Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Sunday, March 28, 2010


March 12 - With the seventh coldest winter in Grand Junction’s history still holding firm, I wasn’t about to wait for the first day of spring to take off for warmer climes. Besides, the forecasts all said another storm was imminent so I saddled up the ol’ Subaru and headed out on a clear, crisp Friday morning. Driving the interstate was a necessary evil until I reached Hwy. 24 where I could finally get onto an empty, two-lane blacktop, heading nearly due south toward Hanksville and the snow-covered Henry Mountains.

My sense of anticipation was palpable as I turned east through the badlands of Caineville and the cool canyons of Capitol Reef. Beyond that point were a string of small Mormon towns, lost in time and still locked in ice. Torrey, Loa, Bicknell, and the tundra-white summits near Koosharem where Otter Creek was still flowing under the snow.

Keep driving. Through the volcanic rocks of Kingston Valley; through Circleville past the boyhood home of Butch Cassidy; and farther south through Panguitch, Hatch and Junction. Soon I was following the Sevier River through bucolic ranchlands and farms. After 380 miles, I reached my first destination....Kanab, Utah, once known as “the greatest earth on show.” This is the town that hates the federal government and wants to decommission the local Grand Staircase National Monument, but at the same time thrives on tourist dollars from the thousands of visitors coming through to enjoy their federal lands.

March 13 - I spent the morning hours driving to a used bookstore in Orderville where I bought about two dozen, great old pulp paperbacks. Got back to Kanab before the predicted snow storm hit with a vengeance, and hunkered down at my friend Mike’s house. That evening we watched Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

March 14 - Sunday was a free day, of sorts, and the welcomed start of Daylight Savings Time. I hadn’t planned any long distance drives and Mike couldn’t hike with his bad knee, so I decided to go it alone with some further exploration of the Paria Plateau. Big puffy clouds filled the sky and all traces of yesterday’s frantic snowfall were gone. And the Paria welcomed me as it always does with swirly red sandstone and wildly psychedelic erosion. I spent several hours roaming through small slot canyons and amongst giant toadstool shaped rocks. It was a landscape of memory and mystery. And the photo ops were amazing. This area is really the quintessence of the Colorado Plateau region. Later that evening, Mike and I treated ourselves to a viewing of Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy and consummate baddies Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan. It doesn’t get any better than that!

March 15 - For me the real journey started on Monday morning when I said goodbye to Kanab and headed out for the lower deserts. I stopped for breakfast at the Thunderbird Cafe in Mt. Carmel Junction, an institution ‘round these parts. I’m pretty sure that my waitress that morning was a gentile as she was soft spoken, brunette and sincere, unlike the saccharine, disingenuous, blonde honey who effusively greeted me when I entered. On my table were the usual Mormon “humor“ books one finds in southern Utah such as “Old Timers & Alzhimers” (sic), a collection of vastly unfunny vignettes on the hilarity of dementia. Nevertheless, the meal was good and the day was clear.

The east rim of Zion National Park was still covered in snow but it gradually disappeared as I dropped into the canyon, almost 42 years to the day since the first time I visited here (see my blog Get Off the Pot for details). In spite of all the tourists, this place never fails to enchant me. I can almost always ignore the crowds and just look beyond....or walk beyond. But I was on a mission to get warm so I didn’t linger long. I forged my way through the hideous urban mess of Hurricane and St. George, two communities that have utterly lost any charm they may have had twenty years ago to the onslaught of rampant and unchecked growth.

On the Interstate once again, I dropped down through the spectacular Virgin River Gorge into Littlefield, Arizona and 70 degree temperatures, the warmest weather I had experienced in nearly four months. I was focused on reaching the Valley of Fire State Park near Overton, Nevada so it was pretty easy to ignore the gambling come-ons of Mesquite and the beat-up, monoculture of creosote bush in the surrounding landscape. But this was it. I was finally on the edges of the Mojave Desert as I drove into the campground at Valley of Fire, I was looking forward to the days ahead in this hard-edged terrain.

(For the sake of brevity (and because I am falling so far behind), the next installment will be posted soon).

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