Tue Sep 2 12:00:18 MDT 2003
Sharp Left Turn -- Kanab, UT
I had a lovely afternoon in Craig, enjoying the pool. They actually have two pools. One is the usual type with a diving board, and the other is a big wave pool like they have in Water World.
I rode a few miles outside of the city looking for a camping spot. I honestly believe that it would become easier to find camping as I got further West, but the opposite has been true. Even though there is tons of open land, it is all fenced in. Even the public lands are fenced in! So there is this narrow (ten feet or so) corridor along either side of the road, then a barbed-wire fence with "No Trespassing" signs all over it. I am definitely beginning to understand the mindset Woody Guthrie was in when he wrote "This Land is Your Land," and I've taken to singing it as I ride. Unfortunately, I only know the first verse.
So, I've resolved myself to camping alongside the road more often than I would like. I madethe discovery that it doesn't really matter whether I'm hidden from the road next to me, so long as I'm hidden from in front and behind. At the speed cars travel, drivers only have a fraction of a second as they pass by my little hidden sites when they could turn their heads and see me there. Most of the time I am happily invisible.
On my way out of Craig I found a spot on top of a hill that was protected by the curve of the hill itself. The site was perfect, except for two things: cactus and red ants. The cactus I conquered by taking the trailer off of my bike and carrying each one to the campsite, where I laid them on their side so they would not be inadvertantly punctured. The red ants I did not conquer. At best, we reached a stalemate.
I remember when I was growing up, if we found an ant in the schoolyard, we would always try to determine if an ant was red or black, and thus whether it might bite us or not. I now believe that we don't have any of these sort of ant in Massachussetts. They were all over the place, and they seriously bite. There was one that grabbed a hold of me, and would not let go, as much as I tried to brush it off. Finally I had to threaten it with drowning from my water bottle to get it to let go. I had started to see some bleached-white animal skulls and skeletons along the roadside, and hadn't thought much of them, but these ants were probably responsible for cleaning the meat off of the bones. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they had occasionally helped to finish off an ill or wounded animal. But at last, I'm really in the West of the movies!
The next couple of days, Friday August 22nd, and Saturday the 23rd, were rather uneventful and boring. There were still a few mountains around, but mostly I was riding through flat plains and scrub. Friday evening I camped in a flat area near a mine, outside Massadona. A huge thunderstorm rolled in while I was cooking dinner, and I misjudged its timing. The rain started coming down very hard and fast, and I got soaked in the short time it took to jump in my tent. Fortunately I saved dinner. The storm thundered on in the distance all night, and I watched it out the screen door of my tent.
Saturday I road on through Blue Mountain, a town which consisted of exactly two houses. Its pricipal feature was an old blue schoolbus full of lumber, parked outside one house. Towards afternoon I reached Dinosaur National Monument. I spoke with a ranger at the Visitor's Center about what I should see at the Monument. She told me all about what I should see, and we talked about water issues, and she told me how she was planning to move to a writers' cooperative in Flagstaff when her job was done for the summer. I think she was incredibly bored at her post.
Down the road a little way was one of the big attractions of Dinosaur National Monument: Dinosaur Quarry. This is an old excavation site that proved very rich, yielding hundreds and hundreds of dinosaur bones. It is thought that the site used to be a river bed, and many bones and carcasses were washed from miles upstream and got stuck there, to be buried in mud and fossilized. In modern times, excavation went on for some fifteen years before the scientists decided that they were very unlikely to gain any new information from further excavation. So they left the remaining bones in place, and now the site is accessible to the public. There is a building covering the excavated slope, to protect it from the weather, and you can go in and see all the bones sticking out from the surface. You can even go right up and touch the bones, although they draw the line at clmbing the wall.
Moving on from Dinosaur Quarry, I arrived in Vernal, UT towards evening. I could see a storm gathering and doubted whether I would be able to get out the other side of town before either the storm broke or the sun set. So I got a motel room. I knew I was really in Utah when I heard a story on the news about a clash between local and federal authorities over polygamy.
Sunday was another slow day, I pushed on through Fort Duchesne and arrived just outside of Duchesne (I confused those two towns all day) to find a beautiful hilltop campsite, overlooking a reservoir.
Monday the 25th I was climbing slowly all day. I stopped for a long lunch by Strawberry Reservoir, a nice spot that's especially popular amongst fishermen. Then I made a relatively easy ascent to a pass, and started a monster downhill. I stopped about halfway downhill, as I was in the Uintah National Forest and for once I knew that camping was one hundred percent acceptable. There was a nice spot right alongside the road with a stream running through it. It also happened to be a gravel parking area, but it was clearly used infrequently.
Tuesday the 26th I rolled the rest of the way downhill into Heber, UT. It was the first seriously big town I'd seen in a few days. I checked out the Historic Heber Valley Railroad and stopped in at Pizza Hut just as their lunch buffet was beginning. I brought a book and read and ate. And ate. And so on. I was rather uncomfortably full by the time I moved on, but I had no regrets.
Out of Heber there was an extended uphill to Park City, which I probably would have found less difficult if I had just eaten a normal-sized lunch. Even so I arrived in Park City by late afternoon. I called my cousin Drew, and he picked up me and my bike to drive to his home. I got showered and had a wonderful dinner with Drew, his wife Jill, and his two daughters Carter and Mason. The schedule of a house with young children is an early one, and we all went to bed shortly after the kids, each of us exhausted.
I had decided to spend a day with Drew and Jill to rest up for the next leg of my journey. Wednesday morning I took my bike into town and rode a not-very-strenuous circuit around town, checking out the ski resorts and housing developments. I rode the alpine slide at one slope, and got lost three times in various developments.
Drew and I had lunch together and I found out that nearly all the phone and internet lines in town were out, due to some backhoe incident outside of town.
In the evening we went to Carter's soccer practice, and then back to Drew and Jill's house for another wonderful dinner. I slept soundly and awoke Thursday the 28th ready to go on. After a false start -- I forgot my helmet and flag at the house, and Jill had to drive back and get them for me -- I set out on I-80 for Salt Lake City. I don't like riding on the interstates, but in this case I-80 was the only option to cross the mountains. Oftentimes, too, my dislike for interstates is unjustified. They usually have the widest shoulders and best pavement, for instance.
I arrived in Salt Lake City by noon or so, and went on a tour of the Temple grounds there. Non-Mormons are not allowed inside the temple itself, but the temple grounds include a tabernacle, a church, and some beautiful gardens, as well as an impressive convention center across the street. The auditorium of the convention center holds 21,000 people, and is packed to the brim at the church's annual convention. I learned two random interesting facts on my tour of the grounds. The first is that because there was no oak available to the Mormon settlers, all the pews in the church are actually made of white pine, handpainted to look like oak. The pillars of the church are also made of white pine, but they are painted to look like marble. What a versatile wood! The other interesting fact is that during the second summer of their arrival, after a hard winter, the settlers were beset by a plague of locusts which began eating all their crops. However, the wind soon changed and brought in a flock of seagulls all the way from the Pacific. The gulls ate the locusts, saving the crops. For this reason, seagulls are considered a very blessed bird by Mormons.
After the temple and a bit of desultory sightseeing -- I wasn't much impressed by the rest of Salt Lake City -- I headed South out of the City. I had begun reconsidering my planned route even before arriving in Park City, and consulting with Drew and Jill made up my mind. Rather than heading straight across Nevada to Reno, I would turn South and go through Southern Utah to Arizona, where I would visit the Grand Canyon before turning West again to go through Las Vegas to California. Not only does this solve the problem of going many days through hot, unpleasant desert, I would get to see several sights that I had hoped to see on this trip if I had taken a more southerly route.
As I moved South out of the city, I realized there was a problem. I wasn't moving out of the city! There is a whole strip of urbanization between Salt Lake and Provo, and I wasn't likely to make it past Provo before dark. Just as I was starting to worry I might have to check into a hotel, I passed a large wooded lot. It was an anomaly, with development to either side and another road behind it, but there were enough trees to feel comfortable and safe behind them, so I happily set up camp.
Friday the 29th, I kept on South through Provo, but it was a slow day, in part because it rained all morning. I also heard from my friend Chris who has been abroad in Japan for nearly a year, and just returned, so we talked for a long time on the phone. I got my first flat since Denver, and patched it. But when I went to a gas station to fill it to the proper pressure, I made a big mistake. I figured I would also top off my other tires. But each of my tires has a slightly different pressure specification, and I confused my trailer tire (70 PSI) with my front tire (85 PSI). At first nothing happened, but when I was doing some other miscellaneous work on the bike, I heard a tearing sound and then a very loud BANG! The tire had ripped open and the tube had exploded from inside. Luckily there was a bike shop right down the road and I got a replacement. Even so, I felt quite foolish.
Towards evening I found myself in Mapleton, near another part of the Uintah National Forest. I biked off into the Forest a short distance, and found a secluded spot by the side of the road to set up camp.
Saturday the 30th, I finally started to make some distance. To continue following Route 89 South, I actually had to get on Route 6 going East for several miles, which evoked some odd feelings.
I passed through the ex-town of Thistle, UT, which was wiped out in a combined landslide/flood in 1986. Evidently an heavy snowfall and early spring brought about tremendous snowmelt, which caused a landslide. The landslide created a natural dam which flooded the valley where Thistle lay. Fortunately, the people who lived there were evacuated, but the houses were destroyed. You can still see several of them along the road, half-buried in mud.
I went through a long series of small, picturesque towns, and made it to Manti before stopping for the night. Manti is the home of another Mormon temple, quite majestic and visible from a distance. Their high school football team is called the "Templars." I wasn't far outside of town, when I found a gate to some nice empty-looking scrubland with no lock on it. I trusted my intuition that this was public land, and camped there. I woke up in the middle of the night to an amazing display of stars, along with Mars, shining as brightly as it ever will in my lifetime.
Sunday the 31st was more good riding, and I felt in a great mood. I took a long lunch and got a chance to talk with my family, just back from vacation on Cape Cod. But the highlight of the day was towards the end, as I rode into a long twisting canyon formed by the Sevier River. The rock formations through there were just amazing, and they were especially highlighted by the evening sun. I was travelling against the flow of the river, but it felt like I was going downhill. I still had a couple of hours left before sunset, but the sun sets early in the canyon, and I really liked it there, so I found a flat, open spot north of Marysvale and camped out in the canyon.
Monday morning I took an early break at a rest stop to use the facilities, and I met a trucker named Sally who had spent the night there. She said it was one of her favorite rest stops, not only because of the beautiful surroundings, but because the bathrooms had hot water so she could take a "sink-shower." She told me that she had been trucking for twenty-two years and it was the best decision she had ever made. She said it was a great way to see the country, and told me all about some of her favorite spots, like a beach in Florida that allows truck cabs where she goes to take a day off after delivering a load there, or a spot near Baja California where she goes kayaking, or, in fact, the canyon we were in. She was fascinating to talk to, and I think that Emily, who wants to be a trucker someday, would have especially liked her.
The riding on Monday was through more small towns and great mountains. I'm starting to see some of the red rock that Southern Utah is famous for. Every now and then I will come across a mountain whose sides are startlingly red, presumably with iron. Inevitably they make me think again of Mars, where all the mountains are that shade of red.
The most startling event on Monday was when I came across a crudely carved wooden penis, about the size of my forearm, lying by the side of the road. I considered this too obscure an end for such a strange objet d'art, so I picked it up as a souvenir. I'm not sure what I will do with it though. It's a bit too shocking to put up on my mantelpiece. When I was staying with Drew, though, he showed me pictures from his recent expedition to Thailand, where they have altars to fertility gods that they decorate with colored ribbons and carved penises surprisingly like this one. So perhaps I simply need to find a fertility altar where I can leave my odd find. Or, failing that, I suppose I could erect one myself. No pun intended.
Monday evening I arrived at Long Valley Junction, forty-three miles from the border, and found another open gate leading to a wooded area which I presumed was public. I camped on a small hill overlooking the road, and felt like I was a hidden observer up in the trees.
This morning, Tuesday September 2nd, I started out with a wonderful long downhill. I'm seeing some more fascinating rock formations. If my guess is right, most of the rock I'm seeing lately is sandstone. There are cliffs which show very clearly the patterns of sedimentation and uplift and all sorts of fun geological processes, but the best are the caves. The cliffs around here are pockmarked with caves all over. I climbed up to one of them and there was plenty of room to stand up inside, and it was deep enough to be sheltered from the rain. I thought to myself that it would be a great place to camp if it wasn't so early, and realized that there's quite a good possibility some ancient person did camp there.
Now I am in Kanab, three miles north of the Arizona border. I am getting quite close to the Grand Canyon, and am very excited about it!