The Great American Road Trip II - 20 - Beating a Dead Horse
The day started out with an adventure in getting across the street.
We had originally planned to stay in Provo, which is on the southern edge of the Salt Lake metropolitan area. However, since Orem has a minor-league team known as the Owlz, we switched the reservations just ten minutes north to that city. As it turned out, our hotel was literally across the street from the stadium.
Which, of course, you can't just get to normally.
We had to take a myriad of turns and navigate a seemingly impassible series of bizarre traffic circles and meaningless one-way streets. It took many harrowing minutes, but we finally circled back around and found the stadium parking lot.
Then we couldn't get a pennant - they were moving in to the stadium after the college season (they share the field) was over. We caught them about ten minutes after they had all gotten into the offices, and boxes were literally everywhere. Most of the Owlz merchandise - including hats and pennants - were in a large moving truck and inaccessible. They were nice and scrambled around to find something to give us - so we walked out of there with a red Owlz bag, free of charge.
We reluctantly rolled back onto the road and were caught back in the labyrinth of the dreaded Salt Lake roads, which featured unreasonably hard-to-see stoplights and very few road signs. We eventually were able to escape Salt Lake and traversed I-15 southbound before forking off on US 6/89 in Spanish Fork. We got exceptionally close to some windmills as the red rocky outcroppings stereotypical of Utah started to become more prevalent.
Then came the road work.
There were miles upon miles of marked-off lanes when there was no reason to mark the lanes off - and in fact the lane that was marked off looked rather better than the one we were driving in. Of course, these lanes were marked off with barrels that intruded into our lane to the point that we were concerned that the car would clip them - and no one was working on road construction in the marked-off lane!
Between intermittent and entirely pointless road work, getting stuck behind slowpokes who sped when you tried to pass them in a passing lane, and watching morons fly past RVs in oncoming traffic when a passing lane is about two seconds ahead of them, the scenery slowly morphed into the kind of reddish landscapes one thinks about when considering southern Utah - basically like Mars but with sagebrush, cattle, and a breathable atmosphere. In addition to cows, sheep, and occasional horses, we saw a small llama herd.
Considering the unforeseen circumstances on the road, we made decent time. We kept going up and down more hills and wound through passes both natural and man-made. Mesas - flat as pancakes on top - became much more prevalent. We passed over Soldier Summit and then Helper, so named because the town would provide extra engines to help trains ascend Soldier Summit. We exited in Price - the last town of any real size before Moab - for gas, but then began trucking along again.
The amount of traffic going both directions on that road is staggering - mainly, I would imagine, due to the route being the most direct from the Moab region and its National Parks up to Salt Lake. For many stretches - especially the last stretch before the merge with I-70 - the road is ridiculously flat. There is also no civilization out there - for about 20 or 30 miles there were no towns, and I don't even recall seeing ranches. It's utter nothingness, and the only sign that you're still on Earth is the fact that there's some driver in front of you about to do something nutty.
Over this time the temperature steadily rose through the 80s and finally to 90. I drove for a bit on I-70 as the temperature got up to a 94-degree high, but it soon leveled off to high 80s-low 90s temperatures.
Soon enough we found ourselves off the Interstate and, after a while on US 191, followed the signs for Canyonlands National Park. We turned on Utah 313 and wound our way into the vast series of red canyons which constitute Canyonlands and its vast outskirts.
Canyonlands, made a National Park in 1964, was formerly part of vast ranch land. The overlooks and trails in the park's vast domain afford spectacular views of gorgeous scenery. Canyons are inside larger canyons which in turn are inside even larger canyons, all of which can be seen from the top of a large ridge known as the Island in the Sky.
(Before we even got to the official park entrance, there was a pullout for two rocks nicknamed the Monitor and Merrimac - and I'll be darned if they weren't the petrified images of the famous ironclads themselves. The two natural mesas - one larger than the other - is exceptionally similar to a famous photograph of the two warships.)
Canyonlands has a lot of much longer trails, but we did not pack the equipment required to hike them. We did quite a few of them, though, and stopped at nearly every lookout point for more views of the layered canyons below us. Surprisingly, there is, at one point, prairie - right on top of the Island in the Sky. Ranchers used to use steep dirt trails that wound their way up the sides of the sheer rock cliffs to get their herds up and down from pastureland to water. Mining operations in the region were halted when the National Park was established, but the pathways they cut though the bottom of the canyon has left scars across the surprisingly fragile land. (Certain types of soil are extremely delicate and can take up to 20 years to regenerate fully after being stepped on.)
Our next major stop was Mesa Arch, a popular location for sunrise pictures. The low-lying arch is still distinguishably an arch, and it looks quite like a natural bridge. I could have looked at the scenery - with the canyon layers and snowcapped peaks off in the distance framed by the gentle curve of the Arch - longer than I did, but the midges through there are awful. Instead of just banging into us like the midges at Lake Huron tried to do, these midges had some sort of pre-game meeting and arranged an attack plan: crawl into our ears.
I felt things crawling around as we got back to the car. I think I got all of them out, though ... if not, they're probably stuck on the inordinate amount of wax I excrete daily.
The main difference between these midges and the Huron brand is that these will not attack you if you move around fast enough - but as soon as you slow down or stop they're there, just waiting to nab you.
The dry heat of Canyonlands meant that mom and I - chronic sweaters - did not sweat our usual gallon and a half. In fact, I barely sweated at all, which was an entirely new experience. (Good thing, too - though we brought lots of water bottles, we didn't bring enough. The water conservation was a welcome surprise.)
Our next stop after Mesa Arch was a spur road that took us out to a controversial geological formation - a great big crater-like hole in the ground with greenish badlands on the bottom. Its bizarre shape and nature makes the massive formation - called Upheaval Dome, for some reason - a point of contention among geologists, who don't have a real idea of how the place came to be. It was a rather steep haul up there, but the view of the Dome is worth it, with the rock face we were standing on top of extending out in almost a complete circle - the only thing that would prevent a hypothetical hike around the entire rim is a significant gap in one side.
We got back on the main road and within short order reached the end: Grand View Point, an overlook resting on the southern end of the Island in the Sky. It was the most spectacular overlook we'd stopped at up until that point, offering a vast view of most of the rest of the Canyonlands backcountry, an uninhabited territory with no roads and few trails. Though the old mine roads could still be seen - and will still be there for a good long while to come - they afforded a nice scale to the vastness that was before us. We would have stayed there longer and hiked around a little bit, but the midges were multiplying and were beginning their ear canal excursions even while we were on the move.
On the way back we saw the same scenery, but in a different light as the sun began to set. While not at sunset itself - which I hear is quite dramatic - it cast the canyons and their jutting formations in a new light, including making a large mesa behind a smaller mesa way out in the distance look like a shadow instead of just a larger mesa.
After meandering our way along the curvy route back through the park, we found ourselves at the exit within short order. Our last stop of the day was not in Canyonlands, but was due to be in Dead Horse Point State Park, so named for a possibly apocryphal tale of an abandoned corral. The view from Dead Horse Point itself is quite possibly more stunning than any overlook in Canyonlands itself. From the overlook we could see the entirety of the Island in the Sky - which is what the fellow North Carolinian at Grand Teton told us we could see. The midges were less prevalent at Dead Horse Point but there were still enough of them to warrant a brisk walk back to the car.
Tired and hungry, we hit the road to Moab and ate at Moab Diner. I had a burger with green chili sauce while my parents got steaks with an interesting side called sweetwater potatoes - basically sliced-up, cooked potatoes with cheese and bacon bits on them. Since our waitress blanked on giving us our salads, we made up for it by getting free ice cream, which we ate on the way back to the hotel.
We arrived at the hotel where I spied a large hill behind it. I climbed it for a great view of the sunset behind the mountains. My dad climbed up after me and we considered climbing all the way up the hill and seeing if we could see a bit of Arches National Park, but we only got about halfway up until we turned back due to the increasing darkness.
Tomorrow: we spend a day in Arches National Park before doubling back and spending another night in Moab.