbers ascend Fisher Towers (left pinnacle)



"The Priest and Nuns"



The "Richardson Amphitheater" along Utah's Colorado Riverway



The Colorado River and Fisher Towers, Utah



Fisher Towers


I didn't intend to hike the entire 4.5-mile loop, but once I got out there, it was easy to just keep going. It took about three hours.

Along the river, I again took a look at the Red Cliffs Lodge and Sorrel River Ranch Resort. Just for fun, I inquired about a room. There were no vacancies. But if there were, they would be in the "over $150" range. Ouch.



Red Cliffs Lodge (and vineyard!) near Moab, Utah


Driving in towards Moab, there seemed to be more traffic heading away, than towards the town. This offered hope that I'd have better luck finding a hotel room today.

Went to the Peace Tree Juice Cafe for lunch: a "Club Wrap", smoothie and pumpkin bread. It felt "healthy" (at least compared to my usual diet.)

There were many rooms available in town, so I wandered around, comparing prices and viewing rooms. Eventually decided on the Silver Sage, which seems to be constructed of modular units. It advertises "affordable rates".

It wasn't the cheapest room, but in talking with the owner, Ben, who immigrated from Pakistan, I felt a sympathetic soul. He had given up the corporate life to follow his dream, in this case, of owning his own small business. He said he loves it.

Decided to visit Arches National Park, just north of Moab. With only about three hours until the park closed, it would be a push, but at least I could get in, look around, and see if I wanted to return tomorrow.

The ranger at the entrance told me to drive carefully. "There are a lot of cars up there!" Indeed, the park is so accessible from Interstate 70 and Moab, it must be one of the more heavily-visited National Parks.

The hike earlier today tempered my enthusiasm for any further exploration afoot, so when I reached the parking area for Delicate Arch, perhaps the park's most-recognized icon, and learned it was a three-mile round-trip hike, I was not too thrilled.

Classified as an easy-to-moderate walk, by this time I was finding it anything but easy, my feet complaining loudly. But, yes, it was worth it. Such landscapes are truly unique and powerful. And getting out for a walk in the fresh air is always rewarding. In fact, I stayed longer than I expected, leaving only as the sun was setting behind western mountains.



Arches National Park, with the La Sal Mountains in the background. The tall peak in the right center is Mt. Tukuhnikivats, mentioned often in Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire.


Back at the motel, I checked in with Fox News to get all the latest on Debra La Fave, Natalee Holloway and the Duke University lacrosse team suspected of gang rape.

I asked Ben to recommend a restaurant for dinner. He suggested the Moab Brewery, "within walking distance." It was perhaps half a mile, and in the cold evening air I caught myself grumbling, as I walked along the busy highway "this is 'just up the street'?"

This has to be the most popular restaurant in town. Both the restaurant and bar were full, with a 30- to 45-minute wait for a table. Inside it was rather like dining at an R.E.I. retail store, many of Moab's outfitters having set up displays in the restaurant: a cut-in-half Jeep in the entryway, a hang-glider suspended from the ceiling, mountain bikes, rafts and kayaks. ("Jeez! You gotta stop this negativity. You're always so critical!") Guess I was hungry.

I was able to "belly up to the bar" and enjoy a "Deadhorse Ale" while waiting for my name to be called. It was perhaps an hour later, and the evening was dying down, when I was finally seated. I think I may have been the last to be seated. There were numerous tables open now. The food, typical brew-pub fare, was not at all remarkable. Not worth the long wait.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cortez, Colorado to Moab, Utah


"Oak Tree House", Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado


Outside my motel room this morning, a group gathered around the bike. A family from Arkansas, the father has (he thinks) an R1100GS. His daughter said bluntly “you’re crazy!”

Nothing to eat. Left for Mesa Verde National Park about 10:00. It's 10 miles from Cortez to the park entrance, then 20 more in to the park's museum. The road climbs high atop a mesa with dramatic views in all directions.

Mesa Verde's museum is fascinating. I knew nothing of the Anasazi and Pueblo Indians. (During all those years in school, I don't think a minute was devoted to them!) This region thrived as the "Ancestral Pueblo" Indian homeland from 1100 to 1300 A.D.

Exhibits show the clothing, pottery, utensils, tools, weapons, foodstuffs, habitations and art of these Indians. I was amazed at their resourcefulness and ingenuity. And what some would term a "barren landscape" provided most of the raw materials (though a robust trade with other Indian nations introduced some new materials and "technologies".)

Early generations hunted with an "atlatl", a remarkable device that allowed a spear to be thrown with greater force. (It was later replaced by the bow and arrow.)

Not all the roads were open in the park, and some cliff dwellings that are normally accessible were closed today. The roads follow the mesa's edge, below which are found entire villages built into the cliffs.



"Cliff Palace", Mesa Verde National Park


In the early days, the Indian villages were constructed on top of the mesa, but were eventually moved to the cliffs to better defend against attackers. No one knows for certain why they were abandoned about 1300 A.D., but it may have been a result of crop failures. (The cliff dwellers had continued to farm the mesa top.)

Returning to Cortez, I went to Denny’s for a meal, arriving alongside a couple from Farmington, New Mexico riding a Harley. They were formerly of Maine. What a difference! On the way in, the the woman asked "do you want to join us?" For reasons unknown, I declined. My standard Denny's meal was sub-par here. I knew I should have tried a "local" restaurant!

Left Cortez, bound for Monticello, Utah, retracing about 35 miles of highway I had driven yesterday. It was a chilly crossing through the high country, past Dove Creek, a thick blanket of cloud sweeping in from the west. I looked forward to coming down off these mesas! Monticello, Utah is still in high country, on the eastern slopes of 11,000-foot Abajo Peak. It's another town I've been through (a couple of times) in the past, of which I have little recollection. (Though I think I remember it raining here!)

Turned north toward Moab, the wind now at my back. The red rock country scenery along this stretch is amazing. Traffic also amazing! "Where do all these people come from?"

The air grew noticeably warmer as the highway descended toward Moab. A welcome relief.


7:30 PM

Camped along the Colorado River, about 30 miles east of Moab. In 1971, I traveled through here with Drew. We camped along this remote stretch of river. (I think he even went skinny dipping.)

Today, it is designated a “Scenic Byway” (in his honor?) and there are campgrounds filled with tents and motorhomes, boat launching sites, resorts (including the Red Rock Adventure Lodge) and even a vineyard! I guess the designation is better than leaving the land entirely to private development.

Moab is a zoo! Nothing like when I passed through over thirty years ago. Expedition and adventure shops, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking. Hotels are completely filled, There’s an extreme outdoor event, unicycle championship, rodeo and volleyball championship this weekend.

The streets and sidewalks are bustling with outdoorsy-looking people. It's Spring Break for many Colorado students. Cars, trucks and SUVs cruise the highway through town, loaded with bicycles, hauling motorcycles and ATVs in trailers, rooftop racks hold kayaks.

I stopped only long enough to get the hotel situation and fill up on gas.



Campsite on the banks of the Colorado River, east of Moab, Utah


I’m camping illegally, not in a campground. I found a sandy road down the riverbank, branching into several trails leading up and down river. After setting up the tent, I unpacked the stove  and cooked some Thai noodles. I think I’m still using the original isobutane canister (which suggests how rarely I cook!) The noodles and some raw cashews were dinner.

In a narrow canyon with vertical red rock walls, it's a fantastic landscape, even more dramatic than I remember. This is much better than camping along a railroad track! The sound of the river is like a lakeshore, waves lapping over rocks. The atmosphere breezy and dry. I look out and contemplate all this powerful river is subjected to before it finally trickles into the Sea of Cortez.

Durango to Cortez, Colorado, the long way round


Silverton, Colorado


Up at 8:00. Not very motivated.

All breakfasts are not created equal. Hotels play with the meaning of the words "hot breakfast" (as opposed to "Continental Breakfast"). Here, the "hot" stands for a pre-packaged "breakfast burrito" and some oatmeal. Marginal quality at the "Quality Inn".

Called Drew and Jeff last night. Used my 500-minute "Wal-Mart" card. The only downside, you have to listen to "Wal-Mart" commercials every time you dial. But it's pre-paid, and there's a tendency to be more careful with the money that way.

Drew suggested I have the material for a book. It seems such a stretch, to go from a blog to a book! They are very different phenomena. The former being so casual, spontaneous and, more likely, uninformed and subjective (at least in the present example.)

Jeff, suffering from bronchitis, is taking some time off work. Something he rarely does.

Today, I wanted to go for a long, scenic drive up U.S. 550 through the towns of Silverton and Ouray, over to Telluride, then back to Cortez, finishing in the vicinity of Mesa Verde National Park.

Silverton and Ouray are towns that my mother and stepfather visited long ago and "fell in love with." At one point, I think they even invested in land there.
I wanted to see what inspired them so.

Traffic was light today, but I still had to be very cautious. Sand and gravel a common feature in the mountain roadways. The route going north took me over three significant passes, all around 11,000 feet.

Mark Knopfler's "Silvertown Blues" played in my head.

The few ski resorts along the way were fairly quiet today. Higher up, snowmobile tracks crossed snow-covered meadows. I wondered about the balancing of individual rights. Where does the right of one person to a pristine mountain view end, and the right of another to explore on their snowmobile begin? To be sure, it is a much different landscape once it is opened to snowmobiling.



Near Molas Pass, Colorado. It's getting more difficult to find pristine landscapes. Here, snow mobiles carve up the slopes. (Tracks even led over the snow-covered ledge in center of this photo!)


Both Silverton and Ouray preserve the character of 19th century mining towns, each nestled in beautiful, deep mountain valleys. They were pretty sleepy today, but I imagine as soon as the snow melts, they will become bustling tourist destinations.

In contrast, Telluride is clearly a year-round resort. It has the charming old downtown business district, but also new homes, condos and resorts. Definitely a more affluent clientèle here, the streets crowded with young people taking a break from the ski slopes.



Downtown Telluride, Colorado Damn artists! Always blocking traffic. (Just kidding.)


Walking around town, something was odd. "Where are all the theaters?" Inside a jewelry store, I asked a salesman "what connection does Robert Redford have with Telluride?"

"None really."

"Didn't he help start the film festival?

"That's Sundance."

"Of course."

All along I had been thinking I was coming to the town famous for its film festival. It was the music festival that planted Telluride in my memory.

Leaving Telluride, and driving for thirty minutes or so, I began to sense something was wrong. I pulled off onto the shoulder and looked at the map. I was heading west toward Utah, rather than south toward Cortez. Not wishing to retrace my path, I chose to continue on the "wrong road" until it intersected state highway 141, which would eventually lead me back toward Cortez.

This route would add about 50 miles, but it avoided another 10,000-foot pass, which, in the late afternoon, was probably not a bad thing.

Actually, I enjoyed the ride quite a bit, as it carried me over a remote high mesa. I passed few other vehicles. The air was cold, with snow on ground. But it was the deer that were my primary concern. Lots of them! This land is part of a wildlife preserve.

Skirting south along the Colorado-Utah border, I began to return to civilization. Farming country, and beans appear to be the primary crop: Anasazi and Pinto beans.

Reached Cortez around nightfall and settled on the first motel I came to: "9 National Motel" on the downtown strip. At $33, it was reasonable, similar to hotels I've been in outside the U.S., but with TV!

Dinner tonight at "Nero's", conveniently located next door to the motel. With over half an hour wait to be seated, I put my name on the waiting list and returned to my room.

Came back and still had a long wait. Then I felt I was being punished, seated at a small table in an alcove near the front door, isolated from any other diners. "What is this?" I spend enough time alone on the bike. When I get off, I like to be among other humans! I asked to change tables. The only other table available was in the small bar. Not much of an improvement. But I took my cue from a sign behind the bar: "no sniveling".

The chicken fettucini was worth the wait and a glass of "Colombia Crest" 2003 "Two Vines" Shiraz was soothing. Followed up with one of my special coffee nightcaps, with "Bailey's" and "Gran Marnier".

I handed the server $40 to pay the $27 bill.

"Do you need change?"

"I would hope so."

In Austin, at the "Magnolia Cafe", I handed the server a $50-bill to pay the tab. The same question: "do you want change back?"

***

Minor irritations, if allowed to accumulate, can really wear a traveler down. And I've permitted several to accumulate. On the bike, the front tire wobble and slow air leak, the worn clutch and warped front brake discs. And my body: a knot above the right shoulder blade frequently releases sharp, painful jabs. And my weight is back up, clothes tightening. Then there's the back-log of notes and the pressure to complete that task. All conspire to gradually fatigue mind and body.

There is no escaping it. In order to continue, you must continually attack weaknesses and address irritations, as soon as they're noticed. Alone much of the time, the defects are easy to see. Failure to act will drive you mad.

***

Memories of Central and South America are dreamlike. Was it another person who took that trip?

Despite what I've been through, I found myself (pardon the expression) "driving like an old lady" today. Sand and gravel had me creeping around mountain curves. At the Red Mountain Pass scenic turn-out, I nearly fell over when stopping in snow. And then in Telluride, while parking, I backed toward the sidewalk and my rear tire came to rest on ice in the gutter. When I tried to pull away, the tire just spun. A passerby came to my rescue, pushing me off from the curb.

***

Watched the "Tonight Show", enjoying some laughs, all the while mindful of my comments about us Americans being distracted. I was thinking about the history of the "Tonight Show" and recalling the Johnny Carson days, when it was a 90-minute show. Before the "sound-bite" era. There was much more time to build a rapport with guests.

Neko Case and her band were on the show for roughly three minutes. All the effort that goes into arranging such a performance, only to culminate in a three-minute performance!

To bed about 2:00 a.m., a common pattern lately.