I woke up this morning before the sun rose. This isn’t a huge deal in the mountains. Those gigantic rocks keep the sun from hitting land far later in the morning than on the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I’ve spent the last two months escaping the particular hell that is winter in my home state—I’m fortunate to have friends in warm places.
As I got up, my dog at my feet was surprised, being more use to the “not yet” sign from me when I’m not ready to start the day. But I was sleeping in a hotel bed, and that never suits me for deep and restful sleep, so I figured we would get an early start on our continued trek home. Not that I’m anxious to return, I would have much rather spend many more sunsets on the beaches of southern California, but life continues, and I need to get back. I hadn’t gotten as many miles behind me as I wanted yesterday, so I wanted to get moving.
I had a conversation with my youngest son last night. He loves to road-trip too but isn’t my copilot this time. I told him I was close to Zion National Park and asked him what he thought of me of driving through it on my way East. “Do it!” he said enthusiastically. He spent time there with friends a few years ago and said it was one of the most beautiful parks he’s seen. “It’s like Glacier,” he said, “but…different.”
To me, Glacier is grand, breathtaking, and GIGANTIC. From the map, Zion looked like it was a fraction of the size of Glacier National, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his description.
After a quick walk with my dog, Wilbur, we piled in the “red” Mini Cooper and started our day. The color of my car is labeled as “orange,” but whoever chose that name must have been smoking something when they picked it because my car definitely isn’t orange, it’s red—cherry red.
Full tank of gas and coffee in hand, we headed out. I figured it would be a lovely beginning to our day with a Zion stretch to start us off and then a long drive in the mountains listening to my chosen audiobook for this trip, Return of the King—Part three of the Tolkien series narrated by Andy Serkis—who absolutely nails it! I highly recommend it for long drives, thought I would suggest fast forwarding through the Dwarf songs. Not that Serkis doesn’t do them well, however, I find them tedious. But I digress…
I had purchased an annual National Parks pass a few months ago, a smart purchase that has already paid for itself. It used to be that you got a sticker for the windshield of your car that gave you entrance to a park, but what if you bought a new car, or we’re in a rental? Today, you get a plastic card you can carry with you, so go ahead and buy the annual pass if you are so inclined. I gladly breezed through the entrance gate ritual—See ya later suckers—and in we went.
Zion is truly breathtaking. Grand like Glacier, and, yes, different…and smaller. I got through it in less than an hour, my mouth hanging open in awe most of the time. Coming in from the west entrance I saw the most majestic part first, which is no problem expect I wish I’d stopped to soak it in a bit more. It’s the kind of beautiful that makes you want to become a photographer.
On the east side of the park, I rolled down the road feeling good about the time I’d made so far in the second day of my four-day drive, and settled in for the many miles of Utah still in front of me.
I’d been through Utah on different roads, and have always considered it one of America’s most beautiful states, but I had never taken this path. The journey from the southwest corner to the central east border is nothing short of spectacular. How did Utah get so much of the pretty? Every turn I went around brought another astonishing view! The rock formations are beyond compare. The colors are inconceivable all in one place. I’ve driven a lot of road trips, but I’ve never spent so many hours in a row in a continual state of wonder.
After several hours, I saw a road sign that made me laugh out loud. This is not all that unusual, I tend to find road signs funny. In fact, I made my friend Kim stop on several occasions in our travels of Australia and Tasmania so I could take pictures, not of the landscape but of the signs. Pictures of landscape never do the real thing justice, so I often don’t even bother. I mean come on, how to you capture the Grand Canyon in a photograph? You can’t. I’m not much for taking pictures like that, I like to experience the real thing, not the small screen version. I prefer my bug splattered windshield over that any day. Though I did take one picture today, which I've included.
Anyway, this sign was so outrageous in one respect, and totally understandable in another. It read “No Drowsy Drivers,” encouraging anyone who wasn’t feeling alert to pull over at the coming rest area to keep the road safe for others. A practical suggestion because the roads are winding, and I wouldn’t want to be on them with anyone not fully awake. But the idea of ANY ONE being sleepy with the views on this road seemed absurd. “Who could sleep through this?” I wondered.
I lost count of how many times I said “wow” out loud. Wilbur slept through it all, so my exclamations certainly weren’t for him, I just couldn’t help myself. It really is that amazing. Every time I thought it must be done, I’d come around another bend and see something just as incredible or more so. It was almost silly. I was being smacked in the face repeatedly with remarkable visions of a world too beautiful to take pictures of.
It was a very windy day, dust devils were a plenty in the mid-section of the state, walls of sand swept through on several occasions, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tumbleweeds—I probably have enough chunks of them on the undercarriage of my car to house an entire neighborhood of squirrels.
The wind was so fierce at one point I was driving through a sea of red sand that prevented me from seeing the car 100 yards in front of me. The mountains were hidden for several miles by this blizzard of sand. I’ve been in white-out conditions before, but never a red-out! I gained new appreciation for what truck drivers have to contend with, and sent waves of gratitude to the FedEx driver, hauling three trailers behind him, when he didn’t allow the gale force wind pushing his truck into my lane to squish me and my Mini into oblivion. That was a different kind of breathtaking. Oy!
The last hour of Utah driving was less gob-smacking, but still extraordinary, just, more absorbable. I had a choice about looking. If I wanted to gobble up more gorgeous, all I had to do was gaze to the left for majestic buttes and rock formations, or to the right for the white caps of the Rockies. It was like the feeling I get when listening to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, after the swell and cacophony of sound that seems to peak and then pushes even further, then slowing down to the meandering beauty of the final stanza. You just ride it, like a surfer on the white water after a wave. If you’re inspired to listen to that piece of music to further get my meaning, I’d suggest NOT listening to the version of Leonard Bernstein conducting. He takes liberties in the tempos that feel overindulgent in a piece of music that already indulges. I love Bernstein, but…again, I digress.
As I approached the exit for Grand Junction CO, my intended destination for the day, I was considering going a bit longer, getting further into the mountains to have more miles behind me, when a tumbleweed almost as big as my Mini slowly rolled out into the road in front of me on the interstate. I was going about 65mph and time slowed down…and so did the damn tumbleweed! It stopped in the middle of the lane I was in and defied its tumble nature, stopping dead in front of me. A quick look to my left showed me no car in my blind spot and I swerved to avoid it. In my rearview mirror I saw the car behind me swerve to the right to avoid colliding with it. The next exit was the one I’d been considering passing, but I decided it was better to collect on my amazing cache of travel memories for the day and get off the road. Thinking of confronting one of those hovering tumblers an hour from then with droopy eyes made me think of the sign I’d seen earlier—No Drowsy Drivers! I now understand better what that sign means.