Eat, drink & be merry- tomorrow you may be in Utah

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Utah
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Or so the well known saying from this part of the world goes. Fortunately, however, we were heading to Moab; home of Arches and Canyonlands National Park, setting for Thelma & Louise, 127 Hours, Breakdown and a million Westerns and, according to our guidebooks at least, an oasis of alcohol availability, nice bars, cafes and restaurants and adventure sports in the infamous "fun-desert" of Utah.

On the way through Colorado we couldn't resist stopping at a gun shop on the side of the road.  This is part of the country after all where 80% of the population are armed (at least according to the lady in the shop). We spent a fascinating hour admiring their range of weapons trying to seriously discuss the benefits of different holstering arrangements and learning to our shock tha  as long we weren’t going to conceal it we could have arranged a permit in about 10 minutes, bought any manner of lethal firearm from a 2 inch long mini handbag pistol to a World War II rifle, to a rather scary looking  automatic rifle with a cartridge the size of a dinner plate and a grenade launcher attached. Crazy.

Having exhausted the comedy poses with enormous rifles we then carried on to the next big shop on the road which we’d been assured had a range of cowboy goods to continue our entertainment.  Not only was there aisle after aisle of cowboy boots, shirts, jeans and hats, but they also stocked pony feed and tack, parts for any pick up truck on the market, all manner of knives and, of course, more guns.  A true one stop shop for all your cowboy needs.  Gordon being totally outnumbered at this point by the fairer sex was made to model a fetching cowboy look but drew the line at posing with a gun.  Spoilsport.

Laden down with a bag of boots and various other goodies we headed on westwards leaving the green of southern Colorado for the red rocks of Utah. Just outside Moab saw the first of the rock arches for which the area is so famous, highlighted by a beautiful red evening light. We couldn’t resist stopping the car and getting out for a scramble on and a around it. Incredible.  A few minutes later we were in Moab of which our first impression was similar to a lot of other towns we’d driven through in the southwest; big roads lined with chain hotels and fast food restaurants.  On closer inspection though these were interspersed with funky cafes, expensive tourist shops, some really nice restaurants and the promised microbrewery, all handily within walking distance from our campsite.

The next day we had a small errand to run as the Tank had started acting up a little, cutting out when we were idling (although for some reason only when Debs was driving).We had all been religiously checking the oil almost daily which seemed to be fine and as that was the extent of our mechanical knowledge we decided that while we were in town it might be a good idea to get it checked by someone a little better qualified.  The first garage we went to agreed to have a quick look and on popping the bonnet the mechanic reached immediately for an entirely new dipstick that we hadn’t seen before, and proclaimed that our oil was a little overfull but otherwise there was nothing obviously wrong.  By common agreement we didn’t say anything but all just nodded knowingly and drove off, waiting until we were round the corner before doubling up in laughter.  We’d spent the last 10 days religiously checking the transmission fluid dipstick thinking it was the oil.  Oops!  No wonder it was such a funny colour and why it was so confusingly labelled 'TRANS FLUID’. Funny name for the oil, we had thought.

We decided to carry on driving the Tank and hope for the best so headed out to Arches National Park where we drove round open mouthed at the scenery.  On our way round the park we were shocked to learn from our guide book that one of Bush’s last acts as President was to auction off vast tracts of Federal land, many within sight of Arches National Park, for oil & mineral exploitation.  A local managed to sabotage the process by bidding for and winning several of the lots, despite having no money to pay for them.  Although he went on to raise enough for the deposits through an online campaign he’s now been taken to court but has at least delayed any mining so for the moment we could enjoy the huge open vistas uninterrupted.  Following the crowds we then joined the hordes hiking to the amazing Delicate Arch, Utah’s state symbol, arriving as the sun was going down and lighting up the rock formations; amazing despite the number of other people around trying (and succeeding) to get in all our photos.

Back in town we decided that there was no better way to slake our hiking thirst than by sampling some of the local brews.  From the baffling selection in front of us Gordon panicked and picking one at random said he’d have a pint of the “Poly... Gammy” porter, to which the waiter kindly replied that he meant the “polygamy” porter and he’d bring it right out.  The Polygamy Porter was one of several Mormon themed ales that we came to love.  There was also the ‘Evolution Amber’ which was, as the bottle proclaimed “Darwin approved and “made in 27 days not 7” but the Polygamy Porter was cemented as our favourite when we found out its’ tagline; “Polygamy Porter; why have just one?”  Genius.

The next day was Deborah’s birthday and sending her off on the tenuous task of buying us some cinnamon rolls for breakfast the rest of us pulled out the helium balloon kit we’d acquired at Target in Tucson (yup, for $16) and had been unsubtly carrying round in the car ever since.  We covered her tent and the campsite in balloons and greeted her back from shopping with a rather special helium-high-pitched round of ‘Happy Birthday’. One of her most entertaining presents was a set of ‘stinger suckers’ that Isa found in town – lollipops with scorpions inside them which made worrying crunching noises as you ate them.

We spent the afternoon working off the cinnamon rolls by heading off into the wilderness with a guide we had arranged for a canyoning trip. The scenery was amazing as we first walked up an incredible canyon out in the middle of nowhere which then narrowed and narrowed until we were squeezing through tiny cracks and scrambling across deep pools of freezing, smelly water, all surrounded by huge red rocks under a blazing desert sky. The route down then involved some decent abseils down big drops, the highlight of which was when we all managed to convince Debs to move over to the right hand side of the cliff on her way down the abseil as the pool at the bottom was shallowest there. It was actually, of course, the deeper side and it was very amusing to watch her drop in up to her head.

In honour of Debs’s birthday (and as an excuse to have a nice meal) we treated ourselves to a posh dinner at a stunning ranch overlooking the Colorado River which was winding through an incredible red canyon.  It was a full moon and we’d booked to go on moonlit walk in Canyonlands National Park after dinner but unfortunately the endless blue skies we’d been enjoying came to an end and the moon was barely visible through some glowering grey clouds.  We weren’t overly upset as this gave us the perfect excuse to instead go back to town to the microbrewery for some more beer and pool. Ah well!

Our final activity in Moab was to go rock climbing, something we’d been looking forward to for a long time.  Isa had been climbing a couple of times but Debs had never been before.  Whilst our guide was showing them the ropes (literally) we had decided that we wanted to learn to lead climb properly (putting the rope up the route ourselves rather than using the rope a guide has already put up for you, which means climbing up without a rope above you).  The last time we’d tried lead climbing was in China where our guide didn’t speak much and English and just stood at the bottom of the route and, “OK, you go”, then laughed when Sarah got herself freaked out and a teeny bit stuck about 5m off the ground.  With two such disparate groups this time our guide agreed to talk us through what we needed to know to lead climb while he coached the others and proceeded to give us a lengthy technical lecture in the car on the way to the routes along the lines of:

“So, on your way up, you need to clip your quick-draws to the bolts but ONLY EVER ropeside forewards only get it?  If you triple back you’ll flip and die.  You also need to make sure you don’t Y clip or you’ll fall and die.  And don’t under any circumstances flip clip from the right if you’re routing left or all your bolts will come out and you’ll look like raspberry jam.  Then when you get to the top you need to daisychain yourself to the two bolts.  But make sure your anchors are weighted right, maybe with a 48inch sling tied with an under-over-quadruple bow hook, or the bolts will pull free from the wall and you’ll tumble to your death.  Alternatively you can use a PATGRS system but you want to make sure it’s quintiple stitched and no more than 12mm wide...blah blah blah...hideous death...blah blah...gruesome manner to die...blah.  Got it?”

Well, that’s what we understood anyway.  Happily with US Health & Safety rules we weren’t allowed to actually lead climb properly under his supervision and had to climb with a top rope anyway carrying up another rope to practice the technical points of leading with.  Frankly, phew.  It was all a little more complicated than we’d realised.

Whilst we were learning which way to put up the rope, Debs was having her first taste of top rope climbing.  After some slightly comedy bouldering over the last couple of days, including one point where Deborah got herself a bit scared and stuck spreadeagled on a smooth face unable to go up or down, only to have Gordon literally stroll across the (not very steep) rock to get to her, Debs proved much more confident with a top-rope and was soon scrabbling straight up the routes; albeit with liberal use of the knees and elbows. We think we may have a convert on our hands. Isa, meanwhile, also made it to the top but was overheard cursing and cussing in a fantastically Gallic way on the way up and shouting at one point: “I forgot how much I hate this”, causing much hilarity down below.

Coming back from climbing with aching arms we rued that we could have happily stayed another few days in Moab but the road was calling.  Although we’d not yet (to our knowledge) met any Mormons we’d proved the saying wrong; it is possible to eat, drink and be merry - even in Utah.
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