Saturday, June 8, 2013

America Summarized

Some simple observations are in order to summarize my month long exploration of our United States of America. As mentioned before in one of my segments, I didn't quite know what I was looking for when I set out in early May. Secretly I wanted to test my mind as to how the images in my memory compared to as they really are or were, albeit any changes or total demolition of fifty two year old childhood memories tucked away in my brain never updated or corrected. I relied only on my thoughts and intuition when I was 9 years old.

I could easily say my 20 minutes of conversation and stories in the garden with farmer Bill Thompson was worth the 30 days, 324 gallons of fuel and 6000 miles of driving in itself.  The stories were tangible to me because they were based on my people, my kin. The feeling I had driving away seeing those smiles reflecting from my rear view mirror were too sweet to properly describe, especially since our meeting was pure happenstance. It just doesn't get any better in life.

All the time I was gone I never got into a fight, didn't lose anything, never felt like anyone cheated me, no road rage, never saw a gun (except stickers of rifles in shape of a cross on the back of a pickup in Texas) and no one yelled at me except Minnie, my GPS.  I experienced more rain in three weeks than I have in 30 years in Arizona but stayed comfortably dry. I did endure quite a bit of mediocre or sub standard food and coffee. People were more than accommodating, friendly, and kind. Only once did I hear a discouraging word at a truck stop in Indiana but it wasn't directed at me. The nasty old fart was just a grumpy sot looking for a reason to yell at someone other than his obese discourteous wife blocking the hallway to the restrooms.

Experiencing such a variation in flora, fauna, and geological formations along my trail, I can confirm our country is flat out beautiful and worth exploring. I say this because for decades I've traveled to remote areas of the world looking for exoticism yet here in America we really do have it all. If our citizens would just turn off their electronics and walk about this country they too would appreciate it's natural beauty and just maybe become more active in making certain it's resources are saved for future generations.

I have a few other spots outside of the US to check out but I certainly have many more within our borders to see and experience. Where and when do I go next?...Not really sure, I've never been much for advanced planning.

Play for Peace,

One Last Night

Bryce Canyon
My morning to move on we hugged, kissed, and thanked just before I slid into Cheeky. I didn't have a real destination in mind to have my last camp out of this trip but I knew it had to be near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Everything between that was a flexible option. I'd been to Zion, Grand Staircase, and Bryce National Parks a few times before but I decided to stop at Bryce to play around with making some panorama fotos yet have time get to the North Rim before the sun set.

Perfect time of day at the Grand Canyon
Along the way on my entire trip I would occasionally stop at thrift stores to escape from the driving doldrums and strike up conversion with the local colorful clerks. A couple hours on the road I came upon a small town (can't remember the name it was so small) and stepped into the store noticing the huge amount of books. I thought maybe they might have some books on tape to freshen up my drive and sure enough the selection was great. I brought six audio books up to the counter when the nice young clerk said that everything was 75% off today. I asked why they had so many books. She regrettably told me their town's bookmobile no longer had funding and they were instructed to destroy everything. "The first day I began throwing away books it made me so sad so I had them brought here in hopes the community would buy them." She continued writing up my sale and announced my total would be 78 cents. "Your kidding I exclaimed". I told her I couldn't pay her that for such a trove of entertainment and asked if this shop supported a charity. "Our hospital gets all the proceeds to pay for care of those who can't afford it". I gave her five dollars and said it was a donation and left still feeling a bit guilty.

A panorama from the Lodge
Late afternoon the shadows began to lengthen as I turned at Jacobs Lake towards the Grand Canyon National Park. I gave Cheeky a bit more of the gas pedal so as to arrive in time to catch light at the canyon's edge. Within a few miles the thick forest turned into a stark graveyard of trees ravaged by a huge fire a few years ago. I remembered when Sharon and I spent the night at the entrance to the canyon while it burned. Smoke laid low everywhere. Now I was seeing the destruction years later. It's natures way and that's all one can say about such devastation.  A couple further miles I was engulfed by thick growth again and came upon the ranger station for the park. I asked the ranger about camping in the park and he said everything is filled but if I go back a couple miles onto forest road 610 there is some good camping with a possible view of the canyon. I thanked him, paid my $25.00 entry fee and within 20 minutes pulled up to the parking area. I shot some fotos and sat back to take in the grandeur and boldness of the canyon walls. It brought back memories of my hiking trips and river rafting through this natural cut.
Devastation of a forest fire years earlier
Back to Cheeky, she whisked me back past the ranger station and soon we were bouncing along the raunchy rutted road until a small bit of flat within a stand of aspens looked like home for the evening.With the tent perfectly pitched,  I didn't feel like cooking dinner so I prepared a nice bowl of Shredded Wheat with fresh fruit, cleaned up and slid into my sleeping bag to get rest for the last day of my sojourn.

It was still dark when I broke camp and by the time I reached the paved park road the warm dim light stretched over the herds of deer in the long meadows tasted better than any breakfast.  Speaking of breakfast I decided to drive the forty miles to the Vermillion Cliffs to catch the long shadows before my first feed of the day.

Marble Canyon with the Colorado River below
I wasn't disappointed drifting down from the high plateau onto the rolling hills at the base of the bright red walls of the Vermillion Cliffs. This long stretch of mountains to my left kept revealing itself like the pages of a book. I was able to stop on the two lane road at will because no one was up and about. A drove slowly along savoring pace and the beauty before me. I've driven this road many times at every interval of the day but usually under a time constrain and always wishing I could be here at this moment and at this pace....I've now arrived and it feels great. Soon an unmarked dirt road leading off to the right towards where Marble Canyon plays host to the first set of rapids for the rafters putting in at Lee's Ferry. I steer Cheeky along the deep rutted road though fairly flat. We come to the end...a cul de sac affair with signs telling you to venture no further by vehicle. I grab my camera and Ipad to hike out to the edge of the canyon. At the end of the precipice the sun reflected off the Colorado River and the Marble Canyon rapids below. Again I have to smile knowing I'm the only person at this point in time enjoying this view and as I turn 360 degrees, I fill my lungs with the fresh surroundings.

The Vermillion Cliffs panorama
Returning to Cheeky, I retreated towards the highway and pulled into the Marble Canyon restaurant for a breakfast burrito smothered in home made green chile. This recommendation by the waitress sparked many of my delight triggers. Soon I was walking out across the Navajo Bridge spanning the Colorado River when I saw two large wing spanned birds begin to fly under the bridge. I walked to the other side and saw two eagles slowly catching the wind drafts gliding parallel to the river. They too were enjoying this beautiful morning.
Navajo Bridge spanning the Colorado River

I knew once I returned to Cheeky it would be most likely the last time on this journey I'd open her door for adventure. Now it was all business to return, wind down, and soak in all that we'd scene and experienced. Soon I will be en route to some where else but for now I will kick back, listen to some music and sneak back to Bisbee.     

Mountains and Canyons

The Family together

Refreshed, the pre-sunrise start to my short drive day (400 miles), and the thought of driving to visit my friends, Daphne & Carlos maintained my energy and excitement as I twisted through the Rocky Mountains with the sun beginning to peak over the sharp crests. Down the west slope and onto the desert floor past Capitol Reef National Park brought me a feeling of being very close to home. The ranches, farms, and the desert open range were much different than my visions through my windshield for the past three weeks. One more gas stop and I would be pulling into Mount Pleasant, UT.

Lovely vintage house in Mount Pleasant
Once I dropped off the western slope of Colorado I gave a courtesy call to my friends and told them my approximate time of arrival. Carlos said they had a veterinarian appointment around 3PM at a ranch just out of town to look over their new quarter horse Daphne rescued. I promised to do my best so I could see "Holly".  At 1PM I pulled off the interstate onto the state road pointing directly north. The road was populated with small Mormon communities linked together with large grassy sheep and cattle ranches. Surrounding the valleys were the massive Wasatch Mountains crowned with snow. Just after 2PM I came upon the "Maverick" gas station signalling me to make the next left turn, count three houses on the right and look for my friend's cars. With pin point accuracy, I pulled up to a nicely maintained ranch style duplex, the home of Daphne and Carlos Peinado. Together this couple wrote, produced, directed, filmed, and edited the heart wrenching documentary "Waterbusters", a story how the US government relocated the Mandan tribe by dissecting and scattering it's residents throughout the US with not much more than bus tickets to destinations totally unfamiliar losing their identities and strength.
Winter still biting away

I was warmly welcomed by Daphne and soon after Carlos exited from his Volvo station wagon having just come from finishing out a day of winding down his school year. Carlos is a multi-media instructor for a private international high school where most students don't have English as a language and only about 10% are local students. It's been a learning experience for him to teach without a common language. I learned a new term..."Project Based Learning" is the vehicle used to teach these students. 

Winter revisits top of Horseshoe Mountain
Jumping back into his car, I got a quick tour of Mount Pleasant and soon we pulled onto the dirt road dividing the tall grass pastures populated with horses of many colors and markings. The horse docs had just arrived ready to check out Holly and give her a couple vaccinations. Carlos approached the fence while most of the herd curiously walked over to meet Carlos to which he lead Holly through the gate.

Within minutes the examination was done and we returned to the house where Carlos and I caught up on each others adventures, experiences, and the daily hum drums of life. It's fun to enter into Carlos' world of tech and creativity for he is always looking to be experimenting with ideas and equipment for photography and film. He has a great opportunity to create another film and was excited to share this news with me. We had some dinner and shared more stories then it was time to turn in for Carlos still had a long next day of meetings and reports to complete. Daphne and I planned to take a drive into the mountains the next morning.
Zie Brat ist Wundervar

Before departing the house, we all agreed to meet for lunch around noon at a German cafe in a town south of Mount Pleasant. Carlos took off to school and Daphne got to ride in Cheeky, who I could tell was excited to test herself in the Wasatch Mountains. We drove north out of town through the small community of Fairview, then turned east on SR31 and began out assent up into the Wasatch Mountain range. The aspens were just beginning to leaf out but old mister winter didn't seem to want to leave today. The dark deeply bruised clouds had a menacing threat of snow and once we reached the summit of Horseshoe Mountain, the icy snow began to fall creating such a wonderful drama, I couldn't have asked for better weather. Both Daphne and I were quiet with awe at the beauty that was offered on this day. We could only venture so far because of the time limitation to meet Carlos for lunch so I turned an invigorated Cheeky around and descended the same way we came. In our short drive about we came upon a sign explaining this was the site of a recent discovery of the remains of a Wooly Mastodon that is now housed in the Fairview Museum. The researchers said the beast was frozen so solid for thousands of years that when they excavated the animal, the flesh was still intact and let off a rancid smell of rotting meat.
Professor Carlos  and Miss Daphne

Now for lunch...retreating south through Fairview and Mount Pleasant we turned off to the left to a quaint little community of Spring City. The early settlers in this town were mainly of rough Swedish decent and soon were directed by the Mormon's to change their ways and they could have multiple wives and have as many children as humanly possible. This was most likely an easy sell to these pioneer Scandinavians. Oh yes, lunch...we all met up at the "Das Cafe" where I had the traditional bratwurst that satisfied my inner heritage.

Horseshoe Mountain
Later Carlos showed me about his campus classrooms stocked with the most advanced lighting, cameras, sound studios, and editing equipment. He then had me view a film project his students took ownership of called "The Classroom". This made for TV sitcom was based upon the style of "The Office". It was quite cleaver and well done. His students wrote, filmed, and acted in each segment. For Carlos this was a brilliant breakthrough regarding how to get kids interested and participate together in a project. Soon we returned to his house for dinner where afterward we all began packing for our journeys. Both Daphne & Carlos were leaving in a couple days to spend the summer in New England.  One last note about this part of Utah. Colorado may have the Rockies but for pure scenic beauty, Utah is much prettier.



Friday, June 7, 2013

775 Miles Sez It All

This roadside sign needs no explanation
Dark and raining is how I entered the Fort De Moise Hotel so I wasn't really thrilled to leave the hotel in the same conditions though I had hope of driving out of the storm that seems to have covered all of America for days now. I forwent my first light of day coffee in lieu of gaining an early start to my marathon drive. Hoping I'd have the stamina to drive the 750 miles to the Denver area I took a deep breath as Des Moise Iowa disappeared in my rear view mirror.

 The rain and wind became relentless through the undulating farmlands, the breadbasket, of our great nation. I'm sounding a little patriotic because this day, Memorial Day, the towns will be filled with trappings of honor to those who gave their lives so our nation can remain free. This is a mixed emotion for me...I am saddened by the tens of thousands of families who lost a loved one in the prime of their lives yet I harbor a flame of disgust for the individuals who profited from such hideous wars. The world wars seemed to have a much purer intent and need but our contemporary conflicts are questionable.

It almost seemed like the storm contained itself along the state lines. Crossing the border from Iowa to Nebraska I drove through Omaha in search of a breakfast stop. Even Minnie, the GPS, couldn't come up with anything open so I ventured a few miles further west to Council Bluffs and though they had an impressive display of bronze sculptures portraying the early settlers in search for a new life, my search for the land of breakfast wasn't fulfilled. Like the pioneers who pulled away from Council Bluffs 150 years ago, I too went west for my quest. Within minutes a mirage like tower with a campfire style coffee pot perched on top appeared on the flat horizon. I slowed as approached my morning mecca yet I was so enthralled by the coffee pot two hundred feet above the ground I missed the exit. The next exit I wiggled my way back using the side roads to the Sapp Brothers Cafe.

With CNN (I requested they change the channel on the screen at the counter) and Fox News on the flat screens competing on who can be more patriotic, I reviewed my map and was happy with my progress. Since the weather was clearing, this allowed me to drift from the ribbon of the most direct route and explore the back roads of Nebraska.
Cheeky running with the Big Dogs

I dedicate this Nebraska barn shot to Maralyce
Tummy full and metabolism jacked up on caffeine I looked across the parking lot and spied Cheeky with a slight grin across her grill. I looked a bit to my right and saw a group of semi trucks lined up perfectly with one empty slot in the middle. Cheeky wants her photo running with the big dogs. I backed into the spot ready for someone to give me some grief but it was early and I pulled off a sweet panorama of a proud little 4Runner among the big 16 wheelers.

I drove down the highway until I spotted church steeple in the distance off to the right. The next rural exit had me driving the dirt roads delineating the farm fields with short arteries leading to homes and barns. I was fascinated with the style of vintage barns in Nebraska unlike any other design I've encountered. After photographing the barns I doubled back towards the sharp steeple. Driving up to the church, an adjacent cemetery with display of the United States flags all unfurled at attention thanks to the constant wind, made a moment for me to contemplate and be thankful. Three to four generation families pulled up into the cemetery, piled out of their suburbans and surrounded grave markers of their loved one.  This sincere rare display of respectful recognition reinforced the hope our society isn't unraveling.

It doesn't get any more Midwest than this
Back to the fast pavement, my focus was to reach the Denver area, camp the night and reach Utah by the next day to visit with friends Daphanie  and Carlos for a couple days. The same time zone issue that plagued me for weeks is now working to my advantage. As I crossed into Colorado, I saved an hour so I adjusted my day's destination to Vail, Colorado which would shorten my next day drive by a couple hours.

Turning south it felt as if my direction was going downhill. The extra hour and the diminishing winds once I entered into the Rocky Mountain passes gave me a deeper strength and endurance. Winding and cutting through the mountains via tunnels gave me hope I would reach Vail before dark though the jagged peaks had only a dash of light highlighting their western tips. Along the way I kept a vigilant look out for a state park to camp at but nothing appeared plus I began to think whether it would be wise for me to camp in these mountains with snow still dotted on the ground. A quick change in weather could lead to a miserable night after a 775 mile drive. OK...I caved and pulled into a Holiday Inn Express in Vail. The young man behind the hotel desk checked me in and then he asked what I was doing for dinner. My mind was caught a bit off guard until he explained the hotel has a sushi restaurant and Mondays are half off night. A perfect end to a long day behind the wheel

Tunnels cut through the mountains save alot of time

Not much daylight left

. I dropped my bag in my room, made an about face, stepped into the restaurant and within minutes was being entertained by the artistry of two Japanese sushi masters. The saki, beer, and miso soup was a great beginning to a fine sushi dinner. Once the sushi was finished...I felt finished and soon was in deep recovery mode for the next day.