I began writing this as we were leaving Cortez, Colorado (named for Hernan Cortez, Conqueror of Mexico and not to be confused with Cortex, Colorado, Home of the World’s Smartest People). You may notice that this is a considerable distance from Yosemite National Park.
In addition, you may note that the last chronicle of these travels purported to include Day 8. Technically, this was true, since we did not bed down at Indian Flats till after midnight on Day 8. So in the words of Huck Finn, what I wrote there was mostly true, but with some stretchers. As he said, they ain’t nobody tells stories that ain’t got no stretchers, without it was Aunt Polly or the Widow Douglas, and this is a tale that requires at least some stretchers now and then.
Anyhow, my point is that I have fallen behind in my journaling because of all the stuff I have been doing that I am now attempting to journal about. I’m trying to get it all down before it fades and will be relying on memory and also the journal that Jan is keeping.
(Journaling, by the way, is an excellent art to practice, since it reveals to you stuff you would otherwise soon forget and it helps you chew the cud of your experience and discover meanings you may not have noticed in the moment. The words “review” and “recognize” literally mean to “re-see” and “have cognition again”. It’s how thought proceeds. We see something, then we see it again and realize (often to our surprise) what it is we saw. We look at a face and it’s just an arrangement of eyes, nose, mouth and hair. Then see what it is we saw and we “re-cognize” it and exclaim: “Why that’s old Bill Smith from sixth grade!” Journaling helps that process immensely in recognizing all sorts of experiences churning around in our souls that we feel certain must mean something, but do not know how to put in front of our faces again and re-cognize).
Crunch! We just hit a tumbleweed—an actual John Ford Western tumbleweed) on the road up to Newspaper Rock, where there are petroglyphs as old as the Pyramids. We walk in wonders on this strange earth.
Also, while we telling time-disjointed anecdotes, I should mention that before we got to Indian Flats I wound up taking a long and fruitless detour in search of another campground that, among other things, led us through the tunnel near Tunnel View, which was considerably better lit than the park was. So I was able to wittily remark to my very patient wife, “Look! It’s the dark at the end of the tunnel.”
Ah me. I slay me.
Anyway, we got up around 7:00 on April 9, feeling a bit of trepidation since the place we parked was full of signs about “PRIVATE PROPERTY! THIS MEANS YOU! PAY FIRST!” and being as it was after midnight when we got in paying first was impossible. But as it happens the bark was much worse than the bite. Pete, the manager of the place drove out and said, “Hey! I gotta take my son to the dentist. How does twenty bucks sound?”
“Great!” said I. “I’ll stick it in the mailbox by the office door.”
And off he went. (Later, when he came back, he said, “So do you wanna come fill out some paperwork? Or not. Up to you. Ahhh, never mind.” It’s a very casually-run place.
Jan made a lovely eggy sausagey cheesy thing in a flour tortilla and we headed off to explore Yosemite in the bright morning sunshine, entering through the Portal:
It’s hard to do Yosemite justice. The immense sense of space—a sensation you encounter again and again in the American West—overwhelms the senses.
It’s as though the very air around your body is rushing away from your skin and your ears. It’s a sensation that accompanies what the eyes see, but without it, all you have are what pictures can show you and mere pictures can only hint at the scope of the place.
We drove down past Bridal Veil Fall, past El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks to Half Dome. I searched in vain to see the tiny figure of Captain James T. Kirk crawling up the face of it. (Yes, I have even seen Star Trek V, the worst of whole franchise.) I had to content myself with that thought that he will do it in three centuries or so and just stand in front of it, confident in the knowledge that I will not scale it or any other height in three million centuries:
We meandered around the field at the foot of Yosemite Falls in the warm sunshine, Jan taking pictures of critters and flowers and trees and streams the while. The place used to be a town a century or so ago, with tourist trap junk and restaurants and bars. But the last of that was cleared out 30 years ago and they have returned the park to the wild as it should be and virtually no buildings remain.
The last building still there is also the oldest: the Yosemite Chapel:
(Not a very good picture)
It was built in the 1870s and is still in use today for both Protestant and Catholic services. Fun Fact: Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan) played the organ for a Memorial Service in honor of Ulysses S Grant when he died.
After several hours of wandering and rubbernecking we decided to go get some grub. The place was packed and most of the people around me were not Americans, so that was fun. One family nearby was speaking German, others some Slavic tongue, either Russian or Polish. Various representatives from Asia were there. And one American family behind me had an entire reconciliation drama unfold during the time Jan and I at our Haagen Daaz Ice Cream bars. Evidently a daughter who worked at the park had seen her family there and was angry because they hadn’t contacted her in two years, her boyfriend confronted them, shaking with fear and anger, somebody (the dad?), wound up talking to both of them, there were tears (I prayed the cross of Christ make peace between them all) and, as we left, the girl was talking to the whole family and being introduced to little cousins who were too small to remember her. So that made for an interesting lunch.
By now it was may 2:30 and since were weren’t camping or hiking in the park we thought we would make our way south toward Fresno and start looking for our next campsite. (This is where we were when I wrote my last entry, looking out the window of the car as we twisted round narrow curves at elevations of 6000 feet over rocky ravines of death.)
Eventually, came down out of the Sierras, through Fresno, and then south on 99 till we came to a revelation: KOA campgrounds! Ours was the Visalia/Sequoia KOA. Pools. Running water, a little store and even showers!
Showers! In the warm dry country of the San Joaquin Valley. They even had electricity so we could run my CPAP without taxing the battery, recharge various devices, and re-juice the battery for the CPAP. There was a lovely family of Arizonans who had just driven from Flagstaff and were on the way to Cannon Beach, Oregon for a family do. They had three adorable kids who were fascinated with us. It was a Christian family (the little boy asked if I believed in Jesus and also picked little purple flowers for Jan. His sisters joined in. She was charmed.
Speaking of flowers, California has California Poppies!
I have a deep fondness for California Poppies because they blow along the road to Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island, where I once took a particularly enjoyable bike ride many years ago to watch orca whale pods during one of our Memorial Day trips to our Hidden Island Redoubt in the San Juans.
Anyway, after breakfast, we pulled out and headed south for Bakersfield, across the Mojave Desert,
through Death Valley (with stops at Random Place in the Wilderness by the Side of the Road to take pictures of little orange flowers that intrigued my sweetie
…trees she called “truffula trees”
(which we later discovered are Joshua Trees)
…some Sand Dunes
For those of us old enough to remember Death Valley Days, (an enormously successful show that ran on radio from 1930 to 1945 and then ran for another 18 years on television from 1952 to 1970 (hosted for a while by Ronald Reagan in his final work as an actor before entering politics), Zabriskie Point is important because the Borax company used to mine borax there and then decided the site should be preserved instead.
In addition, there was apparently some dreadful counter-culture film shot there in 1970 called, creatively, Zabriskie Point.
Anyway, on we went till we got to Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area, right at sunset:
That picture will have to stand in for the ocean of grandeur in which we bathed. We met a guy there from North Carolina who teaches videography. He was there to shoot some stuff and try some new tricks to see how they worked. He was also at a conference at nearby Las Vegas.
Speaking of which, we headed on round the south side of it, being careful to avoid the wild George Clooneys, Julia Robertses, and Elvises that are native to the area. Eventually, we got in after dark at the Boulder Beach Campground. It is on what normal humans call “Lakeshore Drive” but what Garmin declares to be “Lack a Shore Drive”. There is some ironic poetry in that. Here is a picture of it from a point just around the corner from Hoover Dam:
That little white patch at the base of the little mountain is it. You’ll also note that Lake Mead (formed by Hoover Dam) is now about a mile away from Boulder Beach Campground. Welcome to climate change. There is, in fact, an immense bathtub ring around Lake Mead showing exactly how far the levels of the lake have dropped. The dam was built in 1935 and the lake took six years to fill to full capacity in a shoreline that is 500 miles long. Resorts that use to be on that shoreline are now miles away from it.
As to the Dam itself, it was a highlight of the trip for me, not only because of the sheer immensity of the project, something to equal the pyramids in terms of the psychological impact of human achievement…
But also because the whole thing is done in this cool Art Deco period style:
There is also this cool memorial built for the opening by some artist with some odd star mysticism about Platonic years and such, featuring information on the exact position of stars and planets in the sky on the day the Dam was commissioned by FDR, as well as cool Art Deco “Angels of the Republic”:
It feels somehow Mormon in its combination of Americanist spiritual mysticism and star mumbo jumbo, but the sculptor was just apparently some Norwegian mystic of American Greatness overawed by the achievement of Hoover Dam (which, to be fair, would certainly have inspired any ancient artist with similar feelings of astonishment at such a massive triumph of human collaborative effort). Undertaken as a cooperative venture among a number of American states in the southwest that built from the time of TR, through the 20s and culminated in the 30s. The main work on the Dam took place from 1931-1935 and, like Grand Coulee in my native Washington, aimed to both water and electrify huge portions of the country. LA and Las Vegas are both hugely dependent on Hoover Dam.
Anyhow, we spent a couple of hours there in the heat (poor Jan melts in the heat: she is a natural western Washington girl). I regaled passersby with the wondrous feats of Superman, who saved Hoover Dam from the earthquake caused by Lex Luthor’s twin stealth atomic missiles generating a massive earthquake. I sang of the day he saved Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane by flying around the earth backward at light speed and reversing time. Strong men wept and women fainted at my bardic exploits.
We then decided to head to the Valley of Fire Slot Canyon (also near Las Vegas). Here’s a taste:
Then it was on into Utah and Zion National Park, brandishing yet again our Awesome Old People Pass that gets us into every national park in Murka for free. We rock.
Speaking of rocks, Zion has gorgeous ones.
However, as we came back to the car after parking it on the fifth switchback up Zion, we noticed a stream of pink fluid issuing from under the car. Oh no! Catastrophe! Our water pump must have busted, reasoned I, seasoned traveler. So whipping out Jan’s trusty cell we… got no signal.
Because we were in the middle of a park.
Fear. Now what?
We went up to a nearby couple and asked if they could get any bars. Miraculously, they could. So we called AAA and they promised us this:
The couple (whose names I cannot recall) were very nice. They chose to sit with us while we waited and we talked about where we were all from and what we did. He was an air traffic controller, which is not a typical line of work. They had a young girl who was very patient while the grownups talked.
Eventually, the truck came and got the car loaded.
The driver asked where we wanted to go, so we told him “A AAA garage”. The nearest was in St. George, back the way we came by 40 miles. That was fine by him, so we climbed in and headed back.
He was one of the those people who talks with their hands and he had a lot to say—on winding mountain roads. He was a nice guy and a local, from Hurricane. He knew the country well and recommends Zion and Bryce Canyon, but not the Grand Canyon, which he regards as a really big hole in the ground. He said people should see it only so that they will appreciate Bryce Canyon the better. He also startled us with the shocking news that the Four Corners Monument is not actually located at Four Corners. This gave us the excuse to cut it from our itinerary.
We also, alas, had to strike the Grand Canyon, given that our day’s delay at St. George with the car was eating into a tightening schedule.
The bright side was that we got to sleep in a bed *and* swim in a swimming pool (in a gale that has more or less continued blow, everywhere we have gone since that night).
Next day, I was over at the garage the second they opened, explaining what I took to be the problem and also asking them to give the tires a look. (As it happened, the coolant system was fine. The reservoir had just overflowed a bit in the heat. However, it did need a new set of tires, so we did that before heading over the Rockies) Then it was back to the motel to write up the last post I posted and then go to Denny’s to eat and post it with their wifi. This accomplished, we headed off to Bryce Canyon.
Before we got there, we went through Dixie, which is not at all what I pictured Jefferson Davis being President of:
All the big red sandstone formations in the southwest that Wile E. Coyote climbs around on are the remnants of ancient sand dunes or sea bottoms that were here before the upthrust of the Rockies. It provides a rich palate for America’s greatest living Coyote Artist to paint his world famous Tunnel Art:
Amazing trompe l’oeil!
Also, there are just endless desert scenes. So beautiful!
So much of what I saw in Utah and the rest of the Southwest evokes my mental images of Ray Bradbury’s Mars. Just achingly beautiful!
Eventually, we reached Bryce Canyon, which was again stunning:
And we also learned a new word: Hoodoo, which is what those little pointy things are called. Now you know.
Once again, we encountered foreign visitors too, a couple from France, which was cool. Then it was on to the East with a beautiful sunset in our rearview mirror:
And bedtime just outside Mesa Verde in Colorado at the coldest place we have yet stayed.
Next morning we went to Mesa Verde without breakfast (we ate at a Burger King the night before because Incredible Wind and Cold and were still full. Extra bonus: it was on a Navajo reservation and had a cool display of memorabilia of local guys who had been Code Talkers in WWII).
This is Mesa Verde:
It is, without comparison, the coldest place I have ever been. At Park View, a fire lookout station 8000+ feet high with a commanding view for 160 miles in every direction, the wind was fierce and as bitter a thing as I have ever felt. Jan and I could only endure it for a few minutes before we got back in the car and continued to the only ruins that were open, next to a museum with a very talkative ranger who filled us with cool information about the successive inhabitants of the area, as well as cool things to see like Newspaper Rock (bursting with petroglyphs) on the way up to Arches:
The Museum thrilled Jan’s anthropology minor heart with a ton of information about the culture of the people who lived here (they abandoned site around the time Chaucer but their oral traditions preserve a lot of knowledge, as do the artifacts they left behind).
Then we went to Newspaper Rock, warm in our little car, and on to Arches:
Finally, it was time to head over the Rockies and on to Sherry Weddell’s house in Colorado Springs. However, after debate, we decided to sleep at the rest stop in Rifle, Colorado after a meal. Jan noticed, to her amazement that an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store was open, so she leapt at the chance and bought desperately needed new wiper blades.
Then we pulled into a nearby rest stop and tucked in for the night, snug as badgers and watching the snow fall around us.