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Natural Bridges, Utah

I can’t remember ever sleeping so well. I think I might have just slept through the day if the sun hadn’t made an oven of my tent. The weather was perfect all through the night and I was able to sleep without my foam pad since there was a healthy blanket of grass to sleep on. I slept so well, in fact, that I didn’t wake up until around 10 a.m., about four hours after the sun had risen. Furthermore, I have been tired almost all day because of it — I slept so well its desire has perpetuated itself for countless more hours.

And that kind of put a damper on my physical activity today. After a breakfast at Ruby’s Country Kitchen, I tried to do a nearly two-mile hike at Bryce Canyon, up and back to a viewing point called “Inspiration Point”, one of the highest edges overlooking the bizarre formations. The going was hard, a tough climb, but I eventually made it, albeit after an hour or so. And what’s worse, the reward wasn’t even that great — the only inspiration I got was the inspiration to turn around and leave. The guy the place is named after, one of its original settlers, had said of the canyon: “It’s a helluva place to lose a cow.” And I don’t doubt it for a second.

That’s about all I did at Bryce since the only thing else you can do besides look at the odd “hoodoos” (the hoodoos that they do so well), is to hike among them, and I was definitely not a party in that.

In the parking lot, I noticed a big charter bus that was in the group camping area last night, full of dozens of loud teenagers. The bus had a Kansas license plate and so I wondered if maybe they were a group on the Mission Study tour I went on so long ago. I asked the loud, large guy who seemed in charge whether they were all from Kansas or just the bus.

We’re from all over the States; the bus is from Kansas. We’re traveling the west coast for six weeks. Have a good day.”

And then he vanished.

I don’t want to get into any speculation about the nature of their trip — I was only concerned for a moment — but I would like to discuss this thing about Kansas license plates. For most of my trip I have caught people double-taking at my car, at my license plate, and then discuss it among themselves. It’s a practice that has been waning the closer I move to Kansas, and, in fact, almost gets no recognition whatsoever in these parts.

Curiosity aroused by my plates sometimes led into conversation, almost always following a similar pattern:

Kansas, eh?”

Yep.”

Went there in ninety-two and it was closed.”

And so it goes.

The point I really wanted to get at is that I’m missing the attention, as faux as it may be. It changes the mood of the whole trip, feeling like I’m not far from home, not anywhere radical or doing anything out of the ordinary. That my presence is easily reconcilable, with only one buffer state between me and home. And even if the conversation comes up, somehow, about me being far from home, or at the very least, away from home, I try to bring up the fact that, for me anyway, Kansas is now over 12,000 miles away — that it took me that many miles to get here from there. That usually confuses people, so from here on out, I’m just happy with knowing it myself, knowing that I’ve very little to go.

I practically drove straight through to the next National Park on my way, Capitol Reef. I didn’t spend much time there either, since all the attractions were roadside, along the main highway and no entrance fees are charged. I really didn’t care much for the tall sandstone walls as they’re getting a bit tired, passé, and I never really thought they were all that pretty to begin with. The highlight were a few petroglyphs, carved into the sandstone over a thousand years ago — pictures of strange human shapes and a variety of animals, favoring bighorn sheep. Unfortunately they don’t let you get too close to the petroglyphs, nor do they have very explanatory interpretive signs, so I don’t have much more to say about them.

Thirty miles or so out of Capitol Reef, I turned south towards the Natural Bridges National Monument. The 80-mile drive or so was by far the prettiest and least-traveled road in Southern Utah. In the whole time, a couple of hours, I only encountered maybe 50 cars, almost none of which were traveling the same direction as me. The highway speeds through dozens of red-rock canyons and across the Dirt Devil and Colorado rivers before topping out onto a plateau of sage bushes, home of the natural bridges. I thought the drive prettier than any of the sights I’ve seen so far in Utah, and it is not governmentally managed or protected at all.

I got to Natural Bridges a little after seven p.m. and immediately pitched my tent in their small campground (only 13 sites) before I had a further look around the park. The entire park was devoid of people — there was literally no one on the scenic drive and only a dozen people or less in the campground.

Three streams converge here, with three canyons of their own, and at each junction the streams have also carved sandstone spans, three of them. A nine-mile scenic loop road takes you by all of them, coincidentally from largest to smallest. I had to race through, really, since the sun was starting to set and I wanted to get near the smallest one, the only easily accessible one, in order to photograph it while it was still light, while the sun was still setting. So I only stopped long enough to look and quickly photograph the first two. It wasn’t a good night for photographs. The sun was setting behind a hill behind them and so the valleys were dark, almost no contrast between the rock formations. Since you can get close to the third one, only a quarter-mile downhill hike from the road, I only got good pictures of it, with clear skies and a waxing gibbous moon just behind. The arch looks much smaller than it really is: at its thinnest point, it is actually nine feet thick.

I don’t know whether I’ll take a further look tomorrow or not. It’s a big commitment since the road is one-way all the way, requiring the full loop. I’ll probably just move on, since Arches National Park is on my agenda for tomorrow, probably offering something similar enough.

When I got back to my campsite, in the dark, I saw a scorpion, the first “wild” and live scorpion I’d ever seen, walking around my car, by my feet. Since I wear flip-flops, am camping on the ground, and know virtually nothing about scorpions (except that they sting — I learned that from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”), I’m slightly worried. Fortunately the clear skies and cool weather (and the assurance of entering Colorado tomorrow, my 28th and last state) are keeping my spirits high.


Sorry about the problem with the pictures yesterday. The dude at the place I stopped for internet access was paranoid that I was downloading something to his computer (when I explained twice that I was uploading pictures from a disk to my website). But there was a problem with my disk and I didn’t want to put the guy through any further trauma by doing the whole thing over with a new disk.

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