August 22, 2010

Summer Road Trip - Driving to Southern Utah

I don't know what I am doing with this travel writing. Maybe it is just for me. I think there are clues in there trying to tell me something. Maybe it is desperate self-discovery disguised as travel writing. Maybe I am just hoping to live my days between vacations by the well-documented memories of my last adventure. If you think I doubt myself all the time, I do not, but I certainly question my actions, my sanity, the validity of my time here.
I awoke at 3am to prepare for my departure. Sadly, I said goodbye to Therese and then "Susan", my brother-in-law, drove me one hour away to the Syracuse airport. Here I will digress to talk about "Susan". I was talking with Therese and "Susan" one night when I mentioned I was writing a travel blog about my trip.
"So, you are going to talk about your time in New York?" Susan asks.
"Yup," I reply.
"Are you going to use my real name, or are you going to change it?" Susan asks, kind of jokingly.
"Well, I was going to use your real name, but I don't have to, if you don't want me to." I say.
"What do you mean? You might change someone's name and use something else instead, like 'Susan'?" Therese asks.
"Sure, just like 'Susan'. I can change Jason's name to 'Susan'!" I say.
We all laughed. That is how I came to have a brother-in-law named "Susan".
Approaching Salt Lake City from the airplane
When I arrived in Salt Lake City I managed to get an airport shuttle service to take me to my car, which was parked at my friend Mandy's house. I chatted with the driver on the way out, he seemed friendly. I asked him if he had heard any news about catching the escaped convict that had been hiding out in Yellowstone. He said he thought they caught one of the three guys that escaped but two of them were still on the lose. This led to discussions about the death penalty and how a man had been put to death by firing sqaud in Utah only a few months ago.
"I think in Delaware you can still opt to be put to death by hanging." I say.
"Really? That's crazy." he says. Yes, it is.
"Well this was a cheery conversation" I say. He laughs.
Before I left my car at Mandy's house, I had rearranged my camping stuff and organized the things I needed to take to New York. One thing I had left in my car was propane for my backpacking stove. I brought the gas from home because I thought I might have to use it for the stove in Yellowstone, but for some reason I brought all four of my little propane tanks on my trip. I don't know what I was thinking, there was NO way I was going to use all of them, or even all of one of them. But I did, and when I was reading the label before closing my car up at Mandy's it said, "Do not leave in direct sunlight. Do not expose to temperatures over 120 degrees." I packed them carefully where they would never see the light of day in my car. But, minutes before we left for the airport, while we were admiring that amazing rainbow left over from their recent thunderstorm, Mandy told me that the temperature in Salt Lake City can easily get to a hundred degrees. Well, that's twenty degrees below 120 degrees. While I was on the plane, flying to JFK, I started thinking. If my dark purple car is sitting out in direct sun in hundred degree weather all day, I'm sure the inside of the car can get to 120 degrees. Oh my god, what would happen then? Would my car blow up? Would it ignite the gas in the gas tank and become a huge, flaming fire ball? I just bought that car a couple of weeks ago, that's thousands of dollars thrown away. I would lose all that money. My insurance would not cover it. Worse, when it blew up it might injure someone! And, my car is parked in front of a playground. It could blow up and hurt of one the children, maybe even kill them. Maybe it will hurt or kill someone in Mandy's family. I could not live with myself. I could just imagine the police questioning me, "Were you aware that the propane tank was not supposed to get over 120 degrees? Did it ever cross your mind that the interior of your car might get that hot?"
I would have to confess that it did cross my mind. "Then why didn't you do anything about it?" they would say. Oh and why didn't I? Because I would have had to FedEx my keys overnight to Mandy and have to ask her to dig four propane tanks out of the back of my hatchback. I could have taken every precaution. I was going to go to jail for negligence. The whole thought stream seemed crazy, so, I tried to let it go. But I was sweating bullets. When I got to New York, I checked the weather forecast for Salt Lake City, it was supposed to be in the mid-eighties. I felt relieved, but I kept checking my cell phone, waiting to get a call from Mandy telling me that my car blew up. Then, I realized the propane tanks probably wouldn't blow up, and they probably wouldn't ignite a fire, they would probably just start to leak. But I will say, when I did see my car, sitting outside her house, completely intact, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The only thing different about my car was that it now looked like a dalmation, dust build up and rain drops had made it spotted.
Highway 6
I ran into Mandy on her way out with all her kids. She was holding her one-year old, Elinor, so cute with light blonde hair and amazingly deep blue eyes. Elinor looked at me, no, she stared at me. What was she thinking? When an adult stares, or even just looks, our life experience makes us judge. We almost can't help it. We see a person and make dozens of tiny judgments. How do they dress? What does that say about them? Are they thin or overweight? Are they ugly or attractive? Do they look smart? Trustworthy? What do they do for a living? Are they rich or poor? Responsible? Honest? Kind? Mean? Am I better than them? Do I approve of you? Will they try to hurt me? On and on it goes. This judgment is harsh, even when it is kind, because you can not possibly know a person with one glance. Or can you? We even judge ourselves! But with little Elinor, when she looked at me with her round, blue, one-year old eyes, she could not possibly have these thoughts. She was seeing Me, whoever that was, without the judgments. To know me without judgment may be to know me better than I know myself.
START: 1384 miles.
I am back on I-15, driving south, getting away from the highway construction and congestion of Salt Lake City. Then I am free from the interstate, on Highway 6, driving through mountains of gray rock, made green by the shrubbery and trees. It gets more and more remote as I wind along the road heading southeast. It becomes lush and the mountains flatten out a bit and the gray rock starts to mix with red rock. Puffy white clouds appear in the smog-free, blue sky. Such a contrast from the hazy, muggy skies I had last seen in New York.
I am missing Therese terribly already, in fact, I am missing my whole family. But even with all this homesickness, or whatever it is that is not homesickness, I do not want to move back east. I don't know what it is called, but part of me feels lost and missing. I don't know what is. I miss Paul too, but I think because I know I will see him soon, I do not miss him as much. Or, it is like I am missing parts of myself and I leave them in different places and one of those places may now be far, far away.
I drive up a long, not too steep hill and just over the top, the landscape changes drastically, from lush and green to dry, thinned out vegetation, exposing bare rock. The road sweeps through turns of red rock valleys. I drive up, I drive down, I drive along train transporting things to far off places, and the road descends softly into a valley below me.

I wonder if I can just forget myself, part of me wants to, and just melt into this world, into the landscape. Who would I be? What would I be? What would I love? What would love me? Would I love it all? What things about me would I forget? Would there be anything to remember? What would be left?

What would be left.

Crumbling Mountains
The mountains become rounded and after a long time, they begin to crumble. They are crumbling from the side, or the base, they are becoming canyons. It looks as if they have given up trying to hold their youthful form. Is that the fate of all mountains? Will they all, one day, crumble in a way that they form canyons, like the bottom of the world fell out from under them? What ages them? Is it time, is it worry, is it wear? Perhaps they were never made strong enough to begin with, to keep them from crumbling through the ages, they could not withstand. Is it that we are like mountains or mountains are like us? Or, do we just find comfort in the company of aging? Is it not just a human condition, but an earthly condition?
Travel might be like an acquaintance, where you skim the surface of knowing. Home is like family, you go deeper, more is invested. But even to our surface, things of importance will rise, waiting to be skimmed off the top. Acquaintances may say or do something casual that changes our life forever, because at that moment, it has floated to the top of our consciousness. With family, like home, we can have closer, more intimate relationships. But with family we have a history, a history that may blind us from ever learning anything new. When all the excitement and surface politeness of travel are skimmed off the top, we can go home and dig in again and see what we pull up, all kinds of crazy things, but it changes, and changes how it looks to you and how you feel. Digging and skimming changes you because maybe it makes you more of who you are. And maybe not.
Here the canyons don't seem to drop below you, but rise up next to you. As they spread out behind me I drive through a small town, one after another, more populated than the one before. There are old buildings, falling apart with some new ones, well kept. Everything is simple, even when cluttered at times. I guess when you have a lot of space, your clutter can spread out and fill more spaces. It becomes drier and the trees become more sparse, yet there is a sweetness in the air that I can not place. It lasts just a minute and then its gone. There are large piles of dry dirt that become mountains.
I don't feel like going back to San Francisco, although I miss Paul terribly. I don't feel like going back east, although I miss my family terribly. I want to be on the road, but I don't want to be lonely. I want to be alone and for this, I feel guilty. I don't want to go forward, I don't want to go back but I don't want to stay where I am. I don't know what I want, but part of me feels like it does know. Highway 6 meets Interstate 70. A sign says, "Next gas 100 miles." There are no other cars in sight.
I am only on the interstate for eight miles before I exit for state highway 24. Green shrubbery pops up around me, some of it as tall as me, as canyonlands appear ahead. I like these wide open spaces, because they make me feel like I too am wide open. It cracks me open, but I don't want to stay too long, I will feel too open, too exposed, too extreme. The landscape flattens out and fills with sagebrush. The road ahead of me is long. In the distance, along the road are some rockpiled mountains with puffy clouds beginning to get hazy along the horizon. Highway 24 becomes Highway 95.
From across the desert, the mountains approached, taking on the appearance, from a distance, as green mountains. Closer, I realized that this was just an illusion of the color of the rock, large tumbling boulders, and these mountains were not covered in trees. Highway 95 became 273, my last stretch before Bullfrog, Utah. The sagebrush was many brilliant greens.
The mountains broke down into shallow canyons and the road took me through them. Then the canyons walls spread out and rounded, mellowing.
Mellow does not last and the mountains rise again. This continues for many, many miles, like canyons chasing mountains, the landscape never quite sure if it is rising or falling. Maybe it wants to be neither and like me, it is not content with choosing.
The sun is getting low in the sky, throwing large, looming shadows across the landscape. But at last, the last of the landscape of this day will win out and the rolling orange-read, smooth mounds take the prize. This is the landscape of Bullfrog.
Bullfrog, Utah is situated within federally owned park land of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. You must pay the National Park Service a fee to enter. It sits above Lake Powell, a reservoir of the Colorado River. There are, I think, about 200 permanent residents in this community, In the summer, the total populations grows, because of the tourist season. Here, residents can never own land, because it is already owned by the government, it is like living in a park. There are no traffic lights, for hundreds of miles. There is a boat marina, a gas station, a convenience store, a lodge, a restaurant, a small school, a health clinic and an airstrip. There may be a postal office as well. All of these things are spread out across three roads. You can see everything all around you. There are no tall trees, there are hardly any trees. Everyone there is there because they are somehow involved in the tourism of the area. If you don't work in hospitality, you work for the park service and a scarce few, work as support services for these things and the residents. Tourists come from miles away with their motorboats and houseboats and go out on to the lake. Some of them camp at night in the campground. The nearest real grocery store is three hours away. It is a unique place. People here are unique too, they love the remoteness from people, crowds and congestion. This is not to say that anyone loves crowds and congestion, but the people here seem to go to extremes to avoid it, giving up many of the luxuries that we take for granted in metropolitan areas. You can not get lost in Bullfrog, all roads lead to the lake, ending, unless you take the ferry across the water. Only one real road leads out.
My friend Becki has lived here for seven years, which boggles my mind. Becki is my closest, dearest and best friend from college, where she majored in hospitality. She lives in Bullfrog with her boyfriend, Mike and her dog, Pancake. It was good to see her.
I am in the smooth, orange rock desert of southern Utah. Yesterday I was in French-speaking Montreal. How miraculous, that in the span of one day, we can become so far away.
END: 1762 miles.

Salt Lake City to Bullfrog, Utah:

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1 comment:

  1. Some great shots. I like how your writing is evolving. It feels more introspective and as if you are taking more risks than in earlier posts. It is a great travelogue