Night 23: Up America's Stairs

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Motel 6 Farmington
Read my review - 1/5 stars

Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Thursday, July 12, 2012

Today we drove a lot, over 410 miles mostly across the arid Colorado Plateau and 250 of them after sunset. The weather was very warm, topping at 100, but averaging about 90. Monsoon thunderstorms were nearby to the south, but they never hit us directly. It was mostly cloudy in Arizona and sunny in Utah.

We drove a lot tonight, but not because we wanted to. There are not too many places to stop in the big Navajo Reservation. There is one town in the middle of Monument Valley that would've been perfect place and timing, but rooms were going for between $109 and $169 a night. There was no place there friendly to tent campers. 

Tent campers can't camp anywhere. I look for a sign welcoming tents specifically. Signs that say "RV Park" or "RV Resort" are not actually campgrounds. These are neighborhood's were people live seasonally long term. "Overnighters," as they call us, are a danger to the community really. Places that announce they are a campground often only want RV's. They have "hookups" (water and electric) and some even have cable RV. Some have pools. They charge twice as much as most tent friendly places and will charge tent campers for unecessary hookups. Sometimes these RV places let in tents, but it us an afterthought and so we are forced to pitch our tent in a lawn or garden or back alley area. Bathrooms are not important at places that cater to RVs because RV people carry their own potties. 

So I look for places that welcome tent campers. Public campgrounds (State or National parks) and places in more politically left-leaning are mire likely to have places just for tents. I require a picnic table and a place for fires (if allowed). I also like to pay no more than $20 for a night.

Today we began in St. George, Utah, on the Nevada border and not far feom Zion National Park and the Grand Loop of Southwestern parklands. The centerpiece of St. George was an alabaster Mormon temple. Streets were named for LDS pioneers. Even though it was a true gateway to the sins of Vegas, as Barstow was, St. George did not embrace this at all and instead pushed Zion NP as the best place to go after s visit to the city.

I had terrible nightmares and woke up too early. Since we crossed the time zone a couple times, I wasn't sure what time it was. The night before I set my alarm for 7 am because that is the time the lobby opened at Hojo. The clerk last night didn't unlock the laundry room for me and told me it was closed. And I was out of clean underwear. So I woke up early. Ends up I thought 5:30 am was 7 am. I was wondering why it was as dark as the middle if the night. It was because it really was the middle if the night. I did the laundry anyway and went back to bed between the washer and drier.

Before setting out, we had a hearty brunch at Cracker Barrel. Everyone knows that the food here sticks to your belly and fills you up. I had meatloaf, okra, green beans, biscuits, and potato. This meal seemed to be made for an entire family.

From St. George we drove up to Zion National Park, stopping at a tiny closed post office in one of the tiny towns on the way. Along the way I saw the last of the Joshua trees we would see. The land got greener next to the flowing Virgin River. I knew from the little research I did that the road into the heart of the park was closed to traffic. Because it gets so crowded in the canyon, since 1999 the NPS has used a shuttle bus system to carry tourists. So the parking lots are completely packed. This is why NPS also runs a shuttle into the nearest town if Springdale and strongly suggests visitors park out there. Another road UT-9 runs through the park on an east-west axis. This would be our route.

When we got to the park, the ranger told us not to count on parking in the VC and suggested we go back to Springdale. I found parking as someone was pulling out and so got to visit the VC and had the option of using the shuttle, but it was 100 degrees and we weren't in the mood to hike through a park that I've heard of, but knew nothing about.

So after enjoying the VC for what it was worth, we went back to the car and continued up Zion Canyon along UT-9 and the Virgin River. The drive was beautiful. The high canyon walls looked like they were poured in place, like frozen brownie mix. The mountains and walls showed their geologic history in colorful bands and scratch marks. Trees and greenery along the river made for sone very unique desert scenes. A tunnel, which was guarded by a flagger, went right through a mountain for over a mile with little windows carved out the sides every few hundred feet to let in light

The pines and junipers made the place smell like heaven in some spots. This Western smell is one of my favorite draws to visit the West. In the West, the clear air carries pine and sage and flower smells a long way. I wish I could bottle the smell or record it.

We left Zion and continued down scenic Hwy 9 beside the cliffs and the mountains. We left the road to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Dunes of bright vermillion sands have been left in the desert here by nature. Andrew and I climbed one. The sand was extrenely soft and sticky and red hot from the desert sun. It was even softer than the white sand of Pensacola Beach in Florida. In the valleys of the dunes were patches of neon green bushes and small pines. 

We got back to UT-9 and took the road to the bigger town if Kanab. Here we stocked up on supplies and groceries. I cleaned up the cooler if any rotten food. I also, after much trouble, found a decent priced room way too far away in New Mexico. Prices in good stopping places in Monument Valley were incredibly large, as I've said. So to save over $60, we had to truck it across Arizona. 

Past Kanab the road passes the Vermillion Cliffs, part of the BLM administered Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The term "Escalante" refers to the way that the land as it transitions from the depths of the Grand Canyon to the heights of the Colorado Plateau rises in a series of steps like a staircase.  Of course, only a giant would notice this. We are mere ants in this scale. The Vermillions are the second or third "step" up from the Canyon. Sometimes you could see higher cliffs in the background. As we drew closer to the Colorado River, we noticably fell a couple steps down. We didn't have time or energy to visit Escalante's beautiful slot canyons, so I will save them for another day.

Eventually we left Utah and passed back into Arizona at Glen Canyon Dam, which creates huge Lake Powell. It is a strange thing to see people pulling pontoon boats across the desert until you see this lake full of house boats. Lake Powell was a boater's paradise. It had the deep green water that I've seen in other places in the West like Bighorn Canyon way up in Montana. We droce aling the beautiful lake admiring its stark, unnatural flooded desert shoreline. The VC was a bathroom oasis for us. There also were great views here of the huge dam (nearly the size of Hoover Dam downstream on the Colorado) and of Glen Canyon to the northeast. After grabbing tacos and gas in nearby Page, we were back on the road.

 I planned a route that hugged the border and passed through the Navajo Nation. Since I never speed through Indian reservations, it would be a long night of driving so I tuned into the satellite radio talk shows and drive on, hoping to avoid skinwalkers. I did almost hit an unidentified loose animal on the road, but it was probably a dog and NOT a shape-shifting witch.

The road passes through mostly flat country so the sunset and views were great until night fell in. The Dimeh people used the land fir ranching mostly. A handful if tiny trailer communities dotted the roadside here and there.  As night fell, Andrew decided he had to go potty. We stopped in Monument Valley next to a formation called "Baby Rocks" for Andrew to relieve himself. As Andrew worked on his task, I admired the heat if the desert night and the hoodoos and rocks before us. It was desolate. Thus is the land that inspired John Ford. It was easy to see why it was so inspiring.

The darkness did not help. Headlights came and went. There was nothing but driving and dark. It took forever to pass the New Mexico border and the last Dimeh town called Shiprock. 30 miles later we were in Farmington and at the Motel 6. The Farmington motel was creepy and filled with creepy people. The creepy clerk told ne he rented away my reserved room when I got there. Just az I was about to punch him, he scrounged up a room which included free used soap bars in the shower. It was a cheap hotel, though, so I shouldn't complain. I just wonder how not providing a remote control for the TV helps them keep rates low.   
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