When I set out on this journey for the summer, I knew I’d have to face the awful heat of August, the terrible dry heat of the Southwestern deserts. I purposely planned my trip to avoid heat or at least to put it off as long as possible. But there was no more delaying it — today, which marks the beginning of my last week on the road, I learned a heat I’ve never before known.
I’ll first say that one of my favorite places in this world is the inside of a sauna. At K-State I use the sauna at the Rec Center as incentive to go workout. I love the sweating, the heat, and I had grown very accustomed to it over the last semester. Saunas usually heat to between 170 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, though I’ve been known to shock the heater to get the room over the 200-mark. I say all this because I can’t seem to understand why it is I found today’s 117° temperature in St. George, Utah, so intolerably dreadful.
I started complaining — to myself of course — when I noticed the “mercury” hitting 112. I took a picture of my dashboard temperature gauge. Over the next several minutes, it kept climbing, 115, 116, and finally peaking at the never-before-seen (by me) 117. I felt terrible for driving my car, for putting it through all that work when I’m sure it would like nothing better than a tall glass of iced tea and a chaise lounge. But I kept driving and it started to cool. I never thought 97 degrees could feel so cool.
All of this took place on my way to the first in a series of National Parks in lower Utah. The bottom half of Utah is crammed full of parks and it has even been suggested that they go ahead and just make all of it one inclusive park. Even with the very little I saw today, I think that would be a bad call. Like I’ve said before, these National Park borders are nothing close to haphazard. When I saw the “Leaving Zion National Park” sign today, the towering mineral-streaked cliffs behind me, everything ahead was empty green, a flat boring blank page. The change was sudden and remarkable.
I didn’t manage to leave Nevada until noonish, since I did my laundry at the hotel, laid by the pool, and took my second shower in twelve hours, certainly a rare occasion on a trip such as this. I managed to finally finish Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.” He made it home safely, it turns out, so that makes me feel good.
But then it was a straight shot to Utah and Zion N.P., only stopping in St. George for a Subway lunch and a brief visit to the library. I drove with the windows down, the sunroof open, to spare my car the extra burden of cooling my personal air, so I got quite hot, quite sweaty along the way. The first stretch I decided to drive shirtless, to get some sun and to keep my newly-laundered shirt clean and dry. Later, when traffic was a bit heavier and my infamous self-consciousness finally showed up, I donned my lightest colored shirt, which seemed to help very little on my black, leather seats.
No private vehicles are allowed on the main scenic drive at Zion, so I parked my car for a couple hours while I rode the guided shuttles that make the drive for you, stopping at eight different points of interest along the route. I only stopped at one, since I was wanting to press on, at the trailhead of a short, but steep, trail to Weeping Rock. Spring water, which flows easily through the layers of sandstone above, finally gets diverted outward by a denser layer of shale, and makes an interesting exit by constantly dripping along the face of the rock alcove, resembling a light rain. The walls are decorated with hanging gardens of wildflowers.
The whole tour took about two and a half hours and though I enjoyed the monster sheer cliffs, painted in more shades of red than I was prepared to understand, it didn’t “spark a sense of wonder and disbelief” like the brochure said I would. I was ready to leave.
And so I drove on towards the next National Park on my itinerary, the other-worldly menagerie of multi-hued stone formations, pillars of a sort, at Bryce Canyon National Park. I didn’t drive all the way there because I was obliged to pull over many times in order to watch to the most holistically-dramatic sun ever to set. I’ve mentioned sunsets on too many occasions on my trip, I realize. I have witnessed some very outstanding sunsets along the way, and I’ve been compelled to write about them repeatedly. But if I were allowed to see only one sunset, any one that I’ve seen or ever imagined, tonight’s would be the one.
“Holistically dramatic” is how I just described it, a 360-degree spectacle, a full display of Earth’s wonders. This was no simple “glowing clouds” sunset, no reflection over the water, no trite display of color. This was an impenetrable gathering of godliness. I’m not even sure whether I was supposed to have witnessed it; it might have been meant for someone far more worthy than I, someone God was entertaining on Friday night.
In the far northeast, hovering over Bryce Canyon, lingered a huge, dark thunderstorm, fleeting bursts of lightning sporadically reaching outward, shouting obscenities. Atop the dark band of thunderstorm sat the voluminous thunderhead in bubbly bright white, outlined in the oranges of the sunset just around the corner in the northwest. (I hesitate at using the word “corner” because you must realize this whole scene was displayed on the continuum of our dear sky, a dome.) From the black came diagonal bands of a blurry gray, the rain sweeping over someplace distant, slowly eroding the huge red formations on which it fell.
In the northwest, the sunset burst star-shaped at the horizon, spraying defined rays of orange light where the otherwise bright blue skies still remained. The fluffs of afternoon clouds shouted flowery dismissals of the thunderstorms obscenities, countering them with its extravagant blooms.
The southern sky sat the audience, watching the struggle between the storm’s advance and the sun’s descent. It put on no show of its own, but reacted sharply to the events on the northern side. Rainbows, horizontal rainbows — I’d never seen such a thing before — jumped straight out of the ground, like a row of soldiers dressed in a rainbow of fatigues. Don’t ask, don’t tell. The gay army stood directly in front of a pane of smoked glass, that shimmered and glowed with each burst of lightning in the scrap across the street.
[writing like that is exhausting and, honestly, not very rewarding, so enough with the flowery drivel]
I made my last stop in a resort town at the edge of the park, apparently all owned by the same company as literally everything in town starts with “Ruby’s.” I happen to be staying in “Ruby’s Campground and RV Park,” right next door to Ruby’s Inn, a Holiday Inn franchise whose pool and hot tub campers get to use as well (and I did, for a half-hour or so). Around the inn lie several of Ruby’s restaurants and tourist services (helicopter tours, fleet of park shuttles, and so on). Even though I’m usually opposed to staying at these big resort-type campgrounds (*cough* KOA *cough*), I’m very pleased with this place. It’s cozy and clean and tonight I’m really liking the development — the pools and spas and Laundromat and modern bathhouses and so on. In front of the inn’s main office a sign says something about internet access, so I’ll have to inquire about that in the morning.
Naturally, with the fatiguing heat of the day, I’m exhausted. I was understandably pretty worried about sleeping arrangements too, in the heat of the day anyway, worried that it would be too hot to sleep comfortably. I even resolved to “just make it through.” I decided if I couldn’t sleep, I’d just sweat and sweat and read a book and forget about sleep. Who needs sleep? But it’s cold, seventy-two degrees. I’ve never known a place that swings 45-degrees in eight hours (my Rough Guide says that it drops below freezing 200 nights of the year). But I’m thankful, for sure, because I’m going to have a great night, a comfortable bed and a long sleep.
Tomorrow I’ll see Bryce Canyon and then move on to the other parks — there’s plenty to choose from.
I also never expected the Utah desert to be so high in elevation. Tonight I’m around 7500 feet, by far my highest night overall, higher even than Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and Crater Lake in Oregon.