Remembering the road, day 11

I’m not sure what’s worse, that I’m still milking a 7-year-old road trip for blog content, or that it’s taking me months to recount a trip that lasted just a few weeks. Well, look on the bright side, either way it gives you something to bitch about other than traffic and the weather.

So, without further ado, I present to an encore performance of “Remembering the Road, Day 11.”

Day 11

I was informed that elk horns are shed every year, so the elk horn arch probably wasn’t from hundreds of thousands of dead elk, but probably just horns they’ve shed. That sucks… it’s not nearly as dramatic that way.

I forgot to mention something about Yellowstone in my last update: guano. The place is filled with it. Right next to our cabin, bear guano. All around the hot springs and geysers, buffalo and elk guano. On the sidewalks, little dog guano (lots of people brought their little dogs for some reason… bear bait?). Yellowstone has to be one of the most fertile places on earth… there’s just that much guano.

There’s also still massive streaks of burned areas in Yellowstone, thanks to the giant forest fires of the last 14 years. It’s actually quite beautiful, some of the burned areas where the remnants of lodge pole pines stand tall and naked while small pine trees cluster beneath them. Areas that have yet to burn are filled with wooded debris and it’s clear that a fire will soon sweep through it.

Scorched earth

I also forgot to mention another near-death (or at least, near Deliverance) experience. While driving towards Utah, I got sleepy and pulled over at an entrance to a national forest trailhead. Cyn was enjoying some gummy bears and I put my seat down for a quick bit of sleep. Suddenly an older couple drives out of the forest at a rapid speed, followed closely by two trucks packed with guys who, well let’s just say they’ve never been worried about their SAT scores, and I don’t mean because they have excellent verbal and math skills.

“Josh,” Cynthia says. “I don’t like this. These guys are creeping me out.” Heavy music blares from their car; the only audible words from the “song” are “motherfucker,” “bitch,” and “boy” and there are plenty of them. Angry white-man music.

“Oh, it’ll be all right,” I assure her as the driver of one of them grins at us.

“Honey…”

His buddy gets out of the truck and I put my seat up. “It’s fine, he’s just looking at his friends behind us. The buddy starts walking over and I start the car. Before he gets any closer, I let out the clutch and drive away… quickly.

Once Cynthia’s heart attack subsides (and I realize that we probably were in a bad situation), we slow down to 95 mph and continue on the way to Salt Lake City. My eyes are wide open now.

In truth, I’m already missing Yellowstone, but it’s behind us now. Today we drive from Salt Lake City on to Las Vegas… the city of sin… from one extreme (Yellowstone) to another (Salt Lake City) to another (Las Vegas).

Interesting note about Salt Lake City: I can’t find the great salt lake anywhere. I think I passed it on the way out of town, but it looked rather small, so I don’t think it was it. I kind of wanted to see if I floated in it, but seeing as I couldn’t even find it, that didn’t happen.

There are billboards all over the place around here, and they’re fairly inventive. One Ford truck ad had actual lights for headlights. Neat. Another, a boat ad, had a full-size motorboat through the billboard.

Others are interesting for other reasons. One billboard alerted passers-by that the UN is trying to take away our guns. Another very sad one featured a full-size picture of Elizabeth Smart, the young girl kidnapped at gunpoint… I guessed the UN missed one.

As we drove along, we realized that ever since entering Utah we have yet to see a cloud. Coincidence?

Mormon church

Utah’s scenery is pretty, where one is able to see the scenery past the billboards. Sadly, it’s very hazy here. Whether that’s natural or a function of manmade air pollution, I don’t know, but given one of the billboards featuring “10 acres of paved parking” for a couple of gas stations and fast food restaurants, I have my suspicions. While there, we saw several Corvairs on their way to Flagstaff, AZ, for a national Corvair convention.

We dipped into Arizona briefly en route to Nevada and passed through the most amazing rock formations ­ basically a small canyon. It was hauntingly beautiful, and once again, nearly our final resting place as double-length gasoline tanker trucks flew through there at 15-20 mph faster than the posted speed limit. Keep in mind, this steep road was winding around deep cliffs and giant boulders. It was not an especially relaxing look at the scenery. Luckily Arizona put a ban on billboards through this region, so we could take in the views without being alerted to the nearest quarter pounder with cheese. Sadly, there was still a lot of litter along the road.

Arizonaa

It was also our first introduction to heat here. When we’d see a particularly stunning site, I’d roll down the window to take a picture. In the 10 seconds our window was open, every molecule of air-conditioned comfort escaped and was replaced by 107° hot hot hotness. Lovely.

That’s what made it all the more stunning to see speedwalkers racing along the highway. Are these people insane? First, it’s a bagillion degrees outside, second they are speedwalking on black pavement, and third, they are doing it against 85 mph traffic, including two double-length gasoline tanker trunks cruising at almost 100 mph. I think the heat affects the brain.

Speaking of affecting the brain, I used to feel badly for the southwest in terms of their water problems. This area just doesn’t have enough water to meet the demand for it. But when I saw lush, green golf courses nestled in the red dirt desert, I lost all sympathy. Hmm, should I drink the water, or try to grow grass with it…

Nevertheless, we finally made it to Nevada, where less than a tenth of the mile into the state there was a casino. An hour later, we pulled into Vegas, as declared by the billboards promoting the world’s largest adult bookstore. Entering Vegas, one of the more interesting signs we’ve seen (on par with one in Yellowstone that said it was illegal to feed or molest wildlife) said it was illegal to pick up hitchhikers, as there was a prison across the road. “Hey stranger, where you going in that striped, numbered number with the leg irons? Costume party?”

As we put the Swingers soundtrack on the CD player, we drove down the strip to the tunes of Franky and friends. On the northern edge of town are the older casinos. Since our A/C was pulling in outside air, and since the casinos where pumping out their stale casino air, our car quickly filled with the sultry odor of a smoky casino. A few miles later we reached the newer casinos, which are monuments to man’s ability to create anything as tacky as the mind can imagine. It’s great in an insane sort of way. Pretty much anything goes here.

Actually, it’s an odd assortment of you can’t do anything wrong, and don’t do anything wrong. On the placemats of the all-you-can eat Luxor Hotel buffet (where many young children are dining with their parents) is an ad for the topless show at midnight. Oooh lala! But then everywhere you look (escalators, monorails, elevators, pools, hallways, casinos) are semi-hidden cameras. It’s all about doling out vices in controlled (and for-profit) fashion. That’s nothing new, but it’s interesting to see.

Vegas, baby!

Anyway, here in Vegas Cyn and I met up with one of my brothers and his family and one of my cousins and his family. We had a good time checking out the strip, saw one of the water shows at the Bellagio, and due to the difficulty of getting three cabs to take us back to our hotel, we piled into a stretch limo to give all 11 of us a ride back up the strip… the kids loved it, and so did I. At one point, I put up the “privacy” glass between the driver and us. As soon as it rose, the driver put it back down again and disabled my switch. D’oh!

After the kids went to bed, the adults hit the casino where I won $11 dollars in slots only to lose $11 in slots. Why oh why couldn’t I have quit when I was ahead? Over the next few hours I managed to lose another $30 and that’s more than enough. Time for bed.

If you’re gambling, you get free drinks from cocktail waitresses who are almost partly dressed. They wear skimpy outfits that are reminiscent of swimsuits with small blazers. They look like they have a constant wedgie, and I can’t believe that’s comfortable.

Remembering the road, Day 10

I just got back from Puerto Rico, where, among other things, I told people how important it is to update your blog regularly. I suppose I should follow my own advice…

Anyway, here’s installment 10 of the 2002 USA Road Trip blog:

Day 10

Today we left Yellowstone via the southern entrance, which took us through the Grand Teton national park. Ah, the Grand Tetons, a name provided courtesy of horny French trappers a little too far removed from French maids. But I think the name is appropriate (Cynthia disagrees). Either way, the mountains here are beautiful. They are snow-capped and rise suddenly from a flat valley to create these stunning vistas. We didn’t spend much time there, mostly just driving through the park, admiring the views, and pausing for occasional pictures.

The Grand Tetons

Backing up for a moment, we almost didn’t make it out of Yellowstone alive… not because of bear attacks, or anything like that. No, our end nearly came thanks to this old Alaskan idiot. While gassing up the car for the long haul south, this old leathery man fueling his pick-up with Alaskan plates decides it’s time for a smoke. He looks like the type of guy who can’t take a breath unless the air is filtered through a lit Marlboro. Anyway, here he is flicking his lighter right next to the pump. I think it was the only time I heard Yellowstone employees yelling at one of the guests… very nearly the last thing I ever heard.

I also possibly committed a mail felony as I had to dig through a post office box to find postcards destined for Australia. Why? I assumed 68 cents would be enough to get the cards there, but after dropping them in the box, I found out that 70 cents was the necessary postage. D’oh! I was able to get them out again, though, and add postage. Don’t tell the postmaster.

So, we made it through the Grand Tetons (heehee…) and through Jackson (passing by the National Museum of Wildlife art… we nearly stopped there to see if it was art of, from, or by wildlife… but we wanted to keep moving, so it’ll have to be another time), dipped ever so briefly into Idaho, and then into Wyoming again where we came upon one of the most stunning sights we’ve yet seen: the world’s largest elk horn arch. A high arch made entirely of elk horns spans the two-lane road and a sign proclaims it as the world’s largest elk horn arch. I shudder to think what the competition for that honor is… and, it makes me wonder even more about that museum of wildlife…

Elk antler arch

I’m kicking myself now because we passed up numerous opportunities to stock up on bait, tackle, guns, and ammo.

One of the fun things about this part of the world is that every town goes to great pains to point out three things: the location of the post office, the population of the town, and the elevation. For some reason, I like knowing that info.

Driving into Utah provided us with a completely new landscapes to wow us. We drove on small two-lane roads for most of the day and passed through numerous beautiful national forest areas, including this stunning canyon with red rock walls, sliced by a raging white river, and topped with green pine trees. It was another beautiful piece of scenery, similar to but different from the views of Yellowstone.

One of the first towns/cities we came to in Utah was Logden. We arrived there around 5:30 in the afternoon and being a Sunday, nothing… and I mean NOTHING was open. Cynthia did manage to spot a computer store featuring Macs (with many iMac boxes in the window), although it too was closed. Yes, I have trained her well. (Some would say brainwashed, but let’s not quibble.)

An hour or two later we hauled into Salt Lake City, HQ of the Mormon church. My impression of Salt Lake City (before ever setting foot here) was that it would be clean, devoid of any sinister activities, wholesome to the point of nausea, and very polite.

Mormon HQ

Now that I’ve been here for several hours, I am pleased to report that I was both right and wrong. I turned on the radio to get a taste of the local flavor, found a good rock station and immediately heard a saucy ad for Trojan condoms. (Let’s just say there were numerous puns that included words such as “blow,” “stroke,” and “good.”)

So, as I’m sitting there smiling, another ad comes on for St. Provo beer poking fun at the Utahn predliction for stuffiness. Hey, I’m liking this city!

Once we found a place to spend the night (the Best Western across the street from Mormon HQ for just $69… an ironic price, I feel…) Cyn and I took a little walk. SLC is a clean city and Cyn pointed out the wonderful trams here. I could spot only a single piece of graffiti in the neighborhood: “Jesus Loves Us.” This place gets better and better!

Being a Sunday night, nothing was open… well, not nothing… there was a XXX strip club two blocks from Mormon HQ and an Olive Garden restaurant just a block past that… both were open.

Not wanting to indulge in either, we returned to the hotel restaurant. I ordered a ginger ale, only to be politely told that the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol. Hmm, no wonder I drive funny while drinking Canada Dry. Those pesky Canadians! So I instead ordered a Coke, hoping the waitress wouldn’t call the DEA on me. Luckily, I was able to order an entire meal that didn’t include a single piece of red meat. Yes!

Tomorrow we head to Sin City… Las Vegas. I wonder if they’ll let me have a ginger ale…

Josh and Cyn (mileage: 26,340)