Thursday, July 21, 2011

GAWA2011, Day 14: The Last Chapter

By the time the last day of our trip was upon us, we had become so lethargic that the thought of putting effort into the day was nearly beyond us. We drove about half an hour before we found ourselves at a neighborhood Starbucks, sipping iced coffees and killing time before our first meet-up of the day.

Early afternoon found us knocking on the door of my coffee-swilling, book-devouring, conversationally-enhanced, plotty-fingered friend Marie. Don't get me wrong: we had a great visit! But if I were to go back, here are a few things I would change.

  1. We would have exchanged secret code words before she opened the front door.
  2. There would have been an explosion of some sort.
  3. We would have taken pictures jumping off her cat. Or her son. (I'm not picky on the details.... but there would have been pictures.)
And that's about it! Other than those elements, it was a perfect visit, including fresh coffee, a spirited discussion of the works of one Connie Willis, a visitation from His Fourthness, and a dialogue that rocketed around like nobody's business. Unfortunately, it was a short visit, since Alissa and I were due in San Diego for an early dinner with yet more friends.

Late afternoon found us checking into the Vagabond Inn on Mission Boulevard and preparing for a night out. As the afternoon hours passed, I became increasingly giddy as I anticipating hanging out with one of my favorite friends, ever.

<3 Dreaming

Dreah and I first met in China in 2004, and since my return to the United States the following year, we've been blessed to see each other at least once a year since then. Interestingly, we don't always plan to meet up, but with the way that we both travel, we wind up being in the same place at the same time more than you would anticipate. Incidentally, Dreah is also the unwitting catalyst to the entire Great American West Adventure: had I not gone out to her wedding in San Diego in May of 2010, Alissa and I would never have started talking about the San Diego Rock n' Roll Marathon, and then where would we be?! It doesn't bear thinking!

ANYWAY. Dreah and her husband Matt met us for some mouth-watering Mexican food in Old Town. Since we all had to be up early the next day, we intended to have an early dinner and make it an early night, but we there was just so much to talk about, and we were having so much fun that we didn't tear ourselves away and make it back to the hotel until around 10:00pm. As quickly as we could, Alissa and I repacked our bags and laid out our clothes for the next morning.

Morning came quickly.

We were up by 4:00, dropped off the rental by 5:00, checked in with the airline by 6:00, and were in the air shortly after 7:00. Despite our early start, flying cross-country takes some time, not to mention the three hours we lost flying back.

All things said and done, it was dinner time by the time Alissa's boyfriend picked us up at the airport and started us north on I-95 for home.

* * * * *

And so it ended. Neither one of us stayed put for long, though. Alissa left a few days later for more summer travels in Pennsylvania, Maine, Ohio, and the Caribbean, while within forty-eight hours, I had driven 800+ miles up the eastern seaboard to Lynchburg, VA.

Although our summers were far from over, The Great American West Adventure 2011 had passed into the annals of history.

Tune in during the summer of 2012 as Ruth and Bethany head down across the equator to New Zealand, where all the seasons are backwards and people walk upside-down!

Until then, here's hoping Ruth finds something else to blog about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

GAWA2011, Day 13: Winding Down

Waking up in a cheap motel may be more depressing than falling asleep in one. Trying carefully not to wake up Alissa, I eased into the bathroom and prepared to take a shower. The bad lighting, the yellowed walls, the bathroom window (ground-level) having no curtains, merely opaque glass and a mesh screen with dead bugs trapped in it... I had flashbacks to those summers at camp and the terrible, spider-infested bathhouses a stone's throw from our cabin.

That's one positive thing I have to say for our stay in San Luis Opisbo: there were no spiders.

Before eight o'clock, we had all of our gear loaded into the Beetle and were prepared to strike out for Los Angeles. Munching granola bars, we once again headed south, increasingly battling traffic as we neared our destination.

Moments before pulling off the interstate into the downtown Hollywood area, we observed an expensive black sports car cutting back and forth frantically across multiple lanes of traffic without either slowing down or signaling. The driver seemed unaware that there were other cars on the road. Unfortunately, having visited the area before, I knew that this was par for the course.

After installing the Beetle in a high-rise parking garage, we hit the streets of Hollywood: Mann's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, the cheesy gift shops, all of it.

Along the way, I bumped into an old friend.

Come Fly with Me

Neither one of us is particularly interested in celebrities, so in under two hours, we'd had our fill of crowded sidewalks, edifices of old theaters, pushy salesmen hawking their own "Star Tour!", etc. Near where we'd parked the car, we found a little outdoor table at a California Pizza Kitchen. While happily soaking in the mild warmth of the sun, we munched down our lunch and took in some of the best people watching of the trip.

Our lunch view:


Since Alissa had expressed a keen desire to drive through Beverly Hills, we hopped back into the Beetle and headed down Santa Monica Boulevard. Along the way, we were nearly blinded by huge rainbow flags flapping in the medians and festooning local businesses. We actually saw a store that touted itself as the "GAYEST STORE ON EARTH!!!"

If you're not sure what the big deal is about Beverly Hills, then see here for a glimpse of some of the explosions of opulence that pass as real estate. We found in our experience, however, that a self-guided automotive tour of the area leaves much to be desired. In the first place, why would people build such beautiful homes only to hide them behind ridiculously tall hedges? The least they could do for the curious would be to screen-print a floor plan of the house on the front of the hedge so that gawping tourists would at least have something to update their Facebook statuses with other than "I saw the bushes outside Tom Cruise's house!!!" In the second place, some people were driving their novelty sports cars and mammoth SUV's like idiots.

One good thing did happen, though. Alissa saw a sign for Bel-Air, allowing a new song to supplant the one that we'd had stuck in our heads ever since first deciding to drive through Beverly Hills.

After crawling out of LA and its environs at turtle speed, we escaped to a nearby Holiday Inn in Garden Grove. Both of our dirty laundry bags had reached critical mass, requiring immediate attention. After I snarled up the washer/drier in the Guest Laundry room by inserting the quarters incorrectly (seriously, who does that?), we weighed our dinner options.1 Since our hotel was a stone's throw from the Disney theme park, we did not lack for restaurant choices. We had, however, decided to try our luck at a regional fast-food chain. We picked up a late dinner to go at Carl's Jr. and devoured it back in our room. (My rating: fair.)

Showered and bundled up in our clean jammies, we snuggled down (in our separate beds, of course) to watch a little TV and enjoy the relative comfort of staying in a decent hotel room.
1 - All told, I had to visit the reception desk three times in my attempt to do laundry. Once when I had to purchase laundry soap, once when I put the quarters in wrong and needed assistance, and once when I needed more change to get the dryer started. The receptionist probably thought I was mentally handicapped by the time it was all over.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GAWA2011, Day 12: Big Sur

The plan had never actually included an all-out tour of San Francisco. The only real items on our list were a fervent desire not to experience an earthquake and a wish to take some jumping pictures from the observation station near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The good news is that there were no earthquakes.

Tourist Ruth Visits the Golden Gate Bridge

The bad news is that California weather decided to be uncooperative. When we left the hotel in the morning, we were convinced that the fog would either blow over or be burnt away by the sun in the time it would take us to drive to the bridge. It did not. If anything, the fog thickened in direct proportion to our proximity to the water. By the time we reached the observation center, we could actually observe distinct billows of fog blowing across the parking lot.

The good news is that we succeeded in not accidentally driving across the bridge, as we'd been convinced that we would do, and we did not therefore have to pay the toll. Instead, we redirected the Beetle for the day's next planned stop: CA Route 1, aka The Pacific Coast Highway. And the highway isn't technically a stop, since you drive on it, but you know what I mean.

After a brief incident in which we stopped at a small town in which none of the gas stations seemed to be in working order, we were driving along the coast, eagerly anticipating the promised stunning views.

Soon, we found ourselves in the vicinity of Big Sur. We stopped briefly to pick up some food, since I had found that hiking sounds much more enticing if one has sandwiches to eat at the end of the trail.

We wound our way through the dark coolness of towering sequoias and found the entrance to Big Sur State Park.

Feeling Small

The entrance to our trail of choice sported two signs: one an admonition to the hiker to help prevent the death of oak trees (rather a large responsibility to foist upon day visitors, if you were to ask me) and one a warning about mountain lions. Apparently these beasts don't like to be sneaked up upon, have been known to snatch people off the trails in order to eat and/or maul them, and are curiously attracted to small children. Neither of these signs made me more disposed to enjoy hiking.

The sign about mountain lions had recommended singing, talking loudly, and making plenty of noise along the trail so as not to surprise them and provoke an attack. As if I needed to be told.

Spirit of the Trees

After much winding up an down amongst the trees (and in one case, tripping over EVERYTHING, including the tripper's own feet), we reached an unimpressive waterfall, where we immediately dug into our backpacks and began scarfing down food.

Lunch spot

Keeping an eye on things

Mountain lions and nearly incessant tripping notwithstanding, we safely and successfully completed our hike, found where we'd parked the car, and pulled back onto Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately for me, it was my day to drive. As the breathtaking views along the coastal road undulated before us, Alissa looked out of her window and straight down sheer drop-offs with wonder as I gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled, and attempted to keep a billow of wind from sweeping our toy car over the side and down into the sea. Initially, I drove so slowly that people behind me were honking their horns.1

Once we were through the foggy peaks, I was able to unclench my hands from the steering wheel long enough to pull over at turnouts and take a few pictures. What you see here captures only a fraction of the raw beauty of this area of California.

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

Once through the Big Sur region, we continued to drive south along the coast, almost always in sight of the sea. Alissa's head lolled loosely against the headrest as she slept through the most tortuous part of the drive: a section of road called Ragged Point. At times, the road went down to one lane due to the other lane having been destroyed either by a rock slide or by a raging ocean wave washing it into the Pacific.

I've read that with its ballooning debt and bankrupt economy, California may not be able to keep Pacific Coast Highway in repair much longer. If you plan to drive it before you die (and you should), you should get out there within the next ten years before the rest of it crumbles into the sea. Cheery thought.

North of Los Ossos, we spotted a busy seaside parking area and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Along this cold, lonely stretch of beach, we discovered one of California's most interesting attractions.

Sunny California

Elephant Seals!


These blubbery mammoths alternately squelched around vigorously in the sand and behaved threateningly toward one another while emitting rude sounds, or they slept like the dead. Either way, we were immensely happy not to have visited during mating season.

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Since the air had grown chilled and the parking lot was full of Asian tourists and hippies, we did not linger.

It was colder than it looks

Alissa's friend Mitch--the one who had taken us out to dinner and then to the zoo in San Diego--was originally from the town where we planned to stay for the night, San Luis Obispo. He had told us that if we wanted to seem like locals, we would call it SLO. That seemed a bit rude, but hometown charm generally seems that way to outsiders. At any rate, Mitch had recommended that we eat dinner at his favorite restaurant, the Firestone Grill.

Our first order of business, though, was to find our hotel. I had been very excited to book this place, too, because the rates were extremely low and the hotel had a good service rating on whatever website I happened to be checking at the time. If I had any sort of wisdom whatsoever, I would have known that $30 a night was almost too good to be true.

It was. Our room, although large, was musty. The door had a flimsy lock (no deadbolt), one of the lamps was broken, and there were cigarette burns in the bed clothes. But the old Indian couple (India Indian, not Native American) who checked me in were so kind, and we were so tired, and I am so cheap (and I've stayed in much worse), that we decided to stay. We dumped our stuff in the room and walked the few blocks across town to the Firestone Grill.

Mitch had been right about that place: the food is excellent, and if you ever find yourself in that part of the country, you should try to make it there. Despite the good food and excellent people-watching venue we had while sitting outside on the patio, we were in a hurry to make it back to our skeezy motel before dark, since it was right along the freeway and we had walked.

Dusk found us settled in our musty room. Alissa had her phone clamped to her ear, talking to her bearded beanpole of a boyfriend, while I researched our adventures for the next day.

We only had two days left, and we were determined to make them good ones.
1 - I just need to stop going to places that require me to be high up in the air.

Friday, July 15, 2011

GAWA2011, Day 11: Miles and Miles

Dark clouds loomed ominously above Salt Lake City as we departed. We had approximately 740 miles to drive before our day would be done.

Shortly after leaving Salt Lake (shortly being used here as a relative term) we found ourselves driving through Utah's famous Bonneville Salt Flats. And lest you are in ignorance, as I was at the time, the salt flats have the following claims to fame:

  • Home to the Bonneville Speedway, where people go to drive really, really fast.
  • Where scenes from blockbusters such as Independence Day and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed.
  • Home to attractions such as the postmodern sculpture Metaphor of a Tree and little else. Except for salt.
  • This was the first pit stop that Alissa and I made on our all-day drive. We parked the car, walked a few feet out onto the flats, looked around, got back into the car, and kept driving. It was very exciting.
Bonneville Salt Flats

The rest of the day takes up little space in the memory banks. It was all a haze of driving, reading, driving, telling each other our deepest secrets, driving, hunting for rest stops, driving, and driving.

California Trail!

Part-way through the drive, we passed Battle Mountain, NV. The residents of this town are so thrilled that their collection of buildings qualifies as a Census Designated Place that they celebrated by marking their community in a memorable fashion not likely to be missed from the freeway. I don't know anyone from Nevada, but I know BM is short for in Florida youth culture, and I can't imagine the sort of people who would emblazon this above their community... unless they were trying to be ironic.

Battle Mountain

There were worse places to be from, I suppose. We passed a sign for "Lovelock, NV." Saucy.

We passed from Utah to Nevada, then from Nevada over the Sierra Nevadas and down into California. As we drove through the Lake Tahoe district and spotted signs for Donner Pass, Alissa and I resurrected the old what-would-you-do and who-would-you-eat debate. We decided that neither of us would be worth it: Alissa would be too chewey, and I don't carry enough meat.


By the time we arrived in San Francisco, we were heartily tired of being in the red Beetle. To compound our frustration, we nearly ran out of fuel before we found a gas station, the GPS got confused and took us through the airport parking lot to find our hotel, the toilet in our hotel room did not flush, and we wound up at a sticky-tabled IHOP for dinner.

But there were bright sides to our evening in SanFran. The hotel staff fixed our toilet issue while we were out to dinner. Nearly all of the other hotel guests were Chinese, causing one of us to feel right at home. Best of all, we were only a few miles away from our morning destination: hitting the Golden Gate Bridge before driving down the Coast through Big Sur.

Only a few days of our trip remained, and we planned to enjoy them to the fullest extent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Ten: Jumping with the Mormons

We arrived in Salt Lake City around noon, just in time to locate a Chick-fil-A and tank up on our first good chicken since leaving the Southeast. All morning long during the drive, Alissa had been obsessing about snowy mountains, and from where we sat at a window booth, we were afforded a tantalizing glimpse of the snow-capped peaks surrounding the city. "I want to go up into the snowy mountains," she repeated dreamily for the umpteenth time that day.

The girls in the booth behind us, obviously oblivious that they could be overheard, carried on a loud-toned conversation about their personal lives, which included this tantalizing exchange:

"What ever happened to Mark?"

"Oh, you know."

"I thought he was really into you!"

"Me too! And then he hooked up with a dude."

And then this gem:

"I just need to stop dating Mormon missionaries. Like, seriously."

Speaking of Mormons, since it's impossible to turn around in Salt Lake City without bumping into one, we figured that it would be silly of us to visit the area without checking out the Mormon Temple downtown. We parked a few blocks away, fed change into the meter, and strolled up clean streets toward Temple Square. Along the way we observed outdoor speed chess matches, carried on a lively exchange with some construction works (who offered us their helmets for our protection), and attempted to give directions to some other tourists. (Seriously, I get asked for directional help all the time when I'm traveling. I shudder to think how many people I have inadvertently misdirected.)

In due time, we arrived at our destination.

Salt Lake Temple

We ambled through the peaceful, well-appointed grounds, enjoying the sun on our shoulders while witnessing the spectacle of dozens of wedding parties waiting for their turn in the Temple.

Temple Square

Temple Square

We also took self-guided tours of the various welcome centers. I've never seen more Brigham Young University apparel in one place as I did on the Temple campus!

Suffer the Little Children

On our walk back to the car, we stopped in at a local coffee and used-book shop that we'd passed earlier in the day. Although I'd committed myself to buy nothing on the trip, I still enjoyed a quick wander amongst the well stocked shelves. There may or may not have been some coveting taking place in the rare book room, but in due time we exited the shop and arrived back at the little red Beetle with a few minutes to spare on the meter.

Our lodgings for the night--another Motel 6--was a complete dump just off a freeway. When we stopped in at a sketchy Rite-Aid down the road to purchase shampoo, we were just in time to witness the store clerk calling the cops on a customer. "I'm so glad we're staying in the good part of town," one of us commented dryly.

Back at the hotel, we showered up (hooray, shampoo!) and got ready to meet our hosts for the evening: Rick and his family.

I don't remember when Rick and I started being Flickr buddies, but I do know what brought us together: a mutual love of jump shots! After a year or two of favoriting each other's jumping pictures, I knew that a visit to Salt Lake would not be complete without some jumping with Rick! The only problem was that not only had we never met in person, but I had no contact with anybody else who had ever met him. Generally when I meet up with people from online, we already have mutual friends who can confirm that the party in question is reasonably sane and safe.

Furthermore, Rick had hospitably offered to pick us up at our hotel, take us out to dinner, and then drive us somewhere for jump shots afterward. However, I haven't read tons of true crime books for nothing: "He says he's bringing his wife," I told Alissa. "If he shows up alone, we're not getting in the car."

He didn't show up alone: he showed up with his wife and two fresh-faced college-aged kids, grinning happily at us from the back seat of the family SUV. Surely they're not all in on it, I assured myself as I tripped climbed up into their vehicle and buckled my safety belt.

It turns out that we had a lot more in common to talk about than jumping. Over a delicious Chinese dinner, we discussed photography, travel, culture, education, and mutual jumping friends. The entire family was well-spoken, fun, and full of good conversation. We probably would have sat for hours talking if we hadn't been so concerned with losing the evening light. As it was, we packed down dinner, trotted back out to the parking lot, and took off for the hills.

"I want to take you guys up the mountains into the snow for some jumps," Rick glanced into the rear-view mirror at us as he gunned it through a yellow light. Alissa's eyes got big with excitement. My eyes got big because the voice of Ann Rule whispered in the back of my mind that perhaps they were all in on it and had just been fattening us up before driving us out of town to--


At any rate, we zoomed up the mountain quickly, chatting and fighting car-sickness (although that last one may just have been me). Along the way, we screeched to a halt in the middle of the road so that Alissa and I could gawk at a mangy moose ambling through the trees along the side of the road.

Soon we were jumping!

We jumped so high our heads are out of the frame!

I'm not sure what to call this!


Alissa silhouette jump

In addition to jumping, we decided that Alissa and I--who both currently live in Florida--needed some pictures in the snow. What followed was predictably awkward. Alissa, with feet clad in flimsy flip-flops, went slipping around in the snow while I apparently had a moment in which I was convinced that I was a fashion model.

I never knew standing still for a photo would be so hard!

Work It

As the sun came down over the mountains and the night air chilled, we piled back into the truck and made our way back down into Salt Lake. Along the way, we discussed history, travel, and religion. Rick's family also very graciously answered some questions and elaborated on the finer points of Mormonism. Once back at the Motel 6, we said fond goodbyes to our new friends and attempted to lock ourselves safely in for the night.

As we climbed into bed, we could hear the floorboards above us creaking ominously every time our upstairs neighbors made a move. "What if their entire bed comes crashing down and kills us in the middle of the night?" Alissa asked me just before we dropped off to sleep.

"Then it's been nice knowing you," I told her.

* * * *

Incidentally, it is down to Rick and AKB and I finally have a decent picture together. Thanks, buddy! Remember what we said about Florida! You're welcome any time.

Alissa and Ruth

Monday, July 11, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Nine: So Delicate

For the first time since San Diego, we were staying somewhere for more than one night. That meant that waking up and getting ready for the day did not require a mad scramble to jumble together all of our belongings and mash them back into our suitcases in hopes that everything would zip tight again.

Something else that staying in Moab did not require was using shampoo. That's right, you heard me correctly: using shampoo. In my infinite wisdom, I'd advised Alissa that there would be no need to bring shampoo and conditioner in our already over-packed carry-on bags when hotels generally provide them anyway.... the keyword in the aforementioned sentence being generally. It turns out that the Motel 6 chain does not provide those simple amenities. They did, however, provide bar soap, which had an interesting affect on my bouffant... to say the least.

At any rate, what with staying in the same hotel more than one night, one would think we slept in and made the most of not having a checkout time. One would be wrong. We decided instead to make the most of being less than a mile from the entrance to Arches National Park by getting up in time to catch the sunrise. Well, most of it.

In retrospect, we were glad in the end to have arrived at the park just after daybreak, since driving into the park requires maneuvering a series of graded switchbacks, both unlit and unguarded. Fortunately, it was Alissa's day to drive. I helped her by clutching frenziedly at the the armrest and pushing my feet against the floorboards in an effort to keep the car in the lane. It must have worked, because we made it safely into the park.

Once inside, we realized that in coming to Arches at sunrise, we'd made one of our best travel decisions to date. Not only was there no charge for vehicles entering at that time of the morning (I know, right?!), but for at least the first two hours, we had the run of the roads, trails, and sites without seeing another living soul. Unless jackrabbits, lizards, and deer count.

Sunrise at Arches

Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light

We walked the path to Windows Arch, watch the sun bathe the landscape in color, and munched down granola in the peaceful stillness of dawn.

Window Arch

Breakfast View

We also saw a rock formation that looked like half of a cat face:

Half-Cat-Face Arch

A bit later, we sloshed through the sand to the appropriately-named Sand Arch, feeling decidedly Indiana Jonesesque (although this wasn't the arch where Indy scenes were shot... but still):

Temple of Doom

Our last activity of the morning involved a long trek out to Broken Arch and a bit beyond.

The Trail to Broken Arch


Right atcha!

Alissa's Arch Jump

While on the trail, we chatted easily about the trip, nature, life, and our mutual disappointment in not yet seeing any bighorn sheep. We imagined looking up to see one posing majestically along a rocky outcropping, hooves together and head up proudly, silhouetted against the sky and radiating power like a monarch on his throne.

Well, that never happened. But we did see a deer. It was mildly invigorating.

Wildlife Encounter!!!

By 10:30am, we had come to the realization that granola would not be enough to get us through the day. We decamped from Arches for downtown Moab, hitting up the appropriately-if-unimaginatively-named Moab Diner for some brunch. While Alissa slathered over the pancakes, I opted for a perfectly seasoned breakfast skillet. Since the coffee far outclassed anything I'd had in the West thus far, and the food proved hot and tasty, those factors alone would have made our trip to the Moab Diner a success; however, we had the added benefit of observing what appeared to be a local ritual.

Apparently on one's middle school graduation day, the local custom is to visit the Moab Diner before the ceremony, dressed in fancy graduation clothes and sporting a home-made paper graduation cap. Teenybopper after teenybopper came shimmying through the glass doors dressed in sundresses, pretending not to notice the gawky boys who were variously arrayed in dress pants, untucked button-downs, and--in once case--in dress pants and a faded Run DMC t-shirt. The girls posed for snapshots, arms slung around each other's shoulders. The boys alternately lurked gawkily in corners or dashed in and out of the diner while laughing obnoxiously. (Really, all I needed to tell you was that there were middle school boys and girls in the restaurant and you would have been able to visualize this scenario quite easily on your own, I'm sure. But there you go.)

After napping through the hottest part of the afternoon, we arrived back at Arches late in the day, planning to attempt the difficult climb to Delicate Arch and stay up there until sunset.

The good news is that we made the climb, and both of us made it to the top, although one of us needed to take continual breaks and sometimes made little yippy panic noises when she had to walk beside sheer drop-offs.

Once at the top, I found a place to sit which felt relatively safe. The idea was to gather my courage before making my way over to the arch itself.

So delicate...?

The truth is that no matter how much gathering I attempted, I never made it over to the arch. As a matter of fact, the longer I stayed up at the top, the worse my nerves got. This had less to do with the dizzying heights and the dangers inherent in simply being at the top than it did with the behavior of the other tourists who arrived while we were up there. By and large, the foreign tourists minded their P's and Q's, hiking carefully around the rim and sitting well back from the edge. The Americans, however, stumbled and jumped around as if such things as gravity and the laws of physics did not apply to them. They clambered around awkwardly, sometimes not looking where they were going. One couple had brought their toddlers to the top. TODDLERS< not even with those tacky child leashes on. And that dad had a sling on one arm. At one point when his little daughter (distraught and crying... no wonder: she was probably exhausted from both a long day at the park and the ridiculous climb) tried to dart away from him, he yanked her up by one arm, sat down, threw her over his knee, removed his injured arm from it sling, and gave her several smacks on the bottom. At that point, she had a complete meltdown and began struggling to get away from him. I couldn't watch. Several times, people stumbled and nearly fell over the edge, and I am not even exaggerating. Alissa will back me up on this one (...if she even reads this, which is doubtful. Apparently my blog posts are "too long," but whatever).

Nowhere near sunset time, I'd already had enough. More and more people were arriving at the already-crowded summit, and disaster seemed imminent. I was not about to have my vacation ruined with the memory of watching an overweight, wheezing tourist topple over the side to his death.

Fortunately, heading down the path was much easier than heading up. And we did not come down empty; we brought with us several valuable memories, including:

  • Watching a group of scruffy twenty-something guys hassle a friend of theirs as he flirted with some teenage girls across the rim.
  • Experiencing the moment in which a chubby woman sitting on a rock behind us farted magnificently, the sound reverberating off the surrounding boulders. Her reaction was to laugh uproariously and lament that since her husband had just left to head back down the trail, she had nobody to blame it on. One of the twenty-somethings sitting about ten feet away turned and smiled at her. "It's okay," he said easily, "we're all tired scouts up here."
  • Witnessing three identically-dressed, vapid teen girls come around the corner from the trail and behold the Delicate Arch for the first time. The loudest of the three commented, "It's sooooooooooo delicate....? SO delicate," in the tone of voice which left the listener wondering if she knew what delicate meant.
After our descent from the Delicate Arch, we stopped by the Double Arch--where scenes from Indiana Jones were shot--before leaving the park, grabbing some dinner, and returning to our room to carb up, rest our feet, and (in one case) call our boyfriends.

Oh, and wash our hair with bar soap. Again.

See the full Arches set here

Friday, July 8, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Eight: Blood Is Here

Our morning began with a shock: we came down from our room to find that during the night, our car had been vandalized! Okay, not vandalized, exactly, but someone had doodled an unsettling message in the dust on the side of the car: blood is here. A note left under the windshield wiper reads as follows: Hi, my son wrote in the dirt on your car. I'm very sorry. In his defense, he's only 7. If there are any problems, my phone number is (....) Once again, I am very sorry. Um... two things to consider, ma'am: 1) In the time it took to write this note, your son could have been cleaning off the side of the car and learning a valuable lesson: namely, that he needs to clean up his own messes, and 2) Any seven-year-old who goes with BLOOD IS HERE as a default graffiti choice may need counseling.


In other news, two important events took place on this day: my mother had a birthday, and Alissa and I visited Canyonlands National Park: Islands in the Sky. Both events were equally exciting!

Canyonlands is a rugged and wild national park with limited services, few paved roads, and a plethora of rough-hewn trails leading to stunning overlooks at staggering heights. Pictures fail to capture the grandeur: one must experience it for himself.

Explorer Ruth at Canyonlands

Our first hike was an easy trek of a few miles out to Grand Viewpoint, a well-traveled and well-marked path that led to an artistic tumble of boulders that necessitated a bit of a climb at the end.

Before attempting the climb, Alissa and I rested in the shade of the rock pile, munching on a packed lunch of rolls, cheese, granola, and water. Once our energy was somewhat restored, Alissa immediately shouldered her backpack and began leaping up the rocks like a mountain goat.

Like a mountain goat

Bighorn sheep...?

King of the Mountain

"Are you sure you don't want to come up?" she called down to me.

"I'm sure!"

"You really should! It looks amazing from up here."

"I'm good down here. Really."

"I'll help you," she leaned over, hands on her knees, looking earnest and considerate.

"That's okay," I called back up.

Alissa was up and enjoying the view for a full ten minutes before I mustered the strength of will to attempt the short climb. “Listen, sister,” I advised myself, “You’re already up 5,800 feet. A few extra feet won’t kill you. And these rocks have been piled like this since the Flood. They're not likely to fall any time soon.” So I picked my way up the rocks, trying very hard not to think about the rock-slide warning signs and shattered rocks we'd seen along countless roads and trails since coming West.

In the end, Alissa was right: the view from the top was worth the near hyperventilation. Although overwhelmed initially and succumbing to an urge to sit down flat on my butt for the first five minutes before I was able to walk around with some measure of normalcy, I was eventually up and picking my way around.


Eventually, there was even some jumping and other high-altitude shenanigans!

The Star of Canyonlands

Ruth and Alissa at Canyonlands

Alissa's Mountaingoat Jump

No Big Deal

At the top, we met some very nice German and Chinese tourists. While exchanges in various languages went on, we fell into extended conversation with a German woman. As Alissa had been to Frankfurt and Berlin, and this lady had visited Florida, we had plenty to chat about in addition to our respective Western adventures.

After hiking back to the car from the Grand Viewpoint, we drove across the park past Whale Rock and toward Upheaval Dome. Having not read about Upheaval Dome in the guide book the night before, and curious about the views, we decided to take the trail out to view the site, which signs indicated was either an eroded salt dome or a meteor crash site. (Further investigation by Mulder and Scully required.)

We began the hike, following a series of cairns along the path.


No warning signs at the trailhead prepared us for what was to come. Rough-hewn steps for the first ½ mile soon gave way to steep inclines up and down slick rock, at times requiring us to shimmy up rocks sideways using both our hands and our feet. Feeling very much like Peter Parker when he goes emo and loses his ability to shoot webs from his wrists, I clung to rock ledges and attempted to keep up with Alissa without audibly whimpering.

As with our first hike, this dizzying climb was also well worth the effort. We rested at the top of a magnificently domed rock, munching fresh apples while watching a bird of prey ride a thermal at eye-level. While Alissa quietly daydreamed, I battled fears either that a condor would swoop down and rip our scalps off or that a strong gust of wind would carry Alissa over the side... Or that we would be trampled by a rampaging big-horn sheep... Or that I would slip from the top and pinwheel to my death on the distant canyon floor.

What with my constant neurotic what-ifs and the lack of oxygen at 6,000+ feet, we both acquired headaches and were in a constant state of shortness of breath long before the 2-mile hike was complete. Alissa—a runner in fantastic shape—blamed this on the high altitude. I blamed it on my general lack of physical fitness and constant fears that we would be mauled by mountain lions or murdered by deranged hippie serial killers.

Yet despite these difficulties, continue we did, all the way to the end. As we turned back, we had a stunning view of the domed rock on which we’d eaten our apples. We were also in time to see our German friends from the Grand Viewpoint disdaining the (already difficult!) path and walking casually down the steep side of the dome as if it were a garden path.

Click to enlarge and see German tourists waltzing down the side:
Lunch Location

At any rate, once our hike was complete we were in no shape to attempt the originally-intended Mesa Arch Trail. We wilted limply into the seats of the VW and coasted back down to Moab. While on the way, I phoned home to wish mother a happy birthday (this year from within the continental U.S. -- a first in a long time!), but found that she was out to dinner with the family. Phoning siblings' cell phones soon put me in touch with mother, who regaled me with tales of the family birthday dinner, which included one of my young nephews trying to follow the waitress back into the restaurant kitchen. But I digress.

Back in Moab, we refueled by devouring a deliciously filling dinner at the locally-owned Zak’s Restaurant. Alissa downed a steak and potato while I settled for chicken smothered (and I do mean smothered) in cheese with a side of rice pilaf and a kebab of savory roasted veggies. I also confused the waitress by ordering sweet tea while sporting a Dr. Pepper shirt, but she eventually got it right and—happy and content—we returned to settle down for a relatively early night at the hotel.

After all, we had plans for sunrise the next morning.

Full Canyonlands photo set here.