Roads America 2011: Revisited

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See also: Photographs (posted 11/7/11) 

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Moab, UT

There’s a line of people waiting to have their picture taken with the Delicate Arch. Couples in REI gear, families in matching sandals, teenagers in heavy metal t-shirts, and Europeans in black socks all queue in the middle of the desert. They stand behind an invisible “Please wait here” sign that was no doubt installed by the mom and pop photographers who are waiting to snap a calculated shot of their loved-ones that provides proof that they were here and the illusion that everyone else was not. Restless and impatient from the one-and-a-half-mile uphill hike—that was longer and more strenuous than perhaps anticipated—the line of people bob their heads and twist the balls of their feet into the rust-colored earth, each of them dancing before trotting over to the Arch to finally have their souvenir picture taken.

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I take seat away from the other photographers attempting to snap pictures of the Arch in the seconds between the people who come and go from it’s opening. Hot and fatigued, after a couple of failed shots I put my camera down. It’s overcast but the shady sky does little to cool the windless triple-digit climate and, perhaps against the wishes of the photographers and models, I pray that the sky will give into the rain.

I feel a tap on my shoulder and it’s a woman who I had seen earlier on the hike. She is also alone asks if I can take a picture of her with the Arch in the background and she volunteers to do the same for me. It’s the first and only picture on the entire trip that I have taken of me. After exchanging cameras, we both sit down near but not quite next to one another. Together we watch the groups of families and friends shuffle in and out of the Delicate Arch, and as we look on the rain begins to fall. 

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July 2011

See also: Utah: “Life Elevated” (posted 7/18/11)Moab, UT (posted 7/19/11) 

Zion National Park, UT

At the Zion Lodge there’s a ranger with baby face approaching various groups of people who are cooling off on the shady lawn. His shoulders are a little sloped and his pants are little high. He passes by me and walks up to a family of four. “I’m going to be giving a talk in twenty minutes,” he tells them, “if you’d like to stick around.” They look genuinely interested and the mother of the foursome nods. “It’ll be on safety,” he says. “I’m going to talk about all the people who have died here at Zion.” The mother lets out a nervous laugh, and the ranger continues on–greeting people and telling them about his talk on safety, ignoring the other taken aback faces.

I collect my things and head off for the canyon trails. When I finish my hike, safe and sound, I pass by the lodge and the ranger is there giving his talk. There’s visual aids, umms, and uhs. It’s like freshman year speech class all over again.

Making Plans

The first time I did the driving across the country thing was a couple of years ago. I rented a car and drove from Boston (where I live) to California (where my parents and car live). Not knowing what to expect (and attempting to ease my parents’ anxieties), I planned most of the trip right down to the accommodations. I (and my parents, who both gently, but persistently, asked for an itinerary from me) knew where I would be each day.

It was nice to know where I would be staying and when, but at the same time, it was too constricting and seemed to run counter to the whole idea and spirit of “the road trip.” I remember driving through Minnesota and seeing a sign for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house. Make fun of me–I’m a fan. But it was late in the day, I didn’t have a GPS (still don’t) and knew it would take a few wrong turns to find the place, and that  I would veer off my course, which meant needing to cancel my hotel reservation. I don’t like wasting money. So, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house went on the list of places I will need to go back and see.

So, this time I made sure to not make too many concrete plans. I knew what direction I was going in, and I had an idea of a route and what places I wanted to see. But that was it for planning. I didn’t book hotels, motels, hostels, or campgrounds or make any other reservations. I knew that all main roads (and even back roads) lead to accommodations eventually and if not, there was always my car. There’s that road tripping spirit people told me about. They said it was better that way– not to have a schedule.

And it is to some degree.  I can stay some places longer or skip some places all together. But at the same time, there are some big disadvantages to living freely. One, is that while I think a lot of people like the idea of the road trip or not having a timeframe in which they have to do something, it’s not the way things are done. Most pay phones don’t work so you better have a cell phone, people assume you have Internet or GPS so finding a good street map of a city can be hard at times, and reservations are expected, especially in the summer.

Hotels, motels, hostels, and camp grounds are entirely booked. Everyone is vacationing. Which means sometimes I’ve had to pay much more for gigantic rooms that I really don’t need, but it’s all that’s available for a hundred miles (especially on weekends). And that sleeping in the car plan– not so great. It’s not only summer, it’s the south— it’s hot and humid, and when I crack a window to my car there’s a lot of bugs that either bite me or freak me out with their ugly selves. And I refuse to be under attack in my car.

But far from accommodations, there also the fun things that book up quickly. Hot air balloon rides (I saw a sign in Moab), white water rafting (the guy in Colorado did his best not to laugh at me when I snag a possible last-minute cancellation), and required guided tours (like for Antelope Canyon, one of the places I’ve been dying to go since the trip began).

Oh, well, all lessons learned. Guess, I’ll just have to do it again sometime, perhaps in the off season.

Onto Monument Valley.

Moab, UT

After huddling under a small tree for shade in Arches National Park, trying not to die from a boiling body temperature, it saddens me to confirm that I am not good at hiking.

I like to hike. (I think.) I like to climb on things. I’m a great walker. I can speed walk, stroll, and strut with the best of them. And I walk up sixty steps daily to get to my apartment. But even with my impressive array of skills, I think I may have over estimated my hiking abilities. That, and I think I was a little too excited to explore Arches N.P. Combined with the guarantee of witnessing some bad ass, gigantic rock formations, I saw a sign upon entering the park that indicated possible big horned sheep crossings, and my enthusiasm went through the roof. “I get to see arches AND probably big horned sheep too?!?! Real ones?!” Not those animatronic ones from Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Careful, timid people –tourists, if you will– probably thoroughly read the five pounds of literature that the rangers give you when you come into the park. I skimmed it. I looked at where the trails were. That seemed sufficient. And to be fair to myself, the first trail I hiked after lightly perusing this literature was fairly easy (just a little walk down the cracked-mud river bed), and the hike to the Delicate Arch as shown by the dotted line on the map looked about the same length.

And perhaps the two trails are the same distance, but they are not the same terrain. Where the first hike was on relatively level ground, this hike is all up hill. I didn’t know this though, and I’m still unsure if others didn’t either, as there were all kinds of people—different ages, different sizes—following the small wooden signs that were marked, “TRAIL” in carefully carved and painted letters. They were happy little signs.

I get a small taste of the uphill fairly early on. The first stretch of the hike is a series of small hills, much like what one would see at a dirt bike course. I have a good pace as I trek up and down the chalky, red earth, and over the white iridescent rocks. Not bad at all. I think, “Cool, I’ll be done and on my way to the Canyonlands in an hour.”

Then I see THE hill. It looks like… a hill. Coming from northern California I’m familiar with hills. Ours usually grassy and have oak trees dotting them, but this hill I’m staring at is bare because it’s not a golden grassy hill. It’s a rock. (Or several large rocks, technically.) And this slab of rock doesn’t actually look steep from where I’m standing, but I have experience with climbing up some California hills (they were good places to make out), and I remember how much steeper the incline is once right up against it.

I’m not thrilled. I can’t see the Delicate Arch. Not even a hint of it. I can see, however, a long line of people, making their pilgrimage slowly up the hill. For a minute, I actually think, “No. That can’t be the trail. Maybe there’s just ice cream up there. A vender with some water.” As I type this, I know that sounds stupid, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s 103 degrees, and all these people are hiking up that to see the Delicate Arch? Really? Even that guy with the six-year-old on his back? And that old woman? She doesn’t even have a water bottle.

Yep. All of them. The lady in Sari. The blonde in the crisp white shorts. The Europeans in their loafers and black socks. Everyone is on his and her way to the arch. And they are all passing me.

I get halfway up the hill and I stop and pull out my camera. Not because the view is amazing, but because I want it to look like I want to take a picture. What I want is to catch my breath. I click away. Eye at the viewfinder, completely not paying attention to what I’m shooting. I put my camera away and casually take out my water. I just need a sip I pretend. Lies. I drink a third of the bottle, doing my sip-and-look-around move, before I fall back into line and continue my hike up the hill.

(to be continued… when I’m not tired and my Internet is not being a pain)