Watch For Animals

Our plan was to tour Canyon de Chelly (pronounced canyon de shay) National Park today, but the weather did not coöperate and we left Chinle for Denver. The route took us north through Moab, UT. The Indian reservations between Chinle, and Moab cover some absolutely stunning scenery. Giant monoliths, painted deserts, miles of sandy desert filled with sage, tumble weed, and creosote shrubs.  We unexpectedly lost an hour today because this little section of Arizona is on Daylight Savings Time. That put me back an hour of drive time, and I deliberately avoided taking too many rest and gas stops.

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Along the road between Chinle, Arizona and Moab, Utah. Snow-capped mountains provide the backdrop for a sage filled desert.

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Taken from inside a car doing seventy mph with an iPhone held up to the windscreen.

The drive was relatively uneventful for the first hour then out of nowhere a rusty colored dog appeared in the middle of the road within feet of my bumper. I heard Peggy gasp, and I automatically lifted my foot from the accelerator and began applying brakes. Luckily the wiry dog that blended into the landscape decided to trot off into the desert opposite his home. About ten minutes later I saw what appeared to me a group of large sage bushes along side of the road. These were not sage but a herd of very wooly sheep grazing on the roadside outside their pasture fence. I asked Peg if she had seen any signs to warn of animals ahead, she had not. About five miles further, a cowboy on a horse was moving a large herd of goats along the roadside, most likely to a new pasture. Evidently, Sunday morning is when the animals move, get moved, or feel safe grazing on the edge of the road.

Our average speed for the first two and a half hours was sixty-five miles per hour. Not bad for slow two lane roads with traffic, animals and great scenery.

We gassed up in Moab, and left town headed to Interstate Seventy (I-70). The GPS calculated an 8:00 p.m. arrival time in Wheat Ridge, Colorado where I had reservations at a Holiday Inn Express. We favor this chain because of the travel convenience they offer. They are newer, there are many of them, and we get a buffet breakfast. Not having to find a café, wait for a waitress, read a menu, get the food, eat, and then pay the bill adds at least an extra hour to our drive day.

We reached the I-70 and I breathed easier driving on a beautiful two lane limited access road with a seventy-five mph speed limit. I pushed the Death Star up to seventy-five and set the cruise control and watched the scenery roll by.

The topography changes immediately upon crossing the state line into Colorado. Utah is relatively flat soft green terrain with long ridges of colorful sandstone and pink bluffs. Crossing into Colorado changes to rolling hills and curves dodging the monoliths that tut out of the earth to amazing heights. I kept wondering where all the ski resorts were, but some snow-capped mountains in the foreground gave me a hint, they were yet to come. Moving at the rate we were it didn’t take long to realize that the mountain that appeared so far off was now immediately in front of us and we were beginning to twist and turn between the peaks along a river. The speed limit dropped to sixty-five because the turns were too tight for the higher speed. At the same time we began an ascent to higher elevation.  Then a black hole appeared in the face of the  mountain, we drove through a tunnel with a curve to the left and then curving to the right. We entered the tunnel from a grey sky, we exited the tunnel to a blue sky. The speed changed to fifty-five as the road narrowed and twisted even more sharply along the river which also narrowed. The mountain walls left us in shadows and only the blue sky showed us the sun. The road opened again and the speed resumed to seventy-five. Ranches dot the fresh spring-green valleys and colorful little hamlets some of which even had names like “No Name,” Colorado. I finally spotted a sign naming the river, So many times along the way both Peg and I would ask each other if we knew which river this was. The sign cleared the mystery, Colorado River. “Wow,” I said, “this is the same river that carves its way through the Grand Canyon.”

I spotted an electronic sign with a message, “I-70 Closed, MM 176.” Hmmm, I wondered what that meant, highway-repair work, snow, what? Surely if it is road work they will split the traffic and route us to a single lane, but why would they close the road if they do that. They could detour us to a local road. yes, that’s it we will detour.

Forty minutes later we learned the highway patrol closed the I-70 at Mile Marker 176 in Vail Colorado at the western end of the Vail Pass. There was no detour, there were hundreds of cars trucks, and Rv’s, parked along the local roads heading back into Vail. We drove through the town passing dozens of huge resort condos, hotels, lodges, and motels. All of them looked absolutely deserted and empty. I queried the GPS for lodging and came up with a Holiday Inn at the West end of Vail. Luckily, they had availability so we checked in. In the morning Peggy and I will find a sport shop and rent snow boards for a little fun on the snow-covered slopes above Vail.

We learned that the I-70 closed because of a wreck in the pass. It never dawned on me that an accident could shut the road down. It makes sense to keep traffic out of a narrow limited access road to allow Emergency vehicles, wreckers, and police to get to the scene.

I called the Holiday Inn Express to cancel the reservation I made for this evening. We are exactly ninety-miles from that destination. Oh well, it adds another ninety miles to tomorrow’s drive.

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29px Jeep safari near Moab, Utah, USA

29px Jeep safari near Moab, Utah, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The town of Moab, Utah deserves some mention. I wrote my first post about how the town has built an economy around outdoor adventure.  Let me relate some anecdotes about our time there. I awoke early one morning, and as is my usual habit, I opened the drapes to  look out at the sunrise over the parking lot. At the far end of the lot was a brand new Chevy Silverado with dualies, and a crew cab. Hitched to the truck was a twenty-four foot covered trailer. A forty-something man was up early unloading his rock climber; a special vehicle designed and built to climb ridiculously tough terrain.  Later, after breakfast, I went to my car, and there, parked near my Death Star was the rock climber. The thing looked brand new. The young man was setting out on an adventure from the hotel parking lot. He would drive his unlicensed super-horsepower, four-wheel-drive, roll-caged, high-wheeled, wide-tired climber down the street to a trailhead. I thought this was unusual. The locals say it happens all the time.

After touring Arches National Park, we parked the Death Star on a side street and walked to the main drag. We passed a parking lot of Jeeps fitted with bench seats and special roll-bars. They were all the same color with a distinctive logo. The fleet was ready to haul tourists on back road tours through the scenic mountains. A half block further we passed a bicycle shop with mountain bikes galore waiting to buy or rent. Peg and I searched for a place to eat, and we passed many pasta cafe’s. Pasta is another sure sign of a young athletic type adventurer. Pasta is the fuel of bicyclists and hikers. We had lunch at Pasta Jay’s  and were delighted by the menu which contained many non-pasta items.

Mountain Bikes for Sale or Rent

Mountain Bikes for Sale or Rent

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I So Wanted to Go Here For Lunch, but the Menu was Too Mexican for Peg

Since Moab was a stop on our journey home after spending three and a half months in the Valley of the Sun, we did some last-minute souvenir shopping. I wanted to buy baseball caps with Moab printed on them for my male kids. We crossed Main Street from the pasta place to the T-Shirt Shop where if I couldn’t find what I was looking for it doesn’t exist on the planet. I didn’t find a hat with “Moab” printed on it. I asked the Gnarly looking kid behind the counter if he could make hats for me. “I sure can,” he said. We print anything you want on any of the hats on that rack there. He pointed at a wall display with hats in a variety of neon colors. “What about putting Moab on the hat?” He pulled out a box of ready-made appliqués and showed me several sizes of Moab. I picked one and told him to make nine hats in the flurescent orange and to add a jet black Moab to it.  I want my team to have something that will make people ask “what the heck is Moab?” The clerk rattled off a couple of meanings instantly. He said, “If you are in the Air Force it means Mother of all Bombs, and if you are in the Navy it stands for Mother of all Boats, and I can sell you a special bumper sticker that reads “Mother of all B______,” where you fill in the b-word.

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We talked to the clerk as he methodically applied Moab to the hats. We learned he was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) with a degree in Communications. To pay for his education he spent eight years in the military as a medic. Four of those years he spent in Afghanistan. I learned he was conservative, and he  could not openly discuss his views while at work. He whispered that most of the thirty-somethings that come to enjoy Moab are Progressive-Liberals.

Scott’s real job was to use his distinctive voice and communication skills making radio commercials. This he did from his home studio.  We became fast friends with him, and Peggy enjoyed telling him about her granddaughter who at age eighteen joined the Air Force to qualify for the GI bill.

Scott, LSU graduate, Afghanistan Vet, Tee Shirt Salesman

Scott, Afghanistan Vet, LSU Grad, and Tee Shirt Salesman

We fell in love with Moab, and will return there to spend more time. I’d love to take a Jeep tour of the back country, and to explore Canyonlands National Park on the next visit. Just maybe, I’ll take a raft trip down the mighty Colorado River, solo of course.

Burning Gas-Moab-1

In nineteen seventy-one I went to the Schwinn Bicycle shop in Oak Lawn, Illinois to buy a bike for my wife. It was near Mother’s Day, and the kids (9,8,4) wanted mom to have a bike so she could ride with them. The shop owner was a middle age man who presented himself as an obnoxious oaf. How he survived with that attitude in a business dealing with customers made me wonder if attitude was necessary to succeed. I finally did buy a nice blue bike with narrow tires, hand brakes, and a five speed transmission for Barb. Maybe that is how the guy survived, he was the only game around.

In the course of my conversation with the man, I asked if Schwinn ever intended to make a heavy balloon tired bike with hand brakes and multiple speeds. He replied, “why would anyone want something like that?”  That was the day I invented the mountain bike in the flat state of Illinois. It wasn’t until a few years later that a kid from California cobbled together the bike I envisioned and began a craze that has not slowed down.

I finally bought my first mountain bike in nineteen seventy-eight, from Schwinn. I loved it. My town at the time was in Cook County, Illinois famous for crooked politicians and graft. One good thing Cook County has is a fabulous Forest Preserve District with thousands of acres of forested land around Chicago. Evidently the politicians of old owned horses because the Forest Preserve boasts of over one hundred miles of horse trails. Those trails became my private mountain bike experience for the next twenty-five years. Biking on horse trails became my passion. I also notched many week-long bicycle tours on my belt.

During the course of my cycling history Moab, Utah became the goal. Cycling magazines featured tours and photo essays of the fabulous bicycling on the rocks of Moab. I longed to take a tour there, but it has never happened. The lure to visit Moab, however, stayed deep in my psyche. When I began to winter in Arizona, I realized that Moab was really very close to where I stayed. Close is a relative term, Moab is still over four hundred miles from the Valley of the Sun. Nevertheless, I kept longing to visit and tour Arches National Park. Finally, the stars and the moon were in correct alignment with Neptune and it happened.

Moab, Utah has built an economy around mountain biking, rafting, rock climbing, off-road touring, and photography. The town is a mecca for young twenty and thirty something outdoor types fascinated by adventure. I believe Peggy and I were the oldest people in town.

We scheduled a day to tour Arches National Park, and I’m glad we did. The park is just a couple of miles from Moab, and very accessible by major highways. My heart beat fast as we crossed a bridge and I spotted a sign that said, “Colorado River.” Are you kidding me? I drove over the mighty Colorado. I’ve never traced the head waters of the Colorado and was totally unaware that it enters Arizona by crossing Utah as it comes from Colorado. Previously, the only glimpse I ever had of the mighty river is from the edge of the Grand Canyon. I asked Peg if she was up to a raft ride on the Colorado, she promptly put the notion out of my mind with a rather short “NO.”

At the gate, I flashed “The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” I bought last year at White Sands. The attendant, one of my employees in a Smokey the Bear uniform, handed me a map and waved us through. Thank God there is a seventeen mile road that winds around Arches. We did see some hearty white-haired bicyclists pumping hard up a hill, but motorists out numbered cyclists by about a thousand to one. The scenery is better than Monument Valley of the day before.  There are many arches formed by water erosion of the soft orange-red stone. We saw most of the arches from drive-by view-point. The most popular ones need a vigorous hike to get close too. It made me appreciate all photographs of the arches because the photographer expended enormous energy to take the photos. I did take some point and shoot photos, but  they are not calendar quality. The drive took us four hours to complete before we cried uncle and headed for some food. Just sitting in the car and seeing all the fabulous rock formations that have taken four-hundred thousand years to form burned us out.

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