Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Trip to Bountiful

Enormous CSA basket this week. My mouth hurts from eating tomatoes already. That one yellowish stripey thing is some sort of Asian melon and I have no idea how to tell if it's ripe. The whitish thing to the right is a Lebanese squash, which tastes like regular squash. Two heads of lettuce. In August. That seems crazy. Seven pounds of tomatoes. Hahahaha. Seven pounds.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Eastward Ho! Days 9-11: The BORING states

Did you think I died on my way through Oklahoma and Arkansas? Well I almost DID. OF BOREDOM.

After I left Dodge City, I drove straight south and was happy to see some sunflowers in the Sunflower State.

I tried to see some buffalo on a prairie preserve, but I didn't see any and the Beetle has low clearance and the road was a little rutted so I was worried about that so I turned around and kept going across the border to Oklahoma and on to Tulsa.

This is what all of Oklahoma looks like:

You have to pay to get on the roads into Tulsa, which is a big fat joke because you pay and then you pay again and then your reward is....Tulsa! I kid! Tulsa looked fun. I was happy to see my old friends J&D, though I was disappointed that their new house didn't smell like Indian food like most of the places I had been staying. We went out to dinner at somewhere fancy, which wasn't easy because every restaurant in Tulsa is closed up on Sundays, let me tell you. I guess they're all in church eating wafers one at a time. I had a fig salad and some scallops. I don't have a picture of that, but here's a picture of my Dodge City Across-the-Street steak from the previous night, as well as the weirdest creme brulee I've ever had, which the bartender set on fire in front of me.

Anyway, my friends had a houseguest who was, hmmm, let me be kind....five-star crazy is about right, I guess, but not in a funny way so I sort of felt like I was in the way a little and that maybe they were going to kill the crazy person later and put her in a trunk. So I got out of there the next day, not wanting to be a witness to anything.

This was the worst day, from Tulsa all the way to Nashville, almost ten hours, most of it in the rain. God I hate Arkansas. I have Arkanseen it.

And that is the end of the trip. Mom and Dad beat me back and they close on a house today. Champagne for everyone! But mainly for me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 8: Pueblo, CO ---> Dodge City, KS

Today was a sad day; this entire trip I've had it in my head that once I left Colorado, well, I was almost home. Through Kansas, drop down into Oklahoma for a nice dinner with my oldest friends in Tulsa and then straight through Arkansas - The Gem State! - and then home. And once I crossed the Kansas border, I admit I did feel a little down, though Kansas has a particular extreme quality that appeals to me. My disappointment doesn't have anything to do with Kansas itself, only that the geography is starting to signal the beginning of the end of one of the best things I've ever done. So the border crossing was bittersweet...and almost instantly classic Kansas.

Then on to Dodge City, which actually may be the saddest town I've yet visited. And I've been to Green River, Utah. By happy (?) coincidence, my friend Chris is either from here or maybe his grandmother just lives here...I never pay attention when he talks, so I don't really know. Anyway, he comes back to visit twice a year and is always telling me how awful it is and I always roll my eyes and say "now now, everyone says that about where they're from." WELL I WON'T SAY THAT ANY MORE. I asked the concierge (cough cough) about a decent place to eat and she recommended the Kentucky Fried Chicken. NOW. I don't have to have truffled risotto EVERY NIGHT but this is a strict no-fast-food trip. So I called Chris back in Nashville, who couldn't think of a place to recommend to me, so he called his fabulous father Charlie...who couldn't think of a place either, so he then called a friend who lives here and so on and so on and so on and in the end it looks like I'm having steak for dinner. Which makes sense, I guess, since I passed a hundred million cows in feed lots on the way into town. Yesterday I was in Royal Gorge; today, I am in the middle of a cattle feedlot, which I guess is a royal gorge of a different sort.

I made a quick trip to Boot Hill, an astonishingly tiresome imitation-recreation of an old west town built on a real site that would otherwise be compelling and interesting. It's too bad they don't know what they have; the actual museum is quite interesting (except for the part where you stand in a room and hear buffalo stampeding and the floor vibrates with threat; it's like that part at the Holocaust Museum where they make you walk through the train boxcar. Only different!) but it's all surrounded by so much fake stuff - the olde tyme ice creame parlore and the photographie shoppe and ye olde west footstoole museum - it sort of cancels the good stuff out. I like fake, but I like it to be completely sincere, if that makes any sense (though I will say...Dodge City houses the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame & Gunfighters Wax Museum - THAT'S ONE THING in case you were wondering). This was very half-hearted fake, with local high school boys acting like cowboys and putting on medicine shows and not really bothering to believe any of it. It was a little like those people who when Halloween rolls around decide at the last second to dress up like a hobo because it's

Tomorrow, Oklahoma, which will be my first "new state" of the trip; I've been to all the others on the route before. Once I check off Oklahoma, I'll be up to 36 total. Stupid Nebraska; I've been all the way around it but never in it.

Oh and one more thing: when I was at Arches National Park, it seems Wall Arch collapsed. It has nothing to do with that Ziploc bag full of rocks in the car. NOTHING. I didn't even GO to Wall Arch.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 7: Grand Junction, CO ---> Pueblo, CO

Friday was a big day so I was out of Grand Junction by 7. By the way, if by "Grand," they mean "confusing," then they named it right. Otherwise: no. It's a confusing town where directions involve "oh, that's at the corner of F and 23 and a half." Really? Go fuck yourself, Grand Junction.

Anyway! Off to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a truly staggering place. Like Arches, there's nothing to do but look, hike and gasp. So if that's not your thing, scroll down and read about the tourist trap I went to. I went below the rim of Black Canyon for a two-mile hike - the Oak Flat Loop - and I don't know how on earth I could have forgotten my eye-popping experience at the Grand Canyon a few years ago when I forgot that every step down meant one back up. But it wasn't quite that hard and it allowed for some astonishing views of the almost 90-degree vertical walls of the north rim.

I did my loop, gasped for air as I came back up to the rim and then got in the car and visited the their overlooks, the most amazing one being Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado.

Oh! SIDEBAR! About superlatives: When I was talking about Great Basin a few days ago, I said it was our newest national park. WELL IT'S NOT. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is newer. And I think Congareee in SC might be newer than that even; I'm not quite sure when it switched over from a National Monument or whatever the hell it was before it was an official Park.

I was there about three hours total (moderately okay gift shop, with two books I almost bought but decided to Amazon later), then I hopped in the car and headed east across the continental divide. 58 degrees. original plan was to turn south in Salida and visit one more National Park - Great Sand Dunes National Park - before the big push east begins in earnest on Saturday. At the absolute last opportunity to do so before the turn, I noticed that if I did that, I'd miss Royal Gorge. So because I'm spontaneous and not really a slave to my travel book that I put together, that's what I did...headed to Royal Gorge, which has the world's highest suspension bridge.

And it's a hilarious tourist trap! I loved it! I rode a cable car over the gorge, I rode an incline railway down to the bottom of the gorge, I petted a bighorn sheep, I ate a funnel cake. I walked across the bridge and then drove across it as well. It bounces, which I know it's supposed to do but halfway across the bridge I started singing under my breath to the car "bang bang chitty chitty bang bang chitty chitty bang bang I love you" because I had the distinct feeling that I was about to need to fly and/or float when the bridge gave way.

So that was exciting, because the trip has been very heavy on natural beauty and spiritual blah blah and except for the Kokopelli Fried Chicken, not very chintzy. Royal Gorge is privately held, and like most things like that, it's rinky-dink,, poorly signage-d, not handicap-accessible in any way and looks borderline unsafe. Seriously, I expected at least five children to fall to their deaths there, it's so not well-designed safety-wise. I kept hoping anyway, but no dice. It really makes you admire the National Parks Service because in comparison, they're practically a model of organization and clarity. But! BEST GIFT SHOP ever, except for maybe the Trees of Mystery gift shop in Klamath, CA. I cut a swath through the Royal Gorge gift shop like a lumberjack with a chain saw. So check your stockings this Christmas!

On the way from Royal Gorge to Pueblo, I saw this sign. I have no idea what it means, but it works on many many levels.

Then I headed on to Pueblo to try and watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. How'd that guy run sideways up in the air like that? Those crazy Chinese! I did think the globe thing was cool, because when I was a child, I thought people in China walked upside down on the other side of the world because I was right-side up. And wa-la! There they were walking upside down!

Today I head to Dodge City, where I am scheduled to shoot the person of my choice on Main Street at sunset. Will it be you? Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 6: Moab, UT ---> Grand Junction, CO

Today was a short day; I had to do some work and I had to get to a motel in time to do laundry, so I only did a couple of amazing things as opposed to the five million amazing things I've done every day so far.

I left Moab and took the Colorado River Road up past Fisher Towers, seen in every movie ever set in the west. I stopped and took some pictures but the parking lot was dirty-hippie infested so I didn't stay long. Today was overcast again, so the towers looked like the poked up into the clouds. Pretty dramatic.

Then on across the state line to Colorado National Monument outside Grand Junction; cloudy and rainy, which minimized visibility. Crappy gift shop, if you're keeping score. I can't figure out why the National Park Service gets t-shirts so consistently wrong.

Now the laundry's in. Motel breakdown so far: Motel 6es are the most consistent, though internet access is tricky and frequently not as advertised; one night I piggy-backed on a KOA wireless signal because the Motel 6 one was so weak. Travelodges are dirty. And the two indies I've been to were wildly different but both managed to smell like cheese.

Tonight, some small plates at some wine joint. Tomorrow: Black Canyon of the GUnnison National Park and then a loooong drive to Pueblo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 5: Arches National Park

Okay FIRST OFF let me just say that I'm awfully fucking glad I've been hiking almost every weekend this year because if I hadn't you'd be reading this in a somewhat different engraved into my headstone, perhaps. I purposely didn't over-research this stop because I wanted something to be a surprise. Well....leave it to me to be "surprised" that everything I decided to do was either "strenuous" or "moderately strenuous" and the only difference I can detect between those two levels is the numbers of "where's the motherfucking parking lot"s mumbled under my breath. In case you were wondering, eleven for the former, seven for the latter.

I started the day with some sort of potato-bacon-cheese-vomit-skillet-y concoction at the local "diner." No counter! Means no diner! In my book, anyway.

I had done enough research to know that I wanted to hike into the Fiery Furnace, but it's ranger-led only, so you have to reserve in advance, which I did. 4pm. For a 3-hour hike. I went ahead and went to the park at 9am. I did an easy mile all the way around the Windows Arches, then a half mile over to Double Arch. La la la, no big deal, and Double Arch is pretty amazing.

Then back in the car and over to Delicate Arch, which if you are wondering what it looks like, just look at the Utah state quarter. Or look at the pictures below. I decide since I had so much time to kill - LIKE SEVEN HOURS - I would do the hike to the base of Delicate Arch. Three miles round trip. STRENUOUS. And they aren't kidding. A good mile of it was over a big "slickrock" and oh, did I mention it was overcast and lightly rainy? WELL IT WAS. And that is why they call it slickrock IN CASE YOU WERE ABOUT TO ASK. Which you were. It was HARD. And then, wa-la, there it is all of a sudden, a total surprise and you actually laugh out loud because it was so worth the hike. Lots of people at first, but it thinned the hour I was up there, down to just ten or so. Lunchtime! Anyway, I did a quick sketch and took some pics and then slipped and slid all the way back to the parking lot. I took my time, so this whole journey was over two hours; close to three actually.

Then some little side trips to Broken Arch (1.4 miles) and then I drove to the ends of where I could drive and then headed back to the place for the Fiery Furnace meet-up. Twenty-five people. Germans, French, ten Japanese (one was wearing a wig!), two indeterminate-nationality couples (I am confused by Belgians), a fatehr-son from Utah and me. We had a terrific ranger though I think they should teach her to say "don't touch the poison ivy" in Japanese because every time the Japanese did touch it, she'd just yell in English, louder. SIR! IT'S POISON! ITCHY ITCHY! ANd they'd keep right on fondling it like they were selecting salad greens. ANYWAY. Into the Fiery Furnace we went. It's a maze of hundred-feet high fins and I got lost EVEN THOUGH I WAS WITH TWENTY-FOUR OTHER PEOPLE and had to yell "hey LADY!" and it echoed around I guess until I was supposed to die and they came back for me. After that I stuck with the wig-wearing Japanese lady. It is impossible for me to oversell this hike. It's specTACular. Also? MODERATELY STRENUOUS. Which is no less strenuous than STRENUOUS but if they called it STRENUOUS, no one would pay ten dollars to do it. That's like paying to go to jail. This shit was hard...but beautiful. At one point, I had to put my feet on one wall and my ass on another and shimmy fifty horizontal feet on my ass. OR FALL TO MY DEATH. Eh, maybe.

Anyway, we threaded our way from canyon to crevice, arches overhead, little pools of water at our feet. It was a slippery three miles. But I'd do it again. IN ABOUT FIVE YEARS.

I do want to be sure that you all know how terrific I think Arches National Park is. There's not a lot of folderol; it's trails and nature and that's it. No lodge, no restaurant...but an excellent gift shop. I made out with this, part of the set that I collect....but only if I've been there. I ended up having a ten-plus-mile day, six of which were hard. So yay me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 4: Part 2 - Moab

No photos this time! Just observations.

Moab is the town nearest the entrances to Arches and Canyonlands. It is full of three kinds of things: hippies, Germans with funny pants, and people who take decorating with Kokopelli seriously. Ach, this Kokopelli. I used to work with this really hateful woman (Suzy and Chris, it's Kelly) who got a tattoo of Kokopelli on her ankle. When I saw it, I said SARCASTICALLY "hey, where'd you get that idea?" and she said "oooo DG, the image came to me in a dream. I got up and drew it; it's my own design." And I said, "really? Because I think you can buy a leather sofa embossed with that very same image from the Sundance catalog..." and then for months I tortured her by digging up other versions of her "original" design, all of them identical to the tiny smudge on her ankle. I even started calling her Koko for a little while but it didn't stick. I don't know who she was trying to fool. I mean, it was like me getting a cross tattooed on me and saying "I had this dream about a telephone pole...."

ANYWAY. Moab is full of those Kokopelli people. The same way Sedona, Arizona is, though it's maybe less New Age-y and more mountain bike-y. There are no fat people here, even though I know for a fact that you can get a stack of Kokopancakes.

Moab is also the home of Negro Bill Canyon, which I hiked a little bit of late this afternoon. Not much, just enough so I could say "Negro Bill" in conversation just to see what people do. NEGRO BILL NEGRO BILL NEGRO BILL. I HIKED it so I can SAY it.

Eastward Ho! Day 4: Part 1 - Canyonlands

I won't go on and on about Canyonlands National Park, though it was pretty amazing....except for the crappy gift shop. I mean! I'm a spender and even I left empty-handed. Again....a deserted National Park. Everybody write that down: Mondays and Tuesdays are the days to go. I suspect Canyonlands is the unpopular sister with little boobs in comparison to Arches National Park's busty prom queen, because the line to get in the latter was long when I drove by it later in the day.

I heard a ranger do a talk about geology - boring! - and then hiked two different hikes, Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome. Not two miles between them, no big deal. Here are some pictures. I'm now using two cameras...the little Kodak to do the panoramas and the Sony to do the rest. The Sony takes much much better pics...but it's heavier and I don't like carting it around.

Tomorrow, I feel up the prom queen at Arches.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eastward Ho! Day 3: Ely, NV ---> Green River, UT

Today was a loooong day so the post is going to be looong as well. If you don't like it, go read one of your favorite cats-are-cute blogs. YOU KNOW YOU HAVE ONE.

I got up bright and early in Ely and had breakfast in the casino. I have yet to have a meal not at a counter (rather than a table) and now that's one of my plans: to go the rest of the time without sitting at a table for a meal. Six-dollar steak and eggs to give me energy for the road. I was on my way to Great basin National Park but I took a side trip to Ward Ovens State Historical Park. The ovens made charcoal, which I thought just came out of the ground and got into bags and went to the grocery store. BUT NO! That is not the case. Back in ye olden tymes, they burned acres of piƱon pine to get sixty bushels of charcoal and they did it in these beehive-shaped ovens. This was a really cool place, kind of spooky, and they had pictures of rattlesnakes everywhere - which I think they shouldn't do because then you look at the ground the whole time and don't see anything - and worth the hour-long detour. I art-ed up one of the shots for you because I can do that.

Then I headed sixty miles to Great Basin, our youngest National Park - at least that's what the book says. I would also argue that it's one of the ten least visited and that's really a shame. It's a gorgeous place, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, and there's no way to get to it easily...which I guess is why it's not very visited. I drove up Wheeler Peak and hiked the Alpine Lakes loop, an easy 2.5 mile hike, but my time constraint kept me from going further....I think I could have reached the summit if I had planned more time for this park visit. The lakes were really pretty and the water comes straight from a tiny snow field up on the peak. They call it a glacier because it moves stuff, but I thought that was really splitting hairs....but apparently it gets regulated differently if it's a glacier, so I'm sure my tax dollars are at work.

Then it was on to Utah, where they give you a wife just for crossing the state line! Utah kind of freaked me out right off the bat - it seemed designed to intimidate me...105 degrees! "No services next 185 miles"! TURN BACK NOW! And then there are salt flats for miles and miles, which just made me think if I had to walk ten feet on them, I would actually die from dehydration in five minutes.

I stopped in Salina for cherry pie. Another counter seat. A glass of milk. Not the best pie I've ever had, but it was good pie.

I was mad about having to hop on the interstate - I'm trying to stay off of them until Tulsa. But then! It turned out to be the most dramatic interstate in the world with all this crazy stuff to look at. They should put that on the Utah license plates: "Lots Of Crazy Stuff To Look At."

Tomorrow: Canyonlands.