Following the last post we really just had a lot of driving to do. Originally, we'd intended on staying a night in Jackson, WY (Whitney had told me all about the antler gates and such) and we did stop there if only for a milkshake but then decided to keep pressing on. We kept going mainly because in a tourist destination such as Jackson, rooms aren't exactly cheap to come by. Secondly, we wanted to make progress towards the South, to reduce the driving in the following days and seeing that we were traversing Wyoming and Utah, we didn't exactly have a lot of "cities" to choose from. We picked Evanston, right at the southwest corner of Wyoming at random.
By the way, we did need to stay at a motel that night. Not necessarily because we wanted to sleep in a bed. I'd like to think that we have gotten pretty comfortable with the whole camping setup. It was more that, as Whitney so gracefully put it, "we've had two more [expletive] milk shakes than we've taken showers in the past three days." That argument seemed to hold water.
We crashed in Evanston, ate the two most depressing meals of the road trip (dinner and breakfast), and got out of there as quickly as we could.
Fun side note: apparently the motel we stayed at got a lot of visitors from Australia in the winter season. So much so, that the front desk had a local time, Athens time and Sidney time clock on the wall. No one could explain the Athens time one though. Hmmm.
From Evanston we had booked two nights at the Lazy Lizard Hostel (turned out to be a "hostel", more on that later) for a bottom dollar price of $30 a night in Moab, UT. Now that I think about it, we really had intended on staying at Moab Basecamp while we were in the area, but their pricing and our budget didn't match up unfortunately. If I'm ever back there, I think I'd try to get out there though. Sounds like a heck of a cool place to visit.
Moab became more of a focal point mainly because of it's proximity to Arches National Park, which came highly recommended by Whitney's aunt Ronnie (whom you'll get introduced to later on, right after Denver). If you come from the North as we did, you'll likely approach Moab on Route 191, which is pretty unremarkable. It's flat, sandy, with low brush and grasses on both sides of the road. It's white, beige, yellow, brown... that kinda color spectrum reminding me of New Mexico and southern Texas. Then about 45 minutes outside of Moab, the road turns and starts to drop. Quickly, the large red walls that define this region started to rise all around us. The road drops off even steeper until you roll across the Colorado River and into Moab itself.
Immediately, we started seeing signs for bouldering classes and climbing gear stores. There are signs to the nearest airport for skydiving and advertisements for SUV tours of the countryside. The main street was lined with big trucks, jeeps and ATV's. We were in and (almost) out of Moab in less than 10 minutes.
We checked in at the Lazy Lizard just at the other end of town and settled in. When I wrote about it earlier I put it in quotes, because it really seemed more like the house of a guy whose family had moved on and he decided to rent the rooms out as hostel rooms. Our room door barely closed, the carpet and furniture was a colorful mumbo jumbo of whatever was picked up at his friends place that wasn't needed anymore, etc. Considering that *everything* else in Moab starts at $100+/night it wasn't surprising, I guess. Just the same we were glad to have a room with a door and a place to take a shower.
Aside from exploring the area a little bit for it's striking formations, we also had laundry and some blogging on our agenda. For the evening program we wanted to try to do a little bit of both and set out to get up to Arches National Park for a first impression before sunset.
We hopped back into the Omimobile and back tracked up 191 to the National Park entrance. Equipped with our America the Beautiful park pass, we only had to wait behind three Winnebago's that were paying with credit cards (sigh), had a chat about where they could drive with their monster-wagons (eye roll) and probably asked how the weather's been, just to be friendly (grumble). We had some sunset light to catch, people! Whitney, by the way wasn't sighing, eye rolling or grumbling, unless of course you're accounting for her disdain of my comments on the Winnebago's slow progress.
In order to get into the park, the road takes you up a relatively steep grade with multiple switch backs. Once you've made it up the first steep climb, you enter a plateau of sorts. It's flat, rocky or sandy, and covered in brush, bushes, lots of grass and shrubbery. Right before the road turns away from the valley you can actually get a pretty neat view over Moab. Immediately, huge red stone formations start to rise out of the plateau. They stand there like big chess figures or groupings of giant men and women (one of them is in fact named the "Three Gossips"). The road winds it's way along and it just becomes an awesome highlight show.
With the sun setting the shadows of the rocks started to reach farther and farther towards the horizon, while the color of the rock started to change to a gleaming golden red in the sun and a purple violet on the shade side and although we had talked about it before, we both knew that we at least had to *try* to get in some painting time while we were here. We stopped here and there, so I could take some pictures, including this extr-EHH-me one of Whitney, look:
I'd meant to get a good tour around the park done in the evening, to get a feel for the park and what we wanted to do perhaps, when we got back up there in the next day or two, but Delicate Arch ended up being our turnaround spot. While the sun set behind us, we slowly cruised back towards Moab, trying to pick out a spot or two we might be able to paint at.
Back in town, our stomachs were grumbling and we picked out the Moab Brewery. It wasn't anything particularly special to be honest. The food and beer was fine enough. Carrying on with the extr-EHH-me theme that Moab operates under, the place was full with Kayak's suspended from the ceiling, advertisements for rafting and TV's alternating between a video about cycling and hill climbing.
Right after we popped into the grocery store next door to pick up some beers. That's at least the way we thought this was going to go down. Pop in, pick up a couple of beers, pay and leave. Only, that even though we were in Moab, we were still in Utah and what they sell as beer in the grocery store is... different. The fact that the sign above beer fridge said "These beverages contain alcohol. Please read the label carefully." should have been a giveaway. Long story short, there's no beer above 3.2% at grocery stores (which all the big brewers go along with apparently, including some international companies), so we went back to Moab Brewery to pick up some "real" beer. Overall, we agreed that we'd had better beer. The packaging and labels were nice though.
Once back at the Lazy Lizard we each hammered out the text for a post. We probably would have enjoyed doing that in the common room or perhaps at the kitchen table, but unfortunately there was that guy. In this case that guy was an older, thin hippy with short white hair, standing at about 5'5" or 5'6". That guy was a talker and had finagled himself a young, and judging by the topics of discussion, naive kid to impart his wisdom to. I think that guy also gave the poor kid cookies. Yikes!
After a good nights rest we woke up late-ish to finish the posts before heading out. Finishing in this case meant selecting and editing, then exporting and inserting the pictures into the blog drafts before we publishing them. In all honesty, even though I'd really been working on cutting down on the time I spend selecting and editing the pictures, it still takes quite a long time to get everything to work the way you want. From that point of view, I see how blogging can easily become a full time job. Whether that job deserves compensation or not is a different story, I am just saying that it takes an awfully long time.
Being back in a hot and dry climate, reminded us of the wonderful time we had had at Hamilton Pool and Balmoreah and had in fact found ourselves another swimming hole to check out. En route we stopped at the Peace Tree Juice Cafe for an afternoon snack. They had one of those fancy misting patio's out front we'd seen in San Antonio and elsewhere in the Southwest. Whitney usually let's me choose where we sit whenever we eat out, so out to the patio we went. I'd like to point out that I'm not the only one that gets excited about those misters. While we were sitting outside a very upset little boy was walking by with his mother and sister. He was upset because the misters were too high up, so that the breeze would carry away the cooling water droplets before they reached him at about 4 feet above ground level. Totally unfair, I felt that kids pain. Didn't stop me from having a nice time though :-).
We hopped back into the car and drove through a couple of neighborhoods out the east end of town, turned left onto a dusty one lane road and after a few hundred yards came to a little gravel parking lot. We parked, put on our bathing suits and sunscreen, I took a picture of myself in the reflection of the hubcap of a Ford F650 and headed on down the trail. Compared to Hamilton Pool this one really felt like a swimming hole. You didn't have to pay, the legality was somewhat questionable and you had to walk along a not always clear path for about 15 minutes which criss-crossed the stream multiple times before you got to the pool.
Similarly to Hamilton Pool, we could hear the laughter and screams of delight from about 300 yards out, before we came upon it. In line with the extr-EHH-me theme, people were doing flips off the rock cliffs surrounding the pool from about 20-25 feet up. Another couple of guys had anchored a tight rope on either side of the pool and then switched off gingerly crossing back and forth. We learned later, that a loosely formed group of locals deepen the pool each year, by digging out the sediment and building a wall where the stream exits the hole. This way they said they get the pool to be another 4 or 5 feet deeper.
Both of us took the long walk around to get to the top but in the end opted to jump of the lower cliff only. I like to think that we did that because we were smart (I made solid contact with the ground when I jumped in), but you can feel free to call me a wuss.
This might seem like a weird time to bring this up, but a number of people have actually asked us about how prevalent religion was in public in Utah. Specifically, "aren't there a lot of Mormons everywhere?" was asked a few times. The answer as far as we're concerned is "no". We didn't see a lot of Mormons, there weren't a ton of religious symbols or churches or any of that stuff. As a matter of fact the only time that we encountered something that could have been an event based on religion was at the swimming hole.
A group of about 30 parents and kids were hanging out, in what seemed to us like a church group outing. The parents were encouraging the kids to jump off the lower of the two cliffs. One of the kids, he seemed to be around seven or eight years old, was trying to convince himself to jump in. At different points of the afternoon he literally had the entire assembled public cheering him on. While people were shouting out helpful hints such as "You can do it!", "You just gotta take three big steps and don't stop!" or "Just jump!" he was rocking back and forth peeking over the edge trying to just jump. On a number of occasions he actually started, only to stop himself just shy off the edge. In a way it was a magnificent performance, how he kept pulling people back in over and over again with his portrayal of a tortured soul trying to convince himself to just do what everyone knew he must do. In the end he was a real tragic hero and didn't jump. He left with the rest of the church group with his task undone. I really hope this isn't the way this story ends, and that in the next act he finally jumps and then maybe gets the girl (if the church allows it).
Anyway, we had a real good time. We both jumped a few times. We walked up along the stream for a little bit (above the pool the stream actually flowed across multiple large stone troughs making it seem almost like a large bathtub). We cooled off by sitting in the water and eventually walked back to the car.
Roadtripping isn't all fun and games though, and at the end of the day we still had to find a place to do laundry. We googled and found Moab Laundry Express LLC, backed the Omimobile in, walked over to Gearheads asked for quarters (Thanks!) and loaded up three big washing machines of laundry and headed across the street to grab a bite for dinner at the Moab Grill. We got there just in time to witness an argument that went something like this:
Customer: This is bullshit! I don't buy it. There's no way that's a law!
Manager: Sir, I'm sorry but that's the law in the state of Utah.
Customer: I'm not buying food just so I can have a beer!
Manager: Sir, you'll have to purchase a food item. It's the law. Here, we have Texas Toast on the menu for just a $1.75.
Customer: This is the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard!
Customer exits and tries to slam door for emphasis. Door doesn't cooperate and closes slowly and quietly.
Oh, it was fantastic dinner theater! Afterwards, we went back, picked up and folded the laundry, stowed it in our handy dandy storage system in the trunk and went "home".
Arches National Park day! We tried our best to start early, because we really had two big things we wanted to do: number one was to go on a hike (Sam's wish) and number two was to paint (Whitney's wish).
Though we really try to spread the love when it comes to eating out, we went back to the Peace Tree Juice Cafe for a second meal. Part of that was certainly that we had a very nice time there the first time around, but because the activities took priority going back to the cafe also saved us the time and effort that sometimes comes with trying to find a good eatery.
After eating we sensibly decided that since I am the more important person, we would go and do the hike first. I had heard and read about that one of the more spectacular areas in Arches, was Devil's Garden with it's many arches and rock formations all accessible with relatively little effort. There I had in mind that we would start to hike along the trail that leads all the way up to the Double O Arch and just see how far we would make it without settling on a final turnaround point. The map at the trailhead estimated the roundtrip to the Double O Arch as about 2-3 hours.
This is also the moment when Whitney started to rethink whether or not I was the most important person and whether it really was sensible to do the hike first. See, at the beginning of the road trip we'd set a goal to do some painting. Since at least Austin, we were traveling with four blank 18x24 inch canvases and we'd brought with us a storage bin of each paint brushes and acrylic paints. Though neither of us are painters we had spent a wonderful weekend in Vermont some time ago and done a painting each that time. We both had enjoyed that experience so much that bringing painting supplies somehow had always been the plan.
Especially when you're a novice, painting something big and interesting is perhaps easier than to paint something more mundane. I'd wager that it takes considerably more skill to get something ordinary just right. That's exactly what these arches were: huge, both vertically and horizontally, with a distinct and bold color palate and they were interesting looking. Also this was likely one of the last opportunities for us to paint this kind of spectacular scenery, since we hadn't taken advantage of Big Bend, Grand Canyon or Zion.
And that's why Whitney wanted to paint the arches.
Now that we had an official estimate for the length of the hike, Whitney became more and more concerned about the timing of our painting session. On one hand we both agreed that sitting in the blazing afternoon sun wasn't a particularly bright idea, on the other hand Whitney didn't think that squeezing in perhaps two or three hours to paint was going to be enough time. Perhaps we should have tried to paint on two days instead of just one?
And so the hike through Devils Garden became a negotiation-in-motion. Regardless we got to see the Landscape, Partition and Navajo arches. They're all very, very different something I wouldn't have expected. Landscape arch is the most spectacular, just because it is so narrow and long and so high up. What makes Partition arch special is the view you gain, when you look through it. It's more of a window in a rock, I guess. And finally Navajo arch is a massive arch, that's low enough that you can really get a sense for scale. Walking underneath the arch is more akin to the feeling you get walking through a short tunnel or underground passage. You know what I took some pictures. Why don't you click yourself through them and perhaps that'll show it a little better than I can explain it?
After we visited Navajo arch, we decided to turn around because we were hungry and because we wanted to give ourselves a little bit more time to look for a spot to paint later. But since we were already there we figured we might as well stop by the Tunnel and Pine Tree arches. Tunnel arch is special because of the viewing angle. It really reinforces the notion that everything is a matter of perspective. You're only able to get a good view of the Tunnel arch from a certain distance. Go any closer and you'll lose the view of the actual hole. Pine Tree arch was one of the arches that you could easily walk up to and walk through. It was also perhaps the most literally named arch: there were a lots pine trees.
We left the park for the 2nd time and decided to grab lunch and margarita's at Eddie McStiff's (the margarita's were very good, says Whitney). While in town we also picked up ice for the cooler and gas. Then we returned to the park and while Whitney was questioning the rangers in the station about where we were and were not allowed to walk as well as about possible picturesque places to paint, I called my Omi to check in.
Armed with new information (walk anywhere you like, so long as the ground is rocky and don't crush the mini ground people!) we headed back up the serpentines and into the park. We'd spotted a place to paint on the first day and wanted to see if that would work out, but in the end there was no real place for us to set up. So we drove further and further into the park and perhaps more out of desperation then anything else decided to drive by the Windows section.
We parked, got out and walked up to the Double Arches. This was better. We could get right up to them and they were big. It was in the shade. After we looked around for a little bit, we both settled on a spot. Next we trucked our supplies up to the arches and found ourselves a rock that would serve us as easel and soon enough we were painting in peace and quite.
Or so we thought.
Our painting sessions ended up being a lot more interactive then anticipated. Our very first visitor fittingly was a professional landscape painter! He gave us some friendly tips and after hearing that we were trying to get a painting done before sunset slowly shook his head and murmured something about "not enough time". So no pressure at all.
After that we were visited by a steady stream of hikers and tourists. It's interesting how you feel like you can feel people looking at you. Okay, well and it also really doesn't help that due to the acoustics you can hear the mother whisper to her son: "Shhhhh! If you're quiet you can look. Just walk around behind them so you can see the paintings, but keep your distance honey, okay?".
We however were not to be deterred from coming home with colorful canvases and after about three hours our efforts seemed to pay off. Whitney wasn't very satisfied with her work, but I really think that it's pretty nice, right?
To say goodbye to the park, we climbed up into the Double Arch shortly before the sunset and looked out the other side. It was a short but pretty tricky climb, because the rock face at first seems to be offering so many opportunities to hold onto, but once you're a little ways up the rock the steep angle makes it hard not to keep your balance.
Then we packed up and got on the road. After all we still wanted to grab dinner (Buck's Grill House, try it... it's good), before heading out to our next roadside stop at the El Capitan Motel in Gallup, NM. By the way, we didn't do a whole lot of night driving on the roadtrip. That was mostly intentional, because night driving is more strenuous and also it's dark and you know it's hard to see stuff. This however was an exception and I'm glad about it. It was one of the more surreal drives in my mind because we were driving through reservations for long stretches at a time. We stopped once at the Handy Mart, but most of the drive was in the pitch black night with only a brilliantly clear night sky above us. If I was into hard drugs...
P.S.: I'm back to my old tricks and uploading all additional pictures to flickr again. Have a look!