Friday, October 27, 2006

Kanab, Utah to Henderson, Nevada

At Laid-Back Larry’s in Kanab, Utah, Lottie and Valerie, mother and daughter, serve up coffee and just the right amount of abuse to make you feel part of the family

Rustling outside woke me at 7:00, the sun already up and shining brightly. Looked at the motel clock. Oh, it’s 8:00 here. (A few miles south in Arizona, it’s 7:00.)

Such a glorious morning, it’s criminal to be inside (and from the swiftness with which others are leaving, the message seems clear.)

Kanab is known as “K-town” by the locals.

I checked out around 10:00 and went off to look at the three coffee shop options the motel manager told me about. Passed Laid-Back Larry’s. Pulled over at Willow Canyon Outdoor. Went in to see if Charlie was there (or more importantly, his attractive business partner.) A young lady was working the counter this morning, so I decided to try someplace new. Drove out to the east end of town, refueled, then returned to Laid-Back Larry’s, a new espresso stand that seemed to be operating on very limited capital.

But inside, I found a cast of jovial local characters. "Valerie", who is one of the owners, her sister, her brother-in-law, and another local fellow in a cowboy hat. Some of the customers driving up to the take-out window also seemed to be related. And a while later, Valerie's mother "Lottie" arrived to work behind the counter. The family came here from Reno.

The sister and brother-in-law ride Kawasaki motorcycles, so we talked briefly before they had to leave for St.George. Then I sat down next to the guy in the hat. Learned he had moved here from San Francisco four years ago.

Learned a bit about the local politics. It’s an LDS community, with the leadership entirely LDS members. (LDS, Latter Day Saints, Mormons, also known as a cult) The mayor ran unopposed and was elected with just over 300 votes (out of 5,000 registered voters.) In January, the city council adopted a “natural family resolution”

According to a June 24, 2006 Los Angeles Times article:

The resolution described the natural family as man and woman, duly married "as ordained of God," with hearts "open to a full quiver of children." The council decreed that such households are to be treasured as "the locus of the true common good," a bulwark against crime, delinquency, drug abuse and worse.

With rousing (if not always grammatical) rhetoric, the council promised to do all it could to promote the natural family: "We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, home-builders, and fathers…. We look to a landscape of family homes, lawns, and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children."

"The Natural Family: A Vision For the City of Kanab" did not originate here. It was written in Salt Lake City by Paul Mero, president of a conservative think tank called the Sutherland Institute.

And I learned about local taxes: this resident’s appraisal went from $6,000 last year to $24,000 this year – for a section of unusable canyon. Grievances similar to those of Americans around the country.

A man walked in, probably in his early 40s, and it was immediately clear he was not from "these parts". “What does a person have to do to get some coffee around here?” he said with a strong New York City accent. But he was familiar to everyone and was told to help himself to coffee behind the counter. He turned to me. “If I said that in New York, they’d throw something at me.”

He’s an electrician who lives with his girlfriend “down a dirt road” half-way between Mount Carmel Junction and Zion. He “wired skyscrapers for twenty years”.

He suggested I should stop in Springdale for lunch, at the western entrance to Zion, and ask for the “local discount”.

For the first time in a while, I was able to go without the electric vest and fleece today. In the 60s still, but warming.

In the distance, a glimpse of an awesome land, Zion National Park

My first glimpse of Zion, probably thirty miles distant, the crowns of a few of its landmark domes rising out of and distinct from the surrounding terrain, hinted at a magical hidden landscape.

Near Zion National Park's eastern entrance

At the park entrance, I paid the $10 (motorcycle) entry fee, but the ranger said I wouldn't be able to drive into the main canyon. "You must take the shuttle. Come back Monday and we’ll let you drive into the canyon.” During the summer season, and other high traffic times, personal vehicles are not allowed.

So, just beyond the park entrance, for the $10 fee, we get to wait 20 minutes at a construction zone. The cars backed up. A diesel stopped behind me, idling and spewing its sickening fumes. I pulled out of the line and drove back up the road to a quieter place to wait. Found a spot from which I could still observe the line, so that I wouldn't miss the opening through the construction zone.

I turned the delay to my advantage. By purposely going to the rear of the line, and taking my time through the series of incredible tunnels that introduce you to Zion, I could wander leisurely, pull over at the tunnel "portholes" to look at the view through the canyon wall, knowing the next crowd of vehicles was 20 minutes behind.

Inside Zion National Park

Even without the construction delay, there are normally delays at the tunnel because it is not large enough to accommodate two-way truck and “land yacht” traffic. So when one of those huge motor homes comes along, the traffic pattern has to be altered to one-way. Just another example of Americans pursuing their own self-interest, oblivious to the impact on others. (Can you tell these "whales on wheels" are a sore point for me?)

Autumn has come to the valley. People are flocking to the pockets of color to take pictures, especially of the aspens with their brilliant yellow-gold foliage.

Springdale is a community that has sprung up around tourism. It hardly existed when I last passed this way. Just off the main street, I found Café Oscar. It looked interesting, if expensive. I overheard a server tell three Hispanic women to my right “I gave you the local discount.” I smiled knowingly.

When she came to take my order, I mentioned what the New Yorker had told me.

“Where do you live?”

“A long way from here.”

She laughed and walked away.

Two women took the vacated table next to me. Looking at the menu, one commented in shock “they’ve really raised their prices!”

I had ordered a bleu cheese and bacon hamburger. It was perhaps the worst-cooked burger in memory. Ate half of it – I really tried. Reluctantly, I told the server. "I’m not trying to get a discount…” Trying to hide her annoyance, she deducted 20% from the bill. (A more responsive server would have refused to charge me.) A disappointing experience, since I felt this place had such potential. The beer, a local “Springdale Amber” was actually the highlight of the meal.

Thought about the concept of treating tourists and locals differently. Not sure that I like the assumption that tourists can more readily afford higher prices, and should thus be screwed (essentially subsidizing the locals.)

Continuing the longest autumn of my life, the austere landscape outside Zion National Park is softened by the rich foliage. This scene is along the Virgin River near Springdale, Utah.

Down the canyon to the west, I found even St. George has a Cracker Barrel now! They're getting closer! Seeing all the development and congestion, my mood rapidly deteriorated. St. George was a small town the last time I passed this way. Now it is sprawling suburbia, a production-line, carbon-copy imitation of thousands like it around this country. It speaks to the dullness, the laziness, the ignorance and lack of creativity that so characterizes our society now. (I know, my enthusiasm about "Cracker Barrel" is just a symptom of this malaise.)

For a change of scenery, I decided to travel the "back way" to Janie and Otto's house in Henderson. I took the Logandale-Lake Mead exit off I-15. At first I thought it a mistake, as I passed by all the people towing boats, stocking up on beer at convenience stores, ready to "party on the lake." It's a manifestation of society I don’t care for. Ugly and wasteful. But it's a beautiful drive through the magnificent desert terrain of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The only unsightly thing is that large man-made reservoir out there!

The Las Vegas Bay and Lake Las Vegas developments at the western fringe of this recreation area are literally an obscenity. Man-made lakes, fountains, lawns, lush artificial landscapes, golf courses. The heedless waste of Colorado River water, in the middle of this desert is the absolute height of human ignorance. I emerge from the mountains and descend into this madness, and it feels like I have been spiritually bludgeoned. And within minutes, I'm in solid urban congestion.

Around 5:00 p.m., I reached Janie and Otto’s house, still on the relatively peaceful southern fringes of Henderson. Janie prepared a delicious fettuccine with meatballs.

In honor of my visit, she opened a ’96 Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that had probably cost $30 seven or eight years ago, which they had "cellared" for years, and which should have been wonderful. Instead, it was "corked" (tainted by "TCA" from a bad cork.) "That sucks! They need to use screw caps for the best wines, dammit!" (In the final years at Mondavi, I was perpetually lobbying for the use of screwcaps. This after years of trying to help find solutions to various cork problems that impact wine quality.)

This evening, I was "spaced out". The past week was catching up with me, I think. The weather has taken its toll.

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