Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 25, Day 23

We crossed the Mississippi again this morning, into Illinois! We drove to Nauvoo through a chilly, misty morning to attend the 10 o'clock session at the Nauvoo temple. The drive took us along the "Great River Road" (which we did drive on last night but it was too dark to notice) which hugs the banks of the Mississippi. The big river just makes you think big thoughts. Most of mine were actually about Huckleberry Finn. I felt so American, watching this great river roll past through the window. Colby was busy exceeding all reasonable speed limits on wet roads to get us to the temple on time, but I really enjoyed the view.

The temple was wonderful. What a beautiful place! You can almost imagine that it's the very same structure the early saints built and loved. I love that it has been built so exactly like the original. The inside is beautiful, so regal in its simplicity - plain and precious, I would say. My favorite. We loved the session, and, as usual, came out feeling peaceful and centered. How grateful we are for temples! It was hard to imagine building this large, stately, sacred building at such great sacrifice, and then having to walk away from it and face the west, as the early saints did. What a heartbreaking duty that must have been, for so many!

We didn't plan on spending much time in Nauvoo, but once we got started, we were hooked. We ended up wishing we had days and days to spend there. We started with the Joseph Smith homestead, red brick store, and gravesite. It was so thrilling to think we were standing on ground the prophet himself must have walked! After that, we saw Brigham Young's home, John Taylor's home, post office, and printing press, and Heber C. Kimball's home. When we only had time for one more, I wanted to go to the Family Living Center, which apparently talks about baking and textiles and other interesting aspects of pioneer life, but we settled on the Jonathan Browning gunsmith shop. You can guess which of us had his heart set on that! The gunsmith shop was actually SO interesting, and we loved learning about the guns. Did you know Browning (yes, THE Browning) was a Mormon? We didn't!

Anyway, Nauvoo was so wonderful. We were sorry we had to leave and miss a single bit of it. Even though it had been pouring rain ever since we came out of the temple.

We drove to Springfield through LOTS of rain. By which I mean, COLBY drove to Springfield through lots of rain. He's such a good husband. I think he's driven like 97% of this whole trip. We arrived at the Super 8 just in time for me to watch the General Relief Society Meeting broadcast. It was just wonderful, as always. It made me so excited for General Conference that I can hardly stand it. We even got to hear from the prophet himself!

One of the great treats (for me) about being back in the Midwest is seeing things I remember from my childhood. Some of them are super familiar, like Meijer and Dunkin Donuts, but some I haven't thought about in years (like Bob Evans), and so I have a great time yelping and pointing things out to Colby from the passenger seat as I see signs and storefronts and even native vegetation that I recognize. It's been so much fun, and Colby's done really well not getting us in any accidents from my squealing and startling him every 5 minutes.

We had dinner at Steak'n'Shake, another friendly name from my childhood. We used to go camping at Warren Dunes, on Lake Michigan, in the summers with some family friends, and we'd stop for lunch at Steak'n'Shake on the way there. Another thing I haven't thought about in years but suddenly came rushing back last night.

September 24, Day 22

We went to Independence first thing in the morning. The visitors' center was great, and it's just a beautiful little place. We saw the temple lot, unfortunately not owned by the church (yet). It felt really momentous, being in such a special place. I hope to go back someday.

Our next stop was the Community of Christ temple, which is right nearby. Our tour guide was a nice older lady who seemed a bit lonely and was therefore overly chatty. The tour was WAY longer than we wanted to spend in there. In fact, all we really wanted was to show ourselves around, but we made the mistake of asking a lady at the desk for a little information. Oops. We came out feeling empty and chilled. There are a lot of good intentions, and apparently a lot of good works, but there was hardly any presence or indication of Christ in the building. It was mostly about world peace, barely religious at all. It was really enlightening, and we were so glad to get back in the car and listen to MoTab to invite the Spirit.

Liberty Jail was our next stop. We were refreshed to have an elegant, loving senior sister give us an excellent, Spirit-filled presentation and tour. You can just feel truth, you know? We felt very privileged to be so near to such a hallowed place.

After Liberty Jail came Far West and the temple site, and then Adam-Ondi-Ahman. The valley is just beautiful and there is a wonderful Spirit of peace, memory, and potential that fills it.

We slept in Keokuk, Iowa tonight. We were so tired and it was so dark that we almost didn't even notice when we crossed the Mississippi!

September 23, Day 21

Three weeks on the road, today! We're proud of ourselves. Also, it may or may not be getting slightly old.

We roused ourselves long enough to go enjoy the continental breakfast, then I read and Colby slept until 11. Mmmmm.

Checkout was a COMPLETE success, we told the guy at the desk how grossed out we were, and he gave us a coupon for a free night at any La Quinta. SCORE. We are now satisfied customers.

We went to Winter Quarters this morning. It was drizzling and gloomy, which we figured was appropriate for learning about pioneers. We had a tour of the visitors' center, then walked around outside. We saw the temple and the statue that Colby's grandma and her twin sister had unveiled as little girls. There were some nice French tourists there who had Colby take their picture. It was so fun to chat with them, because they didn't speak English. Like, at all. They had their son there, who's an American now and translated for them, but they really JUST spoke French. Can I tell you how much I love it when you're speaking to someone who doesn't speak your language, so they just chatter to you in THEIRS, because hey, might as well talk, on the off chance we can make ourselves understood to each other? It's SO FUN. It was especially fun because I DID understand a lot of what they were saying - 3 semesters of French may not allow me to actually formulate anything to say to them, but I could piece together their chatter. Also, they shared some European mints with us which should really catch on in the United States. It was fun to feel connected to Latter-day Saints from halfway across the world. The Church is just as true there as it is here. They were going to finish up their trip with General Conference in Salt Lake City, and they were so excited.

It was appropriate that we were near the Winter Quarters statue (the one that Colby's Grandma Erickson had unveiled) when Sonja called and told us that Grandma Erickson had passed away that morning. We are so sorry for the loss of such a sweet lady. We are going to abbreviate our trip significantly in order to allow Colby to fly to Utah and attend her funeral.

After Winter Quarters, we went to the Kanesville Tabernacle on the other side of the river, in Council Bluffs. I'll admit that until I found it on a list of "Places to Visit" on the Church website, I had never even heard of it! It's a replica of the tabernacle the saints built while living in the area, in which (significantly) the prophet Brigham Young and his counselors were sustained. A pretty important spot! There were nice senior missionaries there, and we enjoyed learning about the history. This tabernacle was also the enlistment place for the Mormon Battalion, so we got to learn about my ancestor, Jonathan Harriman Holmes, who was a member of that battalion. Among other things, we learned that he lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith for a while!

It was rainy and overcast all day on the road, and Colby heroically drove us through a big rainstorm. We read and listened to books and ate junk food - all the important parts of a good roadtrip. In Kansas City we found another La Quinta to redeem our newly-acquired coupon. Luckily, this one looks cleaner than the last one.

Colby was kind enough to stay in the hotel room and let me finish the last 30 or so pages of my book (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Grisham) before dinner. I hate to leave a book so close to the end, you know? Anyway, it was wonderful. The end was so heartbreaking and beautiful, and it tied up the whole thing so richly that I pretty much sobbed for like a half hour and then my eyes were dry afterward because I used up this week's (and next week's) lacrimal glad quota. I pulled myself together and then we went to find some dinner.

Finding dinner turned out to be harder than we expected, because our GPS unit, Lee (it's not Kareema anymore, we got tired of Arabic and changed it to a really throaty Australian guy) kept leading us to restaurants that turned out to not exist. For example, Al's Barbeque is apparently located at some shady, broken-down old railroad bridge in back of a casino. Mmm, nope.

When we came back to the hotel room, I was freezing. This is typical for me. Anyway, I turned on the heater and immediately this awful burning stench came out, choking us both and setting off the fire alarm in under 10 seconds. The cleaning lady was looking at us funny when fled out into the hallway, and I said, "my bad." I think it was just our room though, because we didn't have to evacuate the whole building. Which is good. It stopped after a few minutes and I decided to just put on a sweater instead.

September 22, Day 20

It was far too windy this morning to bother with breakfast, so we just wrestled our parachute tent into the car and drove away. Sometimes you just have to drive away and not look back. Luckily, we didn't get stampeded by buffalo in the night, which I was vaguely afraid would happen. You'd think in a park full of buffalo they'd put a fence or at least a cattle guard or something around a campground. Or not.

Once again, the weather bent to our iron will, and saved the ominous clouds slash rain for a day of DRIVING. It's nice that the weather understands who's boss around here. The gloomy weather did make the landscape even more stark and impressive - we really enjoyed our drive out through the Badlands. Plus I just feel so cool saying "Badlands." I feel like a cowboy. "Howdy, just rode in from Sioux City. Sure, it was a long drive across the Badlands, but if he knows where the water tanks are a man can survive." YES.

We stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Memorial a few miles outside the park. They give tours of a non-operational old missile silo! I startled myself by realizing that not only did I not know where all our nation's nuclear weapons are kept, I hadn't even ever wondered. Way to be an informed citizen. Turns out they're all over the great plains states. I guess if I had ever thought about it I assumed they were in a giant warehouse in Washington. Sometimes my intelligence level intimidates people.

Colby LOVED the missile memorial. I thought it was interesting for about 10 minutes, and then I got antsy and wanted to go. This equates to a perfect role reversal from how we react to museums about cowboys and indians, so I think it was fair that we went.

Other than that, we pretty much drove all day. It was a gloomy day, but we liked driving across the plains. They're really flat. And we found the "amber waves of grain." We had lunch at Taco John's. Isn't that the dumbest restaurant name ever? I was busy laughing about it the first time I saw a sign, and then Colby started singing the jingle, and I realized it was a chain. And my husband knows the theme song. They could at least make it Taco Juan's. I mean, PLEASE.

We also finished our book, Life of Pi, and were so depressed afterwards that we had to stop at Target in Sioux City, Iowa, and buy me some chocolate. Suddenly, just within today's drive, it's gone from dry and windy to seriously HUMID. Welcome back to the Midwest! It's good to be home.

We arrived in Omaha at about 6 in the evening, and you should have seen our faces. The last big city that we saw was Salt Lake, and that was like three weeks ago. We were like, WHAT? Where did all these PEOPLE come from? Look at all the cars! When did they start building buildings that tall?! We sere so blown away we tried to turn the wrong way down a one-way street. Felt like the Beverly Hillbillies.

We've had an Applebee's gift card burning a hole in our pockets since we got married, and we decided that tonight we'd USE IT. Livin' it up in Omaha, NE. We casually asked the guy behind the La Quinta desk about restaurants, and he wasn't much help. There didn't seem to be a lot, "I mean, unless you want to go to Applebee's." We looked at each other, walked out the door, and high-fived. That's exactly where we wanted to go. Success.

Unfortunately, that was about the only thing helpful about La Quinta for our whole stay. When we got back to our room, we realized the toilet was a mess - just hadn't been cleaned from the last people (who must have been seriously gross)! So we asked to switch rooms. So they put us in a room with dirty sheets covered in someone-else's-hair. Double gross. So we switched rooms again, and we didn't look too closely, just went to bed. We didn't want to know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 21, Day 19

We chatted with an old lady from our cave tour while we ate breakfast. By the time we had finished our cereal, we were such good friends she was showing us pictures of the time her husband’s Cornhuskers hat had blown into the North Platte River. One thing I love about traveling is meeting people. The old innkeeper man was jumping up and down behind the counter, trying to be as tall as Colby. He was an interesting man. Last night he asked us if we had any kids yet, and when we said no, advised us to “get to work.” This morning, his wife made fun of Colby for eating Fruit Loops, saying he’d have a sugar rush and I’d have to drive. I wish we could figure out if they were Russian or French – it’s been bothering me. Colby: “They were the kind of people you’d expect to smell funny.”

We took the scenic drive through Wind Cave National Park as we headed north. I saw what I thought was my first bison ever, until I remembered having seen some when I was in Yellowstone as a kid. And Colby reminded me that we saw some in Yellowstone when we went last month. Oh, never mind. We did start counting how many we saw, though, and were proud of ourselves for getting to 17, until we came around the corner and found the herd. There were well over 200, all spread out in a field. They were even in the road, farther down. It was startling, and so impressive. It really made us wish we had been able to see bison in all their glory, ruling the plains in herds 1000s strong. I’ve never been a conservationist, but I really do hope they have some reproductive success and can repopulate the plains country. If only because plains country is so much more interesting with buffalo in it. And then we can all eat buffalo again, and wouldn’t that be delicious? Plus, buffalo skin rugs are probably really warm.

After we left Wind Cave, it wasn’t long until we got to Crazy Horse Memorial. The admission price may or may not have been slightly exorbitant, but we were there, so we went. It was large. It isn’t done. They’ve been working on it for like 62 years or something, and it’s not done. There's no excuse for that, if you ask me. The reason for the exorbitant pricing came to light when we watched the introductory video and discovered that the sculptor's family has refused every repeated funding offer from the government - if there's one thing you can say for them, they stick to their political ideals. Unfortunately for us tourists, free enterprise has its price. Also, it has resulted in a lot of kitschy side attractions. There's also no lack of ambition around here. We saw an architect's interpretation of the end plans for Crazy Horse Memorial, and they got a little out of hand. Involving a reflecting pond, a museum, a university and a medical center. Whoa, kids. Try and finish the statue first.

I liked the idea behind the sculpture, though - to give the native peoples of this land a monument to their heritage. And I think the mountain will be really stirring and impressive when it's finished - I just don't know if my grandchildren will still be alive to see that.

After Crazy Horse, we moved on to smaller but more impressive things - Mount Rushmore. We were thrilled and amazed and inspired. It was spectacular. Alright, first of all, the original idea was to build statues of great western heroes out of the needles spires of rock in the Black Hills. How sweet would that have been? Okay, not as patriotic, but imagine seeing 400-foot tall full-body carvings of Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill Cody. YES.

Instead, the sculptor (prudently) thought that a sculpture that big should have a bigger meaning. He wanted to choose something symbolic of the men who helped in the founding, growth, preservation and development of our nation. So he picked Washington (founding), Jefferson (growth), Lincoln (preservation) and Roosevelt (development). Interesting! We really enjoyed reading little bios about each president included, and were impressed at each of these great men that have been our leaders. We especially enjoyed learning about Teddy Roosevelt and better appreciating why he gets to be up there with the big guys.

Before we left on our trip, someone who heard we were going to Mount Rushmore told us we had to try the ice cream. I keep trying to remember who it was. Anyway, it was such bizarre advice, we remembered it. Ice cream at Mount Rushmore? Turns out it's an institution, and it's also delicious. I felt very American, gazing at Mt. Rushmore with an ice cream cone in my hand. At some point someone pointed out how American Mt. Rushmore is - do nothing halfway. And make it really spectacularly huge.

Next was Badlands National Park. It was some of the weirdest landscape Colby and I had ever seen, but strikingly beautiful. On one side of the road, flat grassland rippled off into the cloudless distance, seedy stalks waving. On the other side, a sandy cliff dropped abruptly off into the most irregular maze of low grassy mesas and hills of dirt. The grass was a patchwork of colors, and the dirt was a rainbow. And in the far distance, a reptilian spine of weird, finger-like rock formations. It was so strange, and all in eerie pastels. So weird, and so pretty. And also there were more herds of buffalo. This time the bison herd covered the road again, and we had fun leaning out of the windows taking pictures of them while we waited for them to move. It was weird to have an eye-level view into a buffalo herd - they were all standing around, or sitting, in families or pairs, and... just doing whatever it is bison do on a daily basis. I almost felt like I was invading some kind of bison privacy, looking in. Imagine living life as part of a herd - there would be an undeniable sense of community belonging.

In other wildlife news, I spotted a fox with our binoculars. I was so excited. It was prowling around the edge of a bunch of prairie dogs and I hope it got lucky. And also we passed a group of bighorn sheep. Before I actually saw a bighorn sheep, all I knew about them was that Bill Peet book, Buford the Little Bighorn, and I would think of them skiing down a mountain on their horns. Now all I can think of is their creepy eyes. What you DON'T know about bighorn sheep is that their eyes look like they want to hurt you. There's something really sinister about bulging orange cat-slitted bighorn sheep eyes. You can just tell they're smarter than their domesticated cousins, and they're about to use the extra intelligence against you. NOT the kind of eye you want to have looking at you while you sleep.

On our way out to the campground, we stopped at a turnoff called Robert’s Prairie Dog Town. Dad? Why didn’t you ever tell me you had one of these? Are you like the emperor or something? Emperor Robert of Prairie Dog Town. Maybe you want to noise that around a little more. I can just see Gramps taking you there when you were little: “Robert, look around you. Everything the light touches will someday be yours.” Anyway, it was hilarious. I think prairie dogs are just about the most entertaining things. And I was thinking, if I were a buffalo, I would definitely want to eat them. I know buffalo are herbivores, but if you had all these little bite-sized morsels right by your feet all the time, wouldn’t you just want to try one, just to see what it tasted like? I bet bison secretly eat prairie dogs like all the time. Buffalo snacks. And if you’re not going to eat them, at least mess with them a little. The bison we were watching seemed completely ignorant of their presence. It’s just weird to see these huge behemoths wandering around the prairie, with this whole other population of teeny rodents going completely unnoticed beneath their feet. Maybe they drop kick them when no one’s looking.

The campground was exceedingly windy. I'm so tired of wind. It was also cold. We bundled up and cooked our dinner as best we could, then battened down all the hatches, staked down our tent in every place we could think of, and got in. Earplugs are the way of the future, as far as windy nights in tents. (Although, waking up several times during the night, I found my earplugs back in my right hand every time. Weird. I have a really determined subconscious).

September 20, Day 18

As much as I hate to badmouth a KOA, this one’s location left something to be desired. We spent the night of our 3-moth-iversary listening to cars on the highway, airplanes going over and taking off from the airport, and being battered by a ridiculous windstorm that filled our tent with a fine, black dust. Ewwwww.

After breakfast, we hit the road. We drove for most of the morning, which we didn’t mind at all. Until we got distracted by the book we’re listening to (Life of Pi, which had been unutterably boring up until this point and then suddenly got really interesting) and we missed the turn onto Wyoming state road 24, and then we had to drive like 8 miles until there was even another exit to turn around, whereupon we missed that exit as well and had to drive 6 more miles to the next exit. It was probably not a really great moment for either of us.

We stopped for lunch at the Outpost Café in Lusk, Wyoming. Lusk. Can you think of a weirder town name than that? We said it out loud to ourselves all afternoon, because it was so weird. I think it sounds like Musk at Dusk. Colby thinks it sounds like Lust. I’m not sure the citizens of Lusk would appreciate either of our associations, but then, they shouldn’t have named their town Lusk.

The Outpost Café was full of these little paperback books, all by the same author, and all full of random jokes and quotes and one-liners. They were named things like “How to Confuse the Idiots in Your Life” and “Geezerhood: What to Expect When You’re as Old as Dirt.” The dozens of old people who were also eating lunch in the Outpost Café seemed to be enjoying these books immensely, so we picked them up, and we enjoyed them too. The restaurant was hopping. It’s either the best place to eat in Lusk, Wyoming, or the ONLY place. Actually, it’s not the only place: there was also a Subway.

We got to Wind Cave national park at about 3pm, in time for a cave tour at 3:30. The first thing we noticed, when we got out of the car to take a picture with the national park sign, was the BUGS. There are infinity grasshoppers here. Also bees.

As we pulled into the visitors’ center parking lot, Colby said, “I think I’ve been here before.” And I said, “Again? This has happened multiple times during our short married life so far, several of which have occurred on this trip. I think I just got lapped. While I am still winding my way around the world for the first time, Colby is actually finishing up his second trip. He recognized the parking lot. I can’t wait for the St. Louis Arch, because I know for a fact that I have been there and he has not.

The cave tour was good. Wind Cave is the fourth longest cave in the world, beaten only by Carlsbad Caverns, Jewel Cave (also in SD) and some random one in Ukraine. HOWEVER, they’re still exploring Wind Cave, and according to wind and air pressure studies in the cave, estimate that they’ve only explored 5-10% of it so far. Colby thinks with a little dynamite they could make it the longest right now. There were some interesting cave formations, but we were generally underwhelmed. We wished they could have taken us through all 134 known miles of it, that might have been cooler. Colby wants to be a spelunker. We think all spelunkers must be hungry people, or else cave formations are named by people stuck in caves and starving to death, because they have names like “cave popcorn” and “cave bacon.” To help out, we named “cave wedding cakes” and “cave tortillas” and “cave tamales.”

We found a Budget Host Inn in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Two other couples from our cave tour apparently also found it. We tried to plan a cave tour reunion in the hot tub, but they didn’t seem interested.

We were walking out to the car to get makings for a picnic supper when I convinced Colby to let me eat a Dairy Queen blizzard for dinner. I love him.

We drove to downtown Hot Springs with our ice cream dinner, where we found a beautiful greenbelt-park through town. There’s a little canal running parallel to main street, which they’ve improved into a ribbon-y park that winds around, with picnic tables and trees and grass. There’s even a waterfall! It’s a sweet little spot, and only made us love Hot Springs even more. The downtown is full of old sandstone architecture, left over from the town’s glory days as a hot springs resort. There are over 50 springs in the area, with temperatures from 87-98 degrees. We found one of them in the park with a little gazebo built over it. Overall, we feel like we have found a treasure in South Dakota. Who wouldn’t want to live here? It’s beautiful, quiet, and generally really nice.

HOWEVER. The locust plague of Egypt has apparently descended upon the black hills. I’m not sure what these poor people did to deserve this. We haven’t noticed that the water’s turned to blood yet, so this might still be an isolated event, but be aware. Not only was Wind Cave National Park full of grasshoppers, the rest of South Dakota is too. Tonight we found 4 dead ones on our doormat ALONE.

Also, the sky was green and it was starting to rain as we headed for home after our dinner. We’re glad to be in a hotel tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 19, Day 17

The STD Express didn't offer breakfast. In retrospect, that might have been for the best. We showered with our shoes on, grateful for the ironic fact that it's possible to get clean even in a place that's much dirtier than you are.
Incidentally, there also weren't any irons. Colby wanted to iron his shirt, so he walked down to the office to ask the nice Indian man. This is how it went:
Colby: Do you have an iron?
Nice Indian Man: Iron? Nooooooo. Haha! You want some coffee?

We got dressed anyway and headed for church. We've been finding our wards online, on the LDS meetinghouses map page, which has been super handy. Also, it's been mostly reliable. So we were surprised when we showed up at the chapel in Rawlins at 9 am to find one (1) car in the parking lot. Hmmm. So we walked in to find the one man that had driven the one car, and we found him setting up a projector in the chapel. Ah, stake conference! That explained it. And we only had an hour to wait. We took a short walk down the street to take up some time.

Rawlins, Wyoming smells SO GOOD. It was this delicious mix of clean, fresh air, sagebrush and desert-y plants, dust, and a super faint trace of livestock. I highly recommend it.

After our walk we sat down in the chapel and had a very peaceful (listening to the prelude) and highly entertaining (watching children and families come into the chapel) 25 minutes or so before the meeting started. It was wonderful, a regional conference broadcast to most/all of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and we felt very blessed to be accidentally crashing it. We heard from Elder Hallstrom, Elder Perry, Sister Cook and President Uchtdorf. What a stellar accident.

I also decided that there should be a Sacrament Meeting rule that requires all mothers of tiny babies to either put them up against their shoulders or stand them up on the bench so that all of the rest of us can appreciate their kids. It's no fair to keep all the entertainment to yourself when people for rows and rows behind you could be making ridiculous faces at your child for 2 hours.

After the meeting we hopped in the car and headed for Martin's Cove Mormon Pioneer Memorial. We've been looking forward to this for the whole trip - I've wanted to go for a while. It's not really to or from anywhere - except, I guess, Independence Rock - and it really gave us a sense of the spacious emptiness the pioneers must have been crossing when they got to this point. The desert-y grassland up here is VAST.

We had a nice presentation from the elderly couples at the visitors' center, and watched a really heart-wrenching video about one boy's story who was in the Martin handcart company. There are lists of pioneers who traveled with handcart companies near the exit of the visitors' center, and I found a record of my ancestor, Ann Grimshaw Jackson! She made the journey as a single mother with 5 of her children, one of whom she carried most of the way on her back. I felt really proud to be related to someone so strong and faithful.

[For anyone wondering: when early leaders of the LDS church called members to come to Zion in Salt Lake City, many people couldn't afford to come with wagons and oxen. So church leaders introduced the idea of handcart companies, in which people could pull a wheelbarrow-type cart full of their belongings and walk all the way across the plains. As harsh as such a journey sounds, many people leapt at the chance. The memorial we visited commemorates the sacrifice and suffering of two handcart companies, the Willie Company and the Martin Company, who left for Salt Lake City late in the year and were caught in a terrible snowstorm in what is now central Wyoming. Many of them died doing their duty to their God. For more on this incredible story of faith I recommend this talk by a modern prophet, or else the history section of the wikipedia article is actually quite accurate.]

By the time we left the visitors' center it was already afternoon, and the walk out to Martin's Cove, where the pioneers camped for 5 days in the snow, was a round trip hike of 5 miles. We were a little concerned about time, but still wanted to do it, so we headed out to our car to see how far we still had to drive that night. As we passed a couple of old missionaries at the entrance, we mentioned our predicament to them, and one of them informed us that there was a little turn-off a little way down the road, and by driving to that point and then walking, we could shorted our hike by at least a mile and a half. Great news! That is exactly what we did. We estimated that that way, it was probably only about a 3 mile trip, very doable. It was incredibly windy, which felt good to us because the sun was so warm, but kind of made me sick to think about people trying to walk through it in a snowstorm. Wind like that would be merciless in the winter.

We crossed the incredibly windy Sweetwater river on a footbridge, glad we didn't have to ford it in freezing weather. There's a memorial on the shore to four young men, rescuers from the Valley, who between them carried most of the Martin company pioneers across the river. It's an incredible story, and Colby and I both found ourselves wondering if we would be brave enough to make a sacrifice like that if we were put in that situation.

The walk was beautiful, and sobering. The land is harsh, and I kept imagining myself as a pioneer, wondering if my faith would last through so many awful trials. As we walked through the cove, the Spirit was very strong. The "cove" is a wide gully in the rocky hills that the Martin company camped in in hopes of escaping some of the brutality of the wind. It was a little less windy in there, but not much. I guess it didn't help all that much. They camped on one side and buried their dead on the other side, under a thin layer of snow and all the while hearing wolves coming out of the hills to dig up their loved ones as soon as they had left. I tried to imagine burying my family members, or Colby, as we walked, but couldn't. Oh, how awful.

It was a great experience. I was glad to be able to walk out and see the actual place. Also, we counted a total of 45+ antelope (and 3 deer) during our walk. That's a LOT! There were seriously pronghorn all over the place. It was sad to think we saw so many in a place where so many people had starved to death.

We next headed for Independence Rock, a major landmark on many westward trails, and only about 5 miles up the road from Martin's Cove. Colby and I both had the unsettling realization as we arrived that most of what we know about pioneers we learned from the Oregon Trail computer game. That's maybe not such a great thing to admit. We walked around Independence Rock until we found the names carved into the south side, which I thought was SO neat. It was fun to see things like "So-and-so, US Cavalry" and early dates. It's interesting that people feel the need to leave their mark on something when they're in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything familiar to them. I think I would probably react the same way.

There are also a lot of snakes in the grass, out here. Colby and I figured out later that we had both been silently making plans about "What I'm Going to do if my Spouse Gets Bitten by a Rattlesnake" the entire time. Lucky for us, we didn't have to find out what each other's plans actually were. Although, for your information, Colby's involved sucking the venom out of my leg, while mine involved running for the car and driving him to someone who knew what to do about it.

After Independence Rock we were both pretty beat, and when we rolled into the KOA in Casper, WY (actually it's in Bar Nunn, a little town OUTSIDE Casper, with a population of 491) it was definitely time for bed.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18, Day 16

The continental breakfast at the Luxury Inn was interesting. And not that Luxury. This hotel appears to be owned and operated by a Russian family (the son having been at the desk last night) plus some huge number of spanish-looking people that kept going behind the "Employees Only" door, like a clown car, like how many people are you going to get in that one room? And apparently Russians don't have a good idea of what a continental breakfast is supposed to be, or else this is why it's only $54.95 to stay here.

We spent today driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. We were kind of surprised and delighted at how beautiful and interesting it was! We absolutely loved it. I hadn't been sure what to expect, so I just envisioned - well, rocky mountains, which seemed sort of boring - but it was just spectacular, especially with the colors changing, and the elevation was so high that for a long stretch we were above the treeline looking down, which was an intriguing point of view. The mountains have a gently rolling feel to them, so different from southern Utah, and they're covered with Colorado blue spruce and pinion pine and quaking aspen, which makes for a startling bright-goldenrod-on-dark-forest-green patchwork right now, in autumn. It looks like a hiker's paradise, with miles and miles of rugged trails and places to explore. We decided to come back, and plan a whole vacation with time to backpack and camp here.

It was also freezing. I pulled out my down Northface jacket for the first time this trip, and was glad for it. It was probably only in the 50s, but the wind was merciless.

We stopped at a high point - literally, it was like at 11,000 feet or something - to go for a short hike. It was windy and barren above the treeline. I guess it's technically tundra, because of how harsh the climate is and how frequently it freezes. There was almost nothing up there but rocks and lichen and low plants and crickets. Colby found a pika, which tickled us just about to death. It looks like a miniature capybara, or a teeny teddy bear, or a cartoon mouse with no tail. Mostly that last one. It kind of reminded me of Feivel (like Feivel Goes West), but not wearing clothes and no Russian accent. Also it made a noise like a squeaky toy, which is why we noticed it in the first place. Colby considered this find a mark of success on the trip, because his whole goal of the park was to see a pika. Score. At the end of our hike we climbed a rock and almost got blown off. If I haven't convinced you of how windy it was, let me just tell you - it was mightily windy.

The scenic drive was... really scenic. We stopped for a lot of overlooks and also at the alpine visitor's center, which had already turned off its water for the winter. They're hoping to be able to stay open through the second week in October, although that hasn't happened for the last two years due to snow. The whole middle section of the park road closes every winter from early-mid October to Memorial Day. In the spring they have to clear 35-foot snow drifts off the road. This is seriously harsh country. The park road is also the highest continuously-paved road in the United States.

We took another little walk around Bear Lake, down the southern leg of the park road. It was a gorgeous, clear, glassy little lake, and the fall colors were breathtaking.

It took us most of the day driving through the park, and when we were done, we decided to head for Laramie, Wyoming to spend the night, only about two and a half hours away. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. We got there by 6:15-ish and started calling around to hotels. And hotels kept telling us "NO VACANCY" "NO VACANCY" "NO VACANCY." I hardly thought Laramie was such a happening place. I finally asked the kid behind the counter at one of the hotels what the heck was going on. Apparently the University of Wyoming has a big football game tonight, and there was a big concert last night, and oh also it's Parents' Weekend right now. Ohhh, nice.

So we got some gas and some Chinese and hit the road again. Except while we were getting gas a well-meaning couple in a truck stopped us and pointed out that our car was leaking... something. So things are rapidly going from bad to worse - we're tired and hungry and have nowhere to sleep tonight and our car is leaking and we're in Laramie.

Luckily we figured out the "leak" was just condensation from our A/C. So that solved one problem. The Chinese solved another, and then we headed for Rawlins, still tired, but hopeful.

Most of the hotels in Rawlins were also "NO VACANCY" tonight. What the heck? Is Wyoming a major vacation destination now? because nobody told us. So now we're at the STD Express Inn (just kidding about the STD part, at least in the name) the #1 jankiest place in town, but also one of the only places in town which actually had rooms for tonight. I'm sure the entire place is like empty. There was another nice Indian man running this motel, who Colby chatted with. We didn't get the honeymoon suite this time, not that we'd want it in a place like this. I killed an already-dead moth on the bathroom floor tonight. And the fitted sheet isn't actually fitted, just gently spread across the mattress. Gag. We think the $42 price is in memory of the year this place was built. And decorated.

Well, if we were looking for adventure, it just found us. What a hoot.

September 17, Day 15

So, Royal Gorge. They took our coupon, which saved us enough to make the admission fee worth it. Before we get too far into this, I have to say that the saving grace of the park was that admission covered almost everything in the park. In a way not-typical of tourist-trappy places. We approved.

Another thing we have to get out of the way before we do this is announce that my dad has denied any knowledge that there was anything at Royal Gorge but a great suspension bridge, so he is exempt from any fault in the events you are about to witness. Not that we'd really fault him anyway - we thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

Royal Gorge felt like a wannabe Disneyland. Let's just say - they took our picture with a digital camera when we came in, and said it would be available for us to purchase. You can take it from there.

Everything was super kitschy, but somehow quite enjoyable. We think the only downfall of the park, like many like it, was overactive diversification - if they had left it at a suspension bridge, an aerial tram, and even the inclined railway it would have been just great, and a very respectable place to visit - but once you open the doors to a petting zoo and wagon rides and a miniature wild west town, you just think, where does it stop?

At the very least, we got our money's worth. We started with the aerial tram across the gorge, which lost power and lurched partway through and sent the two of us, plus about 13 senior citizen couples and a happy Asian family, reeling into each other and spilling the seniors' coffee all over the place and free-swinging on the world's longest unsupported tram wire over a gigantic chasm. Classic. The 17-year old tram operator looked totally unperturbed. The senior citizens were freaking out and Colby thought it was his favorite part of the whole day. The power came back on about 3 minutes later and the rest of our ride was uneventful.

Next was the bizarre mountain zoo, complete with elk, bighorn sheep, and white bison. Actually, that's pretty much all it consisted of, unless you count the petting zoo, which also offered llamas. We moved on to the old west town after awhile, which was unfortunately closed for the season, meaning that we couldn't buy a knockoff Stetson or experiment with tomahawk throwing. Tragic. We still had fun exploring the old buildings (and gold mine) and practicing our cowboy swaggers.

It was somewhere between the zoo and western-town that we heard the sirens. A police car came screaming past, only to be followed by a fire truck and an ambulance within the next half hour. We still don't know what was going on, but it majorly creeped us out.

To finish up the ghost town, we took about a 15-second mule-wagon ride. The driver looked like Willie Nelson and had such a thick old-mountain-man accent we could hardly understand the Indian stories he was telling us as we drove past the fake teepees. Think old man from Napoleon Dynamite, but give him long white hair and beard, and put him in the role of Disney jungle cruise guide. (Okay, it wasn't really that bad, and he was a real earnest old mountain man, too.)

After stopping in a deliciously air-conditioned theater to watch the park video (well - it was supposed to be the park information video, just like a national park, right? Except I think someone switched it out with a reel of old park advertisements, because they kept just talking it up and saying things like "We'll see you there!" and we were thinking "Wait, we're already here, what are you talking about?") we headed for the main attraction - Royal Gorge suspension bridge.

Royal Gorge bridge is the world's highest suspension bridge. It was dizzyingly high, and the views off of it were spectacular. Thanks Dad, it didn't disappoint! It was built in 1929, and as far as we could tell, still has the original wooden boards. They were loose and shaky and rippled a little bit when cars would drive over, and once I took a step and my toe went right down between two of them, because there was like a 3 inch gap. Delightful. We spit off the edge and threw a sliver of wood Colby found, and then we started thinking about how long it took the piece of wood to fall vs. how long it would take us to fall if we fell off, and then we got creeped out and started walking fast for the other side.

(Aside: while we were on the bridge, an older Amish couple rode past us. In a Ford minivan. Is that allowed? They weren't actually driving, just riding. They had also been with us in the aerial tram. Are aerial trams kosher for the Amish? Are Ford minivans?)

After we finished the bridge, we headed for the inclined railway. The stupendous park-advertisement video had lauded this railway as the "most difficult structure ever built." And we're like, we're not so sure about that, what about the Pyramids?
It was fun to ride, though: hot and slow and we couldn't see much, but it went down at a 45 degree angle and it took us to the bottom of the canyon, and having hiked a bigger version of this canyon yesterday, we figured riding was a lot better than walking. The bottom of the canyon was awesome. We saw the remains of a wooden diversion pipe that carried water to the citizens of Colorado until like 30 years ago, and I'm kind of surprised the citizens of Colorado got water at all, and didn't get giardiasis, considering the state it was in, but whatever. We also saw some people go by, whitewater rafting, and we desperately wanted to get in and swim. River-bathing habits die hard. There was also a railroad at the bottom, and having seen a train go by while we were on the bridge, we decided that next time we'd like to be on the train instead of on the inclined railway. It looked like fun.

Our final stop in Royal Gorge Bridge & Park was the carousel by the entrance. It didn't look like there was anyone in the booth when we got there, and it was one of those things where you're peering through a screen trying to make out anybody inside, and then you suddenly realize you're staring at someone's face, and it's an old man, and he's asleep. He woke up after a minute and fired up the carousel for us, and I rode a goat, and the carousel music was some weird instrumental version of ABBA. And the whole time we rode it, there was this little old woman standing by the bathrooms, just watching us go around and around. After we got off and walked toward the bathrooms, I noticed that it was actually an old Chinese man, wearing a dress. So weird.

Then we left. Overall, Royal Gorge was a terrific experience. Thanks for the tip, Dad!

Today we discovered that $5 Hot'n'Readys at Little Caesar's are now $5.99. What is the world coming to? Then we spent the rest of the day driving through beautiful, beautiful Colorado. Oh my gosh, why doesn't all of America just want to live here? We drove through some cute ski towns near Vail that looked very nordic and swanky and I'm sure are both infinitely cuter and infinitely more expensive when there's snow on the ground.

We ended up in Silverthorne, CO. One word. I don't know what you need a silver thorn for unless it's killing zombies. Colby was feeling kind of sick so we opted for a hotel tonight, even through we hadn't scheduled it in. Our hotel-picking strategy goes like this: we set our GPS to take us to any hotel - doesn't matter which one. Because where there's one hotel, there's always more. Then we drive around hotel row and look for the most run-down-looking one. "Hey, that one looks pretty dumpy, let's try there!" This time the dumpiest was the Luxury Inn. I am the runner, so I went in and asked how much it would be. I was so pleased and startled when the Russian guy behind the counter said $54.95 (it was dumpy, but not THAT dumpy!) that I said we'll take it and ran outside to get Colby before I even asked about the AAA discount.

Friday, September 17, 2010

September 16, Day 14

We slept WAY in this morning. 8:15, and the sun was already very up by the time we emerged. I think it was because we were absolutely freezing and neither of us were that inclined to crawl out of our sleeping bags. This is the first really cold night we've had, and we decided we're not that excited for more, although we know they're probably coming as the month progresses and we head north. We are so grateful for 15-degree rated sleeping bags!

Even though we slept in, we managed to get packed up, breakfast cooked, and on the road in 45 minutes, which is about half as long as it has historically taken us. We were pretty impressed with ourselves.

We headed to the visitor's center, first, to ask about hiking to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We discovered that you need a permit, which we obtained (WAY easier than for the Grand Canyon!) from another guide with a great beard. Colby is so jealous.

The hike to the bottom of the Canyon was only a mile in and a mile out, but the mile was pretty much straight down. It was unquestionably the most intense two-mile hike either of us had ever been on. Mile #1 = controlled fall down a mountainside, sitting on our heels and sliding down rocky, sandy shale slopes, jumping from rock to rock and working our way downward. The bottom of the canyon was BEAUTIFUL. It looked downright prehistoric in its ruggedness - shallow, rushing river, rocks along the edge, sandy, grassy beaches with huge pines stabbing out, and these unbelievable black cliffs rocketing up on either side. Felt a little like Jurassic Park, and was totally worth the climb. Mile #2, out = scrambling stairmaster, heaving ourselves from stable-looking-rock to stable-looking-rock, hand-over-hand climb back up the side of the canyon. For a while it even included 80 feet of CHAIN to haul yourself out. And we needed it. It was crazy.

We returned to the Visitors' Center, starting point of our hike, and watched the guest video about the park. Another thing we have discovered is that not all park videos are created equal. This one was interesting, though, and we enjoyed it, apart from feeling super self-conscious about how we smelled in a small dark room. We haven't showered since Sunday morning and this hike was kind of the final straw. We're definitely finding a hotel tonight.

We had lunch in the car as we drove through beautiful, beautiful Colorado. We love it here. I've heard so many Coloradoans (?) brag about Colorado (you know, you're at BYU and you comment on the mountains, and someone from Colorado says - that's nothing to mountains in Colorado - and you just think, geez, you mountain snob, can't you appreciate some beauty?) and it turns out it was all merited. Colorado is gorgeous. Also the autumn colors are changing, which always sways my opinion of a place, but still. We enjoyed the drive.

We stopped at the Comfort Inn in Cañon City, Colorado. We're headed to a place called Royal Gorge tomorrow, which my dad recommended. Although I don't know if it comprised a small theme park and cost $25 per person the last time he went, that was sort of a surprise. We found a coupon in the hotel lobby and decided we're going anyway, because hey, we're on vacation, and we are into creaky bridges over staggeringly deep gorges, wild rides on inclined railways, and especially we are into aerial tramways. So, we're going tomorrow, and we're super excited.

Tonight, in Cañon City, CO, we found dinner and ice cream and showers and the Dukes of Hazzard on TV, so we feel like we're back in civilization. We're enjoying that feeling.

September 15, Day 13

We headed to Canyonlands first thing in the morning, after our first adventurous breakfast attempt. Usually we just have instant oatmeal (or, in a pinch, poptarts in the car) but this morning we had pancakes! It reminded me of the Warren Dunes camping trips of my childhood, eating pancakes cooked on a Coleman stove. It was surprisingly easy to do. And they tasted delicious.

Our friends from Capitol Reef (the ones who found the water tanks, remember? California?) had insisted that when we came to Canyonlands we had to see Mesa Arch. So, we hiked it. With the senior citizens.

All the people we see on this trip are either bikers, Europeans, or certifiable AARP members. There's no one our age, unless they're German. Odd. But pleasant. Old people are usually quite happy to take our picture for us.

Anyway, Mesa Arch was a little bit of a walk, only like 0.2 miles or something, and then the view was fantastic! We looked over miles and miles and miles of canyony-land. The explorer who found it called it a "wilderness of rock." And I agree. It's sort of freaky, really, and it seems to go on forever. It's like there's the river, and then there's just ROCK. Mesa Arch is a low standing arch right on the edge of the Mesa. It's actually sort of peeling off from the mainland, and the drop directly on the other side is dizzying - looks like the sort of arch you want to climb out on the top of... until you get there and see the other side. Then you back up slowly from the edge and sit down. Don't worry, Mom, we didn't climb out on it.

We drove to some more overlooks and appreciated the bizarre view. Then we left Canyonlands and happily left the state of Utah! We are so excited to start Eastward for real and quit this zig-zagging around business.

Before we left the state of Utah, we stopped for an oil change and some lunch in Moab. Now, Colby and I have pretty similar (but slightly different) philosophies about eating out. We are both interested in finding interesting, weird restaurants full of personality. Colby, being a guy, is mostly interested in food heartiness - quantity and decent taste. I am completely just interested in atmosphere and adventure. Our last attempt at eating out sort of erred on the food quantity side, and I pouted, so Colby left this one up to me. I picked "Milt's Stop & Eat." What could have more personality than that? It turned out to be a teeny burger joint. With like the best french fries ever. And huge baskets of onion rings. And I ate a BLT and I was happy. And Colby ate a huge quantity of more-than-decent tasting food. And he was happy. Food success.

Our next stop was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Be honest, have you ever even heard of this place? We hadn't, till we found it in our ever-so-handy national park book! But it turned out to be one of our favorite places yet. If you ever go to western Colorado, this place is a necessary stop. It's a huge, deep, sharp canyon - the most dramatic thing I've ever seen, I think - it's just jagged and chiseled and the rock is dark grey. There's the Gunnison river at the bottom, and aspen and pinion pine and scrub oak at the top and dribbling down the sides. The colors were just starting to change - seemed to change even more overnight, actually, which was gorgeous - and it was just breathtakingly beautiful. I think it was just refreshing to us that there was so much vegetation and the rock wasn't red. It's sad, but we had gotten so we were kind of unenthused about red rock. Funny for me, because it's ordinarily my favorite thing.

Tonight we set up camp and stayed up late reading.

September 14, Day 12

It was super windy last night. And dusty. As in, we were lying in our tent trying to have scripture study and gusts of wind kept showering us with dust, right in our scriptures. How rude. We - naturally - woke up with dust covering absolutely everything, including and especially most of our bodily orifices. Nast. Maybe this is why camping out here is free.

We had breakfast and headed straight for Capitol Reef. It's a small park, a sweet little place nestled in a red canyon. It has the ruins of an early Mormon settlement, Fruita, and so the canyon is grassy and has orchards all over the place still. (Aside: I keep forgetting to mention it, but a lot of these parks/monuments have had orchards and/or gardens, which they let visitors pick from! It's some kind of unwritten rule I had no idea about but utterly approve of. We've already enjoyed grapes and a zucchini and an apple and a peach we got from Pipe Spring National Monument last week. These people- so generous. We had to pay for the self-pick apples at Capitol Reef but hardly complained).

Anyway, this park is very sweet and peaceful. We chose Capitol Gorge for our hike, (picked, embarrassingly, from the "easy" section of the hiking guide - we're just not ready for anything intense just yet. Too soon.) which turned out to be perfect. Capitol Gorge offered us a little bit of everything! There was the walk through the narrow slot canyon, good for me because I'm still mourning not doing The Narrows. Then there were the pioneer names carved into the rock, from interesting years like 1889 and 1896 and 1901 and 1911. Then there was the scramble over baking hot rocks looking for the (supposedly extant) "water tanks", apparently pools of water in the rock that catch rain water and don't dry all the way up, even in the summer. We teamed up with another couple about our parents' age (who called us "California" because we never actually told them our names, just where I was from) and even spreading out it took us almost an hour of hiking and exploring the rocks to find the tanks. The other couple eventually found them and showed us. And we felt SO COOL. I felt like I was in a Louis L'Amour book. His cowboys are always saving their own lives because they know where the water tanks are in the desert. And then they always fill their canteens before drinking (that's like Cowboy Rule #1).

Anyway, after the hike we visited a restored pioneer house in historic Fruita. There was the most interesting woven rug in progress, leaned against the wall, and between studying it and looking at some nearby books, I determined that rug weaving is to be my new hobby once we get settled. It was so beautiful. It was woven, but out of strips of fabric so it looked like a braided rug - I wish I could explain it. Colby promised to help me build the rudimentary loom, and I promised to furnish our house with beautiful handmade rug-art.

There was also a little country store in the little restored pioneer house, so obviously we had to try the homemade ice cream.

Then we drove to Canyonlands. We picked the "Island in the Sky" district for our visit, and bypassed "Horseshoe Canyon" much to my chagrin (as it houses what's advertised as the continent's best prehistoric art) due to lack of time, energy, and high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle.

The campground at Canyonlands was also full, so we had to RUSTLE up a campsite at nearby Horsethief Campground (get it? Rustle?) Okay, anyway, then we headed to nearby Dead Horse Point. It gave us a spectacular view. And I just exceeded my italics quota for this paragraph.

Dead Horse Point is pretty much a canyon "island" connected to the mainland by a "narrow neck of land" reminiscent of the land of Nephi. I guess cowboys used to herd wild horses onto it for a natural corral, which went well until as legend has it they left some horses out there and they died of thirst. Thus: Dead Horse Point.

Then we headed off to Canyonlands, for a tour of the overlooks and a picnic dinner at Upheaval Dome, the endpoint of the scenic drive. Canyonlands is so bizarre looking. Beautiful and dramatic, but weird.

And can I just say how sick I am of geology? I have had it about up to HERE. I had my fill after Ranger Emily taught deposition, uplifting, erosion and what-was-the-other-one at the Grand Canyon, and really beyond that I'm not interested. Unfortunately geology seems to be the only thing to really talk about in Southern Utah parks. I think it's much more interesting to talk about the recent history of the park - like when it was founded, and who discovered it, and how cowboys used to ranch cattle in it or whatnot. Instead, the dang NPS acts all put out when they tell about how over-grazing from the dang cowboys ruined the natural vegetation. Oh come on, they didn't know any better!

Okay, thanks, I've been needing to get that out.

September 13, Day 11

Woke up and did 2 loads of laundry at the campground coin-op. You've just got to love developed campgrounds. We had a leisurely morning, and soon left the park, feeling like we'd seen our fill of ruins for a while. They're so cool - it's just that there's only so much they can tell you, and the rest is left to your imagination (unless you're a park ranger, and then you can make up stuff to tell people, like ours was doing. At least he was good at it).

After a few errands back in Cortez, we hit the road for Capitol Reef. It kind of depressed us to be going back to Utah, only because we're ready to make some eastward progress. We stopped to see the temple in Monticello, which is tiny and beautiful.

On a whim (meaning that I was holding the map and decided that it looked more interesting) we decided to head south and take the Glen Canyon Ferry across Lake Powell instead of the more time-efficient bridge to the north.

Drove for approximately the rest of our lives.

Arrived at Lake Powell just after the 3:00 ferry had left. However, this did mean that we got to put our feet in the water (it was REALLY hot!) and have the most interesting conversation with the ferry captain for about 25 minutes while we waited for 4:00 to come around. Greg, the captain, was hovering around 40 and single. He had apparently been a green beret, a luxury cruise boat officer, captain of a $2.2 million dollar private yacht for an old French lady, and captain of a treasure-hunting boat off the Dominican Republic. Possibly, we have met the most interesting man in the world (he once had an awkward moment... just to see what it felt like). He told us that one third of the world's gold ever mined is now at the bottom of the ocean, from shipwrecks. He also told us that he knows the approximate location of "a couple" of sunken vessels his expedition didn't bring up. Whhhhhhhhoa.

The ferry ride was awesome. Obviously. We were the only ones on it, and it was 27 minutes long, and we love boats, so it was great.

We kept driving and driving and driving, and missed the turn off that we meant to take toward Capitol Reef. This actually turned out to be okay, because it turns out that the road we meant to take is a dirt road and passable only to high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles. (Note: we have made a pact that the next car we own will have to be a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, because I keep feeling like we're missing out on a lot of fun, here). Also, because we were on the road we were on, we got to see an older heavyset couple on ATVs driving - yes - a herd of cattle down the road. Why is that SO the life I want??

We discovered our GPS unit speaks Arabic. We now call the woman's voice Kareema.

We arrived at Capitol Reef and had super delish tomato sandwiches for dinner. I don't know why you need to know that, but they were so good it was like the highlight of the day, so I felt like I should put that in.

The campground at Capitol Reef turned out to be full (sort of surprising) but the friendly elderly ranger hosts tipped us off to FREE camping just outside the park boundaries in the National Forest. We like free. So that's what we're doing. It's pretty great. We're camped next to some super nice German people. What's weird is that they're from Heidelberg, which (according to them) is a pretty small town, and we just met some people from Heidelberg like two days ago in Petrified Forest. Of course, it was dark while we were talking to them, so I guess it could have been the same people.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 12, Day 10

We went to Cortez 1st Ward for church. Again, we were so impressed with the friendly and welcoming ward. We felt so at home, and the talks were so sweet and heartfelt. The church is true no matter where you go.

We enjoyed the short drive to Mesa Verde National Park - it's beautiful here, and refreshingly GREEN. After we found a campsite for tonight, we had a picnic lunch and set out to tour the ruins.

We saw Spruce Tree House first, a self-guided tour that got us geeked out for our next two guided tours: Cliff Palace and then Balcony House. We were so impressed with how well-preserved they all are. I even smacked my head (ouch) on an original balcony, made by prehistoric hands. It almost made the headache cool.

They kept suggesting all different reasons that prehistoric people would have moved to the cliffs - water, shade, defense, etc. We are pretty sure that it was for the view, and are now looking for cliff real estate.

Our favorite part about the guided tours, however, was probably the old people that were on them with us. Weird, outspoken southerners are our favorite.

And Colby thinks our tour guide was "full of crap." (The ranger who led our second tour kept insisting that there is no "truth" about these prehistoric people, all we can do is conjecture - and then he'd tell us these dramatically livid stories about how life WAS back then, as if he knew for sure.) For example: do you really KNOW that this circular, underground room with benches along the walls was ceremonial? How can you say that for certain? Cause Colby and I are pretty sure they filled it with water and used it as a jacuzzi.

The deer in the campground here are so tame it's sort of freaky. There was one in the campsite we wanted when we showed up - we couldn't even scare it away, even by clapping and shouting and stomping toward it. Colby has enjoyed honking at all the deer he sees along the road. There is something wrong with this situation.

September 11, Day 9

This morning we opted for the delish pancake breakfast offered by the KOA. $1.99 all you can eat pancakes? They weren't Dad's, but they were pancakes. Also, you meet slash eavesdrop on really interesting people at KOA breakfast, that's for sure.

We did Petrified Forest today. In a word: underwhelming. We were threatened on multiple occasions with huge fines and nazi-ness if we took any petrified wood from the park. As if we were even considering that. Luckily, we'd already gotten some outside the park from an irritated Navajo woman in a shop that advertised "Free Petrified Wood (one per car) :)"

The park made us feel like high school delinquents. "You better watch your back" it taunted. "We've got our eyes on you!" "We know you want some of this wood, but don't even think about it!" Ridiculous. Also, it closes at 6pm. Also, there's nothing there but a bunch of rocks.

The wood WAS beautiful colors, which I hadn't expected. Seriously - loud yellows and reds and purples, all mixed together. Very ... radiant. Also, it was everywhere. We went to a couple of lookout points where it just LITTERED the ground - I mean, it looked like there were just pieces of logs all over the ground. And one hill looked like it was covered in woodchips, but they were now STONE woodchips. It kind of blows your mind.

Still, we weren't that sad to leave. From this park we learned that not all national parks are created equal. Also, they don't all offer camping (!)

Next we drove to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which had been highly recommended (insisted upon, actually) by my gastroenterologist, of all people. It turned out to be on our way, and so we went. It was SO COOL. A teeny red-rock canyon (okay, I say teeny because we've been dealing in Grand Canyon sizes so far. It wasn't that teeny) with startlingly steep walls, and a pleasantly wide, flat, grassy bottom. It's a sacred historical place to like all of the Southwestern Indian peoples. And Navajo sheep herders still live in it. It's a national monument, but they let them stay. I think that's awesome. How would you like to grow up down there? It was so cool. There was a hike we could have done that took you to the bottom (and a pueblo ruin) but we really didn't feel like walking yet (soreness = persistent!) and didn't have a lot of time. I wished we had planned an entire trip specifically to this place - they have guided tours and horseback rides, etc, and it really merited some exploring. I was glad we went at all, though; we were lucky it happened to be on our way.

Next was Four Corners. It's still there. What can you really say about Four Corners? It's pretty wacky to think that states, which are so huge, come down to piddly little lines in the desert to divide them. Of course we took pictures and played around, standing in multiple states at a time. And we bought me some beautiful turquoise and silver earrings (from a sweet old Navajo woman, who was speaking Navajo with this other woman, which I thought was bordering on the coolest thing I'd ever heard. I'd like to learn it. A counselor in my old bishopric spoke Navajo, and he tried to teach us to count to 10 once, but we only got to 1 and then none of us could pronounce it properly, so we gave up. Fat chance of that I guess) which I think I will wear every day for the rest of my life, they are so beautiful.

As it was Saturday night, it was time to find a hotel. We opted (a gamble, I'll admit) for the Budget Host Inn in Cortez, CO (population ~7,000). It pleasantly surprised us. Clean and cute.
We spent the evening watching 9/11 memorial programs on TV. And then an awesome Discovery Channel special on Alaska, featuring, to my great surprise and delight, the famous Scott Willis of AEL&P, my dear friend's father!

September 10, Day 8

We woke up SO SORE. I don't think I have ever been so sore in my life. We'll be sitting down, and then I get up to walk somewhere, and just wince and freeze and think I'll never be ambulatory again. Oh, dear.

Also, we love continental breakfasts.

We got on the road about 11, and headed for Wupatki national monument. It's a huge pueblo ruin out in the middle of the desert. They're always so intriguing to me, but there's always this frustrating lack of details. Like, I just want to know what exactly this room was for, and what the people did every day, and, well, really, I'd just like to meet them and ask them all about it. But it's still cool to see the ruins. We can't wait for Mesa Verde. There was also what they called a "blowhole" nearby. Apparently the Indians thought it was sacred. I don't blame them - it was really cool! A blowhole is a tiny opening to an underground chamber. When the temperature outside is different than the temperature underground, there is a pressure difference and air either gets blown out or sucked into the cave. Feels like the earth is breathing.

The only unfortunate thing about Wupatki was that we had to walk on some paths out to see it, and then around it. And walking hurts.

We then continued driving east, toward Petrified Forest National Park. We passed SO MANY tourist traps along the way. They gave us the willies. Big time. Arizona is starting to majorly creep us out.

The one that took the cake, hands down, was Meteor Crater. Sounds like some kind of NPS deal, right? Not so. Looked like an old high school, cost $15 per adult, and as far as we could tell, the only attraction is-- a meteor crater. Cool enough, but not for $15 a pop. And they advertised a "modern movie screen." Okay, that hasn't been a big deal since like 1970. Also there was about as much parking there as Disneyland, all empty. Ewwwww.

We arrived at Petrified Forest at about 5:15. Only to find that it closed (closed?? What National Park closes?) in 45 minutes, and had no campgrounds. Hahahaha!! We had a really good laugh about that. Colby laughed at me. I laughed at me. We're still laughing. Fatal oversight! Note to self: don't plan to camp at a national park until you verify that they offer camping. Assume nothing with the Bureau of Lands Management.

Thanks to our dear, beloved little GPS unit, we discovered a KOA in creepy old Holbrook, Arizona, 17 miles back down the road. Holbrook mightily creeps us out, as much of tourist-trappy Arizona has been doing, but we love KOAs and feel very safe and secure. Crisis #2 averted as well.

The lady who checked us in (and owns the campground with her husband) is from Idaho Falls and they own a house on Stonebrook lane, like less than a block from where Colby grew up. Wild. We can't figure out why you would EVER want to move to Holbrook, Arizona, if you had a house like ANYWHERE else.

A praying mantis landed on me during our dinner. It kind of grossed me out that it was on my arm, but we had fun looking at it once we got it onto the picnic table.

It's 8:00pm and we're going to bed. We feel like old fogeys.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 9, Day 7

Up at 4:20 am, and so was the rest of camp! Early risers around here. We were among the first to leave, at 5:30.

We marveled at the beauty of nature at dawn. We LOVE being awake and outside in the morning! We also loved feeling the suspension bridge sway in the wind as we crossed the Colorado again to head back up the South rim.

The first 4.5 miles were a breeze and we kept having to deny what good time we were making so that we wouldn't get cocky. We had a nice break and water refill about halfway up, at a campground called Indian Garden. We felt super blessed that we got a permit for Bright Angel campground and not Indian Garden, because Indian Garden is not at the bottom of the canyon but about halfway up, on the plateau. That wouldn't have been nearly as cool.

Bright Angel trail was a lot prettier than South Kaibab, our trail down. We crossed streams and had a lot of fun. 3 mule trains passed us on our way up, which made things even more interesting!

The last 4.5 miles were pretty much lumpy switchbacks. The NPS had put logs through the trail to maintain it and keep it from eroding away, but the sand in between had been worn down so it felt like climbing over hurdles. Unpleasant shades of high school track.

There was a rest stop with bathrooms and a water spigot every 1.5 miles from Indian Garden to the rim, but between the last one and the end it felt like FOREVER. We think they lied about distance. And we were mad.

We made it to the top and took a picture, fell shaking into the bus, and rode it to our car. We felt SO COOL. And we still do.

Drove to Flagstaff. Tried to find a hotel in badly fatigued and disoriented condition, which made things difficult, but we finally found the Super 8 and CRASHED.

Had dinner at Cracker Barrel a little later, a first for both of us. Hush puppies = good, turnip greens = nasty.

September 8, Day 6

We woke up at 6:00 am and packed our tent, ate a big oatmeal breakfast, and put the finishing touches on packing our backpacks. We parked at the Backcountry Office parking lot (near Bright Angel trailhead, where we will return tomorrow) and rode the bus out to the South Kaibab trailhead. We met the nicest older couple on the bus. They were from Florida, and had just finished hiking The Narrows in Zion for their 40th wedding anniversary. We decided we'll do it then, too. They were so friendly and seemed really intense and interesting - the husband had managed wildlife refuges for his career. We loved them.

We started hiking at about 8:30, fairly late for the Grand Canyon, we later discovered. It was freezing, cloudy and windy at the rim, but it quickly warmed up as we made our descent.

The scenery was AMAZING. We kept having to convince ourselves that we were really hiking the Grand Canyon. This has been a dream of mine for a long time. We decided that this really has got to be the pinnacle of hiking - the WORLD'S GREATEST HIKE.

We met a guy hiking behind us (and then rapidly, in front of us) who turned out to be the public health consultant for the park. He was probably only in his late 20s and said he only had a bachelor's. How cool is THAT? Probably my dream job. Other than that, and passing some people along the way, we were alone for most of the hike down (7 miles distance, covering about 1 mile vertical).

We were so excited to see the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon, which was wider than I expected, and bright green. Crossed a sweet suspension bridge. The last hour or so of the hike just about killed us - it was so hot, and we were exhausted. Our joints were SO tired of downhill, which is hard on just about everything - shins, knees, ankles, hips, plus a backpack jolting against your body.

We arrived about 2pm, found a campsite, and I RAN for Bright Angel Creek. People have built up little pools in it, and we just soaked for a long time. The thermometers at the bottom said 120 degrees in the sun, 95 in the shade. We were so glad we weren't there in the middle of July. After a good soak (being nibbled by curious tiny fish), we explored the campground, Phantom Ranch, and went to a ranger show on the geology of the canyon.

I want a mule real bad. They are beautiful. I like them even better than horses.

By late afternoon we could barely keep our eyes open. Colby had researched and bought us a stellar teensy camp stove, which he ruggedly cooked our dinner on. We ate as much canned chili and instant potatoes as we thought we could hold, then a little bit more, then we went to bed super early.

September 7, Day 5

It was cloudy and rainy in Zion this morning, and the campgrounds and roads were pretty empty. We enjoyed a stellar drive out the side of Zion Canyon, which took us through a long tunnel. We thought the colors of the canyon were even more beautiful on a cloudy day!
We left right after we got up, with no breakfast, so we had fun stopping for breakfast at Houston's Trail's End Restaurant in Kanab, a homey, podunk, cowboy-themed place where the food was (predictably) amazing.

It felt like we drove FOREVER today. I guess we're not in (what Colby calls) "car mode" yet, because driving all day made us antsy.

We drove through red rock cliffs pretty much all day. I'm surprised the NPS hasn't tried to make the entire four corners area into a national park, because really, the red rock extends forever.

We stopped at Pipe Springs National Monument on a whim, because we saw a sign for it on the road and it wasn't too far out of our way. It turned out to be really cool, an old tithing ranch owned by the church (and, like most interesting/valuable land in the west, originally owned by Indians).

We got to the Grand Canyon toward evening. It was just as beautiful and startling and dramatic as always! We loved stopping at the overlooks, and finished Mockingjay, the book we've been listening to, on the way in. We enjoyed it but were dissatisfied with the ending.

We had a big "carb-loading" dinner at Yavapai Lodge in the park, then went back to our campsite and laid things out for our hike tomorrow. We're getting VERY excited.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 6, Day 4

Colby: I think we'd better start with waking up at 5.

Maria: No, I think we need to start with when I woke up up at 1 to go to the bathroom.

Here's what happened.

Maria: Psst - Colby... will you get up with me? I have to go to the bathroom!

Colby: Just wait. They'll come wake us up in a few minutes anyway.

Maria: What?? Who? Colby, are you conscious?

Colby: Yeah! It's a backcountry thing. If you're camped close to the road they wake up up first and make you leave.

Um, he obviously wasn't so conscious. But his subconscious is sure creative!

AFTER we woke up for real, we had breakfast at McDonald's in Cedar City and headed off to Zion, early early. We were on the trail to Angel's Landing just after 8. The first two miles were very straightforward (read: straight UP) and we thought, hey! We're almost done! Then the last half mile scared the bejeebers out of us. We now know why no mother ever wants to know about her children attempting this trail. The last half-mile to the summit of Angel's Landing pretty much consisted of skirting rocky cliffs and crags by hanging onto a guide chain for dear life. We felt like we were clinging to the iron rod. Except that Lehi's dream didn't include the danger of dizzing cliff falls.
We didn't turn around, though, and we didn't fall off. The view was AMAZING, completely worth the terror on the way up. We found that the trip down was much easier on the nerves.

After we finished, we had lunch at our campsite and pretty much took the afternoon off, listening to our book-on-ipod in the car and relaxing for a couple of hours. Then we headed back to the park and the shuttle to see some more of the sights. The Riverside Walk was nice, but it's also the entrance to the Narrows and that pretty much just made me super depressed we didn't have time to do the whole Narrows. Looks like the coolest hike EVER.

We did a few more little stops and then moved on to the highlight of the day: "bathing" in the Virigin River. Mmmm. The water was cold and refreshing and we felt SO CLEAN afterwards! It made us feel like rugged pioneers, bathing in a creek.

That night we went to the campground ranger show, about wildlife in Zion. Then we went to bed and the wind just RIPPED at our tent all night. We woke up to a cloudy and dismal sort of day, glad we were getting on the road (and not hiking the Narrows after all).

Colby showing where we were going to be hiking - we felt pretty hardcore.

A pretty impressive view from about 1/2 mile from the top.

See that ridge behind us? We hiked up that. There are chains all along it and we pretty much scrambled to the top. And it pretty much scrambled our nerves.

After we made it to the top!

Pioneer style bathing in the Virgin River - SO refreshing.

September 5, Day 3

We woke up in our discounted-swanky hotel room, GORGED ourselves on the free continental breakfast, and got our itinerary ironed out (booked campsites for Zion and Grand Canyon). Being on our own schedule, as we are, we had completely forgotten that tomorrow was Labor Day, with its accompanying large crowds. How irritating! But we got campsites reserved and should be fine.

In a related turn of events, we decided not to head for Zion early in the morning (to find a campsite) as we had planned. Instead, we decided to camp up at Webster Flats, which is near my Grandfather Jones' old ranch on Cedar Mountain. Colby has never been there, so we figured it might be fun to show him a little of the Cedar Mountain scenery.

This also meant that we could have a more leisurely morning, which we enjoyed. We found a Cedar City ward at 11am, and were so impressed with the friendliness of the ward members. If our ward in Virginia is this nice, we'll be in good hands.

After church, we drove up to Webster Flats (the campground was called Deer Haven, in Dixie National Forest) and found a spot. It was like heaven for me, being back on the mountain. I love that place so dearly. When we'd gotten situated and eaten lunch, we drove up to Cedar Breaks National Monument, a beautiful canyon spot nearby. It was windy and gorgeous.

That afternoon, we read and slept and relaxed on the SUU lawn, across the street from my grandparents' house and a place that figures largely in my childhood memories.

So excited to be back on the mountain!

Colby at beautiful Cedar Breaks!

September 4, Day 2

Woke up with the sunrise, bright and beautiful, right outside our tent door. We did a bit more looking around in the park this morning - a scenic drive and some historic ruins. Our favorite part was that the remains of an orchard are on the property, left over from the original owner of the caves in the 1800s, and the park officials don't mind (actually encourage) people picking the fruit! We didn't find any ripe, but we loved the idea.

We set out for Cedar City in the afternoon. The highway going across the desert was the longest, flattest, emptiest road either of us had ever seen, and we enjoyed some outrageous driving in the privacy of the desert.

When we got close to Cedar, I saw a sign for Parowan Gap Petroglyphs. I remember my Grandfather Jones talking about them, and even taking some of the grandkids out to see them, but I had never been and had always wondered. So, because the theme of this trip is doing things on a whim, we turned and drove a few miles out to see these carvings.
They were AMAZING.
And they were beautiful! I get really geeked out about history anyway, but these really were impressive. There was one area that was fenced off, but you could walk a little way down the highway and the up to the canyon walls and see a lot more. The rocks were just covered, and I enjoyed putting my hands on the prehistoric artwork. It made us wonder what about that tiny canyon in the middle of the desert had been so special to those ancient people.
Also, I found a snake. I was just about 2 feet away from stepping on it when I saw it, which gave me an adrenaline rush I can still feel just thinking about it, but then we realized it was dead.

We checked into a Super 8 in Cedar City (our plan is to spend Saturday nights in hotels to be ready for the Sabbath in the morning). Upon entering, we discovered that the man behind the desk was Indian. Not Native American, which you might more reasonably expect in Cedar City, Utah, but INDIA Indian. As Colby served his mission in India, this made his day. It also apparently made the hotel man's day, and they went off, talking about India and making friends. This also had the happy result of getting us a discount BEYOND the AAA discount, and getting us abruptly (and for free) switched to the honeymoon suite. Score.

After dropping our stuff, we headed for Bryce Canyon National Park. The scenic drive (as most scenic drives are) was gorgeous, and the hike advertised as the "World's Best 3-mile Hike" did NOT disappoint. I actually think it WAS the world's best 3-mile hike. It led us down into Bryce Canyon, around some super weird rock formations, and through the most starkly beautiful colored scenery. We agreed it was beautiful, but really WEIRD looking. We loved the foreign tourists and did our part to confuse them by speaking Arabic to each other when we passed people.

We cooked cup'o'noodles on our Coleman stove on a random picnic table after our hike, and that was dinner. We love being so free!!

Loving the historic orchard at Great Basin

The amazing petroglyphs at Parowan Gap

Colby posing on our "world's greatest 3-mile hike"