by wjw on July 7, 2008

This teepee motel, by the way, was across the highway from Bubba’s Hickory Bar-B-Que and Welding Supply.
I took this picture on the Fourth of July. I am here to tell you that the real America— the America of teepee motels and Bubba and two-lane blacktop— is still very much alive.
We passed by a restaurant in Kanab where the waitresses wear six-shooters. We have seen life-sized plastic dinosaurs parked out in front of several rock shops. We have seen RVs and ATVs and motorboats and Tahoes and Rams and Suburbans, all spewing hydrocarbons as if gas prices hadn’t quadrupled since George Bush became president.
I have seen no Hummers, which is an improvement.
Mysterious images prevail in this land of contrasts. This morning, walking to breakfast, I saw a large potbellied Hispanic girl of ten or eleven crossing the parking lot in front of me dressed in a long blue velvet gown. This afternoon, during a downpour, I saw a biker hunched down beneath a cedar tree in some kind of silver poncho that made him look as if he were wrapped in tinfoil.
We went to Meteor Crater, where D.M. Barringer spent nearly thirty years of his life digging and drilling in an effort to find the 150-foot-diameter nickel-iron meteorite that he knew would make him an iron tycoon. (The meteor blew up in the atmosphere, and was never there to be found.)
This morning we crossed the Glen Canyon Dam and looked behind it to see the most unnatural-looking lake in all creation— unnatural because nature never meant it to be there. Here are all these pink sandstone bluffs and cliffs and mesas, with this improbably blue lake just dropped in among them. You won’t find anything in Lake Powell resembling a shore— there’s just cliffs and water.
We have really been eyeballing the hell out of the Colorado Plateau— which, it should be pointed out, is mainly in Arizona and Utah. We have visited the Painted Desert, which is actually the remains of a Triassic sea, and the Petrified Forest National Monument, logs that sank in that very sea. We went to Walnut Canyon to view thousand-year-old cliff dwellings, and saw Wall-E in a multiplex in Flagstaff. We zoomed down the hairpin corners of Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona, the town surrounded by spectacular red rock formations (including one shaped like Snoopy atop his doghouse), and where bookstores sell titles like What is a Vortex?
From Flagstaff we trekked north to Sunset Crater, a relatively recent (11th century) volcanic cone set amid the spectacular scenery of much older volcanic mountains. We learned there are many types of lava: pahoehoe and aa (both terms being Hawaiian, naturally, and referring to highly sculpted lava and to lava with jagged clinker on the top [you shout “ah ah!” as you walk along the clinker in bare feet]. There are kipukas, hornitos, and breccia.
I know this because I walked across, or into, most of these.
From Sunset Crater we took the circle road north to Wupatki, which are the castle-like ruins of a vanished Indian civilization called the Sinagua. (Spanish for “No Water,” the Conquistadors’ tribute to the people who could survive on the arid badlands.) This ruin features a masonry ball court, linking it culturally to Central America. Today’s Hopis claim the Sinagua were their ancestors.
After a night in Page, perched above the unnatural blue of Lake Powell, we crossed the dam into Utah, and followed the Vermilion Cliffs for many miles to visit the temptingly-named Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The dunes are indeed a shocking pink color, and very soft as you walk on them in bare feet.
Utah park rangers, we noticed, were armed. No one is getting that pink sand away from them. None of the US Park Service rangers were carrying, so far as we could tell— but then they could probably call in the Green Berets if they had to.
We climbed up and up to the Cedar Breaks National Monument. These enormous red cliffs were shadowed by cloud and rain squalls— fortunately we’d seem them before in sunlight— but they were magnificent even when the lightning danger was high. We noted the tragic sight of thousands of dead cedar trees, killed by the beetle blight of the past decade. One wrong lightning bolt and the whole plateau goes up in smoke.
From thence we descended into Cedar City, the theater capital of Southern UT— and, incidentally, a stronghold of polygamy. Here we are recuperating in a pleasant, spacious motel room, with intermittent Wi-Fi service.
We are done, temporarily, with the Colorado Plateau, but explorations will resume in three or four days.
In the meantime, we plan some well-deserved rest.
halojones-fan July 7, 2008 at 6:30 am

“This morning we crossed the Glen Canyon Dam and looked behind it to see the most unnatural-looking lake in all creation— unnatural because nature never meant it to be there. Here are all these pink sandstone bluffs and cliffs and mesas, with this improbably blue lake just dropped in among them.”

All desert reservoir lakes look like that. California is full of them; lakes that are in the middle of the desert, and just filled up whatever valleys were present when someone dammed up a stream. The whole place is dead dry grass, sun-blasted dirt, and a few scrub oaks; right next to millions of gallons of water.

NCCM USN(ret) July 7, 2008 at 3:18 pm

If you get the chance I suggest driving one of the most beautiful routes in all America – Hwy 89 from Flagstaff to Prescott, AZ. Well, I like it better from Prescott to Flagstaff 🙂 Amazing views!

Rebecca July 7, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Cedar Breaks! Been there twice. For my money it’s the most sublime place in Utah, a state chock-full of geological sublimity.

The teepee motel–how wonderful. You have indeed seen some strange sights on this trip. I hope the rest of it proves equally entertaining.

Lance July 7, 2008 at 10:34 pm

When I read your travels I thought “How did WJW get my blog about my vacation?”
You seem to be hitting all the spots my wife and I hit for our anniversary cross country trip this last May.

The southwest is indeed very beautiful. I had never seen it before and had a wonderful time. Although I drew the line at walking out onto that platform in Meteor Crater. [shiver]

Enjoy your trip.

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