Soon after sunrise on a typical hot desert August morning, I drove away on a solo vacation through 8 western US states. My Toyota RAV4 was in good shape and I confidently set the cruise control mechanism at the speed limit: 55 miles per hour (88 kilometers per hour) and sat back to listen to the morning news. Suddenly police lights were in my rear view mirror. To my chagrin, I had entered a 45 MPH (72 KPH) speed zone and failed to adjust the cruise control. Oops. So within 5 minutes of home I was stopped by law enforcement but fortunately only received a warning.
An hour later I was crossing the somewhat bleak San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. And I entered my first freeway 136 miles (218 Km) from home at the large Phoenix metro area. At 11:00 AM, I stopped at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, AZ where the football team, the Arizona Cardinals play. Last year they went to the Super Bowl but lost by a small margin to Pittsburgh.
250 miles (400 Km) from home I began to see Joshua Trees in the desert. They are a type of Yucca, a plant with tough, sword-like leaves. The trees are difficult to grow in a home garden but the 20 to 30 foot tall (6 to 8 meter) trees dominate in the 4 state confluence area of California-Nevada-Arizona- and Utah.
At 1:30 PM (13:30) I briefly stopped to buy my first batch of postcards in the colorfully named hamlet of Wickieup. I collect postcards as well as send to friends and family and swap cards with new friends. A slightly different spelling: “Wickiup” is a rustic single room dwelling built by many southwestern native people, historically and even today.
After 9 hours I arrived at slow traffic crawling over Hoover Dam, a huge choke point due to the massive construction job on a bridge to carry the highway over the Colorado River and into Nevada. Ever since the September 11 terror attacks, public roads passing on top of critical dams have been steadily replaced for security reasons. It was a stifling hot afternoon among the dark rocks in the deep gorge, but hundreds of sight-seers were out with their digital cameras recording the chaos. The new bridge has been under development since 2001 and is scheduled to be completed in late 2010.
A short 30 miles (48 Km) later I arrived at the Wild Wild West Hotel/Casino, just off the famous Las Vegas “strip.” But I went downtown for dinner at the “Fitz” (the Fitzgerald Hotel/Casino)and discovered a lively street scene, complete with a live band and a huge arching video screen above my head that stretched several city blocks, creating a pedestrian mall. While having the Fremont Street Experience, I found a shop with the least expensive postcards I’ve ever seen: 10 for $1.00! On my way back to the hotel I stopped to photo the Stratosphere, the tallest observation tower in the US. But I demurred at going up to the deck or experiencing one of the three thrill rides in the clouds up there!
Day 2 - 5 (17 to 20 August)
I got out of bed at 4 AM, so excited about my trip. After sharing breakfast at Denny’s with a California woman who apparently found me more interesting than her murder mystery novel, I headed north. With Las Vegas in my rear view mirror, I passed the secretive “Area 51” - the center of UFO and conspiracy theories and great science fiction stories.
Nobody was stirring at 8:45 AM at the Shady Lady Ranch Brothel in Petticoat Junction (also known as Scotty’s Junction, Nevada), so I didn’t stop to solicit marriage advice.
After enduing 400 miles (643 km) of creosote bush desert, followed by sagebrush desert, it was refreshing to reach Fallon, NV, a verdant valley of corn, alfalfa, and cattle. I by-passed Reno and at 941 miles (1500 km) I crossed into the golden state of California. I skirted the Sierra Nevada range for over 50 miles (80 km). The Honey Lake Rest Area is probably the prettiest roadside stop I’ve ever used. Not just the mountains on my left and grassland on my right, but the flowering plants around the “necessary” building were so colorful and artistic. It justified taking a couple photos, of a bathroom stop!
I hit the Oregon state line at 5:44 PM (17:44) and stopped for a bite to eat at a café. I’d finally arrived for my first visit to the Beaver State.
A couple weeks earlier I’d written my pen pal in Bly, Oregon to expect me about 8 PM (20:00). She lives 10 miles (16 km) from town, up a mountain road. I drove up to her house after 1195 miles (1923 km), at 7:52 PM (19:52) and apologized for being 8 minutes early. Within 5 minutes of my arrival I was attacked by a squadron of mosquitoes. I haven’t seen mosquitoes like that in years. Welcome to Oregon!
For the next few days I enjoyed true hospitality. I was escorted around the area by various conveyances. I met her friends Cindy and Dave, who are horse lovers like us. We visited the memorial at the Mitchell Recreation area, site of the only fatalities on the mainland US due to enemy action in WWII. In May 1945 a Japanese balloon bomb detonated when a young Sunday School teacher and her class of 5 children accidentally exploded the curious device. Today, as it probably was in 1945, the site is a peaceful grove of majestic Ponderosa Pine in the Fremont National Forest.
The small town of Bly (population about 400) sits in a scenic valley surrounded by cattle ranches. Irrigation encourages the rich green alfalfa hay fields and pastures full of Black Angus graze contentedly in large numbers.
We explored part of the 100 mile (160 km) long rails-to-trails project, the OC & E State Trail. Rhonda has traveled the majority of this well-maintained path mainly used by hikers, cyclists and equestrians. I found an old railroad spike for a souvenir!
On Wednesday August 19, Rhonda packed a picnic lunch and we left at 9:20 AM for Crater Lake National Park. We stopped in Chiloquin for gas where I paid $2.99 a gallon, the most costly gas on my entire trip. I also learned that it is illegal to “pump your own” gas in Oregon. It seemed odd to have an attendant doing the honors when I have pumped my own fuel for 37 years.
After a scenic 150 miles (240 km) we arrived at the Park Visitor Center and took in the obligatory Park Video for orientation. Then we drove off in a clockwise fashion on the 33 mile (53 km) rim drive, circling the caldera.
About 7700 years ago Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed, then filled with rainwater and snowmelt. At 5 miles (8 km) across and ringed by cliffs nearly 2000 feet (610 m) high, we marveled at the awesome blue lake, the deepest in the US.
Rhonda found a handy fallen log so we sat to eat our picnic with a $10 million view. I slid on the log and heard a ripping sound --- the seat of my pants had torn! Fortunately they were beige pants and white underwear so not very noticeable!
At Kern Notch we hiked ¼ mile (0.4 km) to the Phantom Ship overlook. The “ship” being a small rocky outcrop. Everywhere we stopped to view the lake we were awed by that intense blue color, probably the deepest blue I’ve ever seen in nature.
The weather was a perfect sunny summer day at the 8000 feet (2438 m) level of Crater Lake, but back in the shadows of Gearheart Mountain in eastern Klamath County the daytime heat was oppressive. I had forgotten that even places that receive snow in winter measured in feet rather than inches, can have toasty summer days.
Despite the heat, it was sad to leave Rhonda’s. I so enjoyed her home, the gardens, the pine-studded acres, her horses, cats, dogs, but mostly Rhonda and her husband, down-to-earth folks, decent and unpretentious Americans.
Day 6 (21 August)
After driving west for only an hour, I pulled into one of the ubiquitous Towne Pump gas stations in Klamath Falls. Heading north I skirted the eastern shore of blue Upper Klamath Lake for 18 miles (29km). Another 20 miles (32 km) later I stopped at Collier State Park on the Williamson River. One of the largest displays of antique logging equipment in the world are collected here in the shade of mature Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Also displayed were detailed life-sized wood log carvings of bears in realistic poses.
Still further north I lunched in a locally run La Pine, OR restaurant. A mushroom burger was garnished with homegrown lettuce and tomato. I eschew franchise burger joints for just this reason: local flavor!
Early in the afternoon I came to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, 10 miles (16 km) south of Bend, OR. I took my little LED flashlight and headed down the trail into the Lava River Cave. The temperature plummeted (to the constant 42° or 5°C) and daylight quickly vanished. My weak light barely illuminated the uneven path into the mile long lava tube. After a short time I carefully returned to the surface since my left knee began to loudly announce it was in distress. So I resolved that on my next visit here I would explore more of this geologically active preserve of cinder cones, and lava and obsidian flows.
At 3 PM (15:00) I stopped at the Peter Ogden Scenic Lookout to peer into the 300 foot (91 m) deep gorge of the Crooked River. From under the railroad bridge I noticed my first view of snowy mountain peaks.
The land became more desert-like again as I headed northwest on US 26 across the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. This sparsely settled 1000 square miles (2600 km²) is home to a confederation of 3 tribes: the Wasco, the Warm Springs and the Paiute people.
As I neared the far side of the reservation I arrived at a serious traffic accident. A truck had overturned and debris was scattered across both lanes of the 2 lane road. Fortunately the driver only suffered minor injuries. A couple US Navy sailors in uniform attended to him. But the road was totally blocked and would be for hours. Due to the remote and desolate landscape I was at a loss on how to proceed. Then a local man offered to lead me and a couple others around on a 46 mile detour. So after an extra hour, and a roller coaster trip across more of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation than I wanted to see, I continued on toward a scenic transverse of the Cascade Range.
After traveling 1733 miles (2788 km) from home I crossed the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.
Mt Hood grew larger and larger to my right. At 11293 feet (3442 meters), it is the highest point in Oregon and is graced by permanent snowfields. A plethora of ski areas crowded near Government Camp when I paused to visit a busy restroom, nowhere near as neat as the California rest area but much more heavily used.
Then I began a descent of a couple dozen miles toward the largest city in Oregon. After 1800 miles (2896 km) I joined the Friday night traffic in Portland, OR. The congestion eased as I drove the long I-205 bridge over the wide Columbia River into Washington State. The sun was setting as I stopped at the Vancouver Shopping Mall to replace my torn pants with a new pair of tough Lee jeans.
After a rendezvous with my stepson Adam and his new bride Rebecca, I was shown into one of the numerical neighborhoods of the city of Vancouver and to their neat and modern semi-detached home.
Their roommate Leah wore an Oregon university shirt and I sadly picked the wrong school when I assumed her mascot was the Ducks (Eugene, OR: University of Oregon). She rolled her eyes and I realized she was an Oregon State University “Beaver” (Corvallis, OR). Oops! This is similar to the Arizona situation of the ASU Sun Devils (Tempe - Phoenix, AZ) versus the University of Arizona Wildcats (Tucson, AZ). One must never confuse the two!
Day 7 (22 August)
I departed on Saturday morning after an enjoyable visit with family and fortified with a great breakfast, complete with outstanding Pacific Northwest coffee. “We’re somewhat particular over our coffee up here,” Adam said. I’m glad. It was mmmm good!
I backed out of their driveway then went left, right, left, right, … on 60th, 61st, 58th… I lost count as the numbers circled round and never added up, each neighborhood resembling the mathematically named previous one. Somehow I made it back to I-205 and re-crossed the Columbia River back into Oregon. From now on, I’d be traveling east.
Weekends mean large crowds so I skipped the popular Multnomah Falls. The 620 foot (189 m) tall cascade is the second tallest in the US.
Just before noon I stopped at Bonneville Dam. It’s a US Army Corps of Engineers project that encompasses a lock, hydroelectric dams and the Bradford Island Visitors Center where I viewed fish ladders from the top and underwater. Through thick viewing windows real wild Coho and Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Trout were making their way up river in the steps that by-pass the lock and dams. So thrilling to be close to these ancient sea creatures as they migrated far, far from the ocean.
The Interstate Highway continued to hug the river through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. I passed more dams and locks, more fish ladders. I saw tugboats pushing barges on the broad river. The surrounding land began to flatten and dry out. Finally at the John Day Dam, 216 miles (347 km) from the ocean, the “Scenic Area” ended and dozens of huge, white, green-energy producing windmills appeared on the brown hills.
Near where the great Columbia turns north and is fed by the Snake and Yakima Rivers, I also turned north and left the Beaver State and re-entered the Evergreen State in the tawny hills of the Walla Walla onion-growing region. The blue sky tinted a fine brown color. Could there be a wildfire? No. It was top soil, tossed aloft by agricultural activity.
Discolored skies are not unusual here as testified by a sign near tiny Lind, Washington. The traveler was invited to “Drop in! Mt St Helens did!” referring to the ash from the historic and deadly May 1980 eruption. Located far off in western Washington, the Mt St Helens volcano killed 57 people and sent ash spewing into 8 states.
As Interstate 90 approaches Spokane, the elevation increases and the evergreen trees proliferate again. Although I didn’t stop, the city of 200,000 looked attractive.
A mere dozen minutes later I crossed into the Gem State, now in Idaho after driving 2195 miles (3532 km).
After the inevitable commercial area of the city of Coeur d’Alene, the highway gave tantalizing views of a gem body of water: Lake Coeur d’Alene. Twenty-Two miles (35 km) into Idaho I finally found a tent site at the private Wolf Lodge Campground. The $22 fee for a square of grass and a picnic table took me aback, but it was getting dark and I prefer making camp in daylight. I cooked my can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs, strolled the grounds passed a few dozen luxury diesel bus recreation vehicles, and turned in for the night inside my little dome tent.
Day 8 (23 August)
One advantage to a private campground are the amenities. In the pre-dawn darkness I enjoyed a hot shower! Then I cooked breakfast and broke camp. I dialed my sister in Rochester NY for a chat since the next part of my journey would take me into a remote National Park, clearly beyond cell phone towers.
I reentered I-90 heading for Montana and at (4725 feet or 1440m) Look Out Pass crossed into the Treasure State at 9:00 AM. Within half an hour I exited the 4 lane divided highway for a more leisurely 2 lane road at St. Regis. I stopped at a gift store for gas and postcards. I also bought a 16 ounce (.473 liter) jar of Wild Huckleberry Jelly produced in Hungry Horse, Montana. Huckleberries are a wild cousin of the blueberry that do not do well in cultivation. Wild bears are famous for eating them which explains the warning the jar label carries: “Caution - Be Careful Eating This Product In Bear Country.”
In traveling east through Lolo National Forest and then across the pleasant Flathead Indian Reservation, I spotted brown bison grazing the hillsides of the National Bison Range. Bison are colloquially known as “Buffalo.”
At the south end of beautiful Flathead Lake I slowly drove through the busy resort town of Polson. Boats, jet skis, modern condos, nice. This was most unlike the other desolate Indian Reservations I had seen. Up the western shore of this vacationland lake I drove in the delightful 75° (24°C) mid-day sun.
In Kalispell, a town that tourists swell beyond their usual 20,000 residents, I stocked up on food at a large Smith’s grocery store. Prices were similar to home which surprised me, way up here in Northwestern Montana. I hoped to spend 3 or 4 days in Glacier Park so I packed my ice chest, filled up with gas and headed up to the park’s West Entrance.
Glacier National Park is gorgeous! I arrived at campsite C141 in the Fish Creek Campground at 3:00PM (15:00). After pitching my tent among the thick fir trees, I went foraging for firewood up the Inside North Fork Road. A mile (1.6 km) beyond the campground a wildfire had been halted, so there lay acres and acres of potential campfire wood. I had a small hand ax. But after laboriously chopping one small log and attracting the neighborhood mosquitoes, I altered strategy and picked up only small fuel wood. Ferns, flowers and mosses grew abundantly as the ecosystem marched to recovery. Clambering over the fallen timber started to aggravate my knee so I took my paltry collection back to camp.
From camp I went exploring the Rocky Point Nature Trail of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) that followed the shore of Lake McDonald (elevation 3153 feet or 961 m). I met fishermen on the gravelly sand shore. I followed the trail uphill. My knee ached but I marched on, snapping pictures of flowers, fruiting berry bushes, glimpses of glaciers on peaks across the lake. Eventually my stroll headed downhill. Within a few steps I was gasping. My left knee pain was intense. Well, I was in a fine pickle! A half mile (0.8 km) from my campsite and each baby step like a knife blade jamming up my leg. After considerable time I hobbled to my tent, briefly rested, then made dinner.
The Evening Program at the campground amphitheater was at 7:00PM (19:00) and I determined not to miss it, so I drove there. The park Ranger led an enjoyable talk on geology but my leg did not stop throbbing.
That night I kindled a campfire and pondered my options. I’d just driven 2500 miles (4023 km) to visit this special place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But my mobility was now, inconveniently, compromised.
Day 9 (24 August)
Another beautiful day dawns as I strike my tent. I started east into the morning sun on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. A few minutes later traffic slowed and some cars had parked along a non-descript wooded road section. I followed suit and took my camera to the lakeshore. A lone moose swam a few yards offshore. Just when I anticipated she’d reach shore for an awesome photo… a couple clueless people spotted the animal and LOUDLY exclaimed: “Look! A Moose! There it is!” and the largest member of the deer family steered her swim further away. Oh well.
I stopped to walk the (handicap accessible) 0.7 mile (1.1 km) Trail of the Cedars near Avalanche Creek campground. I felt refreshed, strolling among the Western Cedars, mostly on a comfortable boardwalk that protected the rare environment. Typical of the more humid Pacific Northwest, the cedars, ferns, club mosses, the water trickling down a rock wall fit one of the three ecological life zones that exist side by side in Glacier Park. The others being the northern forest/alpine region, and the American prairie. From a footbridge over Avalanche Creek I marveled at the blue-green waters rushing over Avalanche Falls.
Driving along McDonald Creek I glimpsed more treeless peaks with white icing. Heaven’s Peak, 8987 ft (2739 m). The road began to rise, up into cooler air. After a hairpin turn at the Loop, I was now headed southeast toward Logan Pass, and passed the Weeping Wall. Suddenly I was stopped in traffic. Road construction is a necessary evil. And in these high elevations, which close in winter due to impossible snow, the work must proceed simultaneously with thousands of visitors. I took advantage of the halt to get out of my car and snap photos of the McDonald Creek valley which look like aerial shots! Eventually I resumed crawling along the narrow but endlessly scenic road until around a bend, there was Logan Pass, 6642 feet (2025 m). I arrived early enough to get parking as summer mid-days can get very crowded on this renowned point on the Continental Divide. The only problem? My scrawled journal notes say: “Knee very bad.”
In embarrassment I parked in the handicapped reserved section, and limped up the steps to the Visitor’s Center. The view from the pleasantly heated building was incredible. I bought a boatload of postcards. Then I gingerly stepped out into the refreshing air to survey the 3 mile ( 4.8 km) round-trip trail to the glacier’s edge. It was so near. It’d be so easy. I could see a hundred people were already hiking out there. But no. They’d have to carry me back I thought. So sadly I remained there, snapping pictures. Despite not being able to go and do what I planned, it was so awesome that one could not be depressed. The green meadow, the alpine flowers, the soaring peaks, the white snow, the splashing creeks. This was the pinnacle of my park experience.
Next I drove down 2000 feet (609 m) in elevation, stopping at overlooks to gaze at rocky 9000 to 10000 feet (2700 to 3050 m) peaks holding Jackson Glacier, Blackfeet Glacier, Sperry Glacier. At Sunrift Gorge a small but powerful creek rushed a short shoot from Going-to-the-Sun Mountain (9642 ft, 2938 m), under the road and into Saint Mary Lake. The amazing water color, the rocks, the lush trees, made a simple stream a magnet for a steady flow of people seeking the nourishment of raw nature.
At 3:00PM (15:00) I reached the Rising Sun Campground on Saint Mary Lake and pitched my tent in site 30. When I finished I had to lay down and wait for the analgesic pill to work because I nearly fainted from knee pain. Later I went for a slow stroll. Saw a peacefully grazing mule deer doe. At the lakeshore I contemplated a cruise on the lake. The ticket agent seemed eternally bored as she monotoned “22 dollars” for the boat ride. It would not involve walking but being cramped in a small wooden boat might not be the best idea. Maybe next time.
Back at my tent I cooked supper. And inadvertently overheard the drama next door as Mary and Rusty from Seattle searched frantically for the keys to their Jeep vehicle. Raised voices: “How could you lose them? They are The Most Important Thing!” Poor folks.
I got in the car and headed up to a high scenic lookout point above the lake. I parked and began to write a few postcards as the day slowly ebbed. I heard a stone clatter off the cliff behind me. Turning I saw a very black Black Bear step under a tree and, how do I say this politely? - he had a bowel movement. I scrambled for my camera as he trotted away. For some people the birds sing; for me the bears crap. What can I say?
Back at camp I lit a fire, made a cup of tea. A Ranger came to inform the relieved couple that their keys had been found on the lake boat and turned in in town 5 miles (8 km) away. They were able to relax, light their campfire and he brought out his guitar and sang. “Your Momma Don’t Dance and Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll.” Then a song glorifying marijuana smoking. He was really quite good. Before bedtime the ranger returned with their lost keys. Peace fell over the Rising Sun Campground, which was very quiet, despite being full to capacity.
Day 10 (25 August)
After a great night’s sleep in my tent, I was able to strike camp and continue down the north side of the long slender glacier-carved St Mary Lake. I walked down a short path to the shore and spoke to a hopeful fisherman, took pictures of the triple divide and picked a handful of huckleberries. Triple Divide Peak is an 8020 foot (2444 m) peak where a single theoretical raindrop could split into thirds. Part shedding off to the Pacific, part spilling off to the Atlantic, and the cold hardy part sliding off to the Arctic Ocean. At the (east) St. Mary entrance to the park I purchased a last handful of postcards.
Ubiquitous on all sections of the Going-To-The-Sun Road were modern shuttle buses as well as the antique “red jammers.” These vintage motor coaches built in 1936- 1939 were recently retrofitted by Ford to run on propane. They are a wise ecological choice for people wishing to avoid driving the twisty road and wanting to give their whole attention to the scenery. Even the canvas top of the 17- passenger bright red vehicle rolls back for unfettered vistas.
At 2557 miles (4115 km) I left the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (although I failed to make it into Canada to see the contiguous International part of the park). I sped across the rolling hills decorated with oak trees and grazing cattle. This was the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Beyond the reservation town of Browning the land became prairie. I turned east on a secondary road, Route 44 and passed through the agricultural town of Valior and then intersected with Interstate Highway 15.
At 75 MPH (120 KPH), the 22 miles (35 km) to Conrad MT flew by. I used a convenience store to rest and phone my pen pal Carol in nearby Brady MT. I left a message on her voice mail. Anxious I returned to the Interstate but was soon relieved to get a return call. Connection made!
I met my friend at the Mountain View Collins 110 Shuttle grain elevator. She was driving a big white Chevy C 60 truck loaded with wheat. Possibly 10 tons! It was tested, weighed and dumped and I rode along to the field where the men were combining. I was delighted to be offered a seat in a modern green JD combine for a few trips around the field. I got a close look at the process of cutting, threshing (separating the grain and the chaff), and expelling the residue (straw) of the wheat harvest.
Then Carol and I headed home to clean up. We went out to meet her impressive horse herd. In an amazing coincidence I discovered her home is at exactly the same elevation above sea level as my own home, 3170 feet (966 m). How unlikely is that?
The day had been hot so when I checked my food in the car, I found it warming up dangerously. And unexpectedly my stick of deodorant had liquefied! I needed ice.
So for dinner, Kevin, his father Ray, and we two gals headed the 50 miles (80 km) to Great Falls (a city of 56,000) for a lovely meal and lots of laughs. At the local superstore I picked up a block of ice for my ice chest and a new solid deodorant.
I had no trouble falling asleep in Carol’s comfortable air-conditioned home, although I did wake up once with my knee aching.
Day 11 (26 August)
After tea and cereal, pleasant conversation, photos and sad farewells, I hit the road. Only a bit over 1400 miles (2253 km) to home. I would make it in 2 days in order to see my doctor on Friday.
First stop was Great Falls again, for a coffee hit. Then I would head south on I-15 for a total of 777 miles (1250 km). One road. All day. Three states.
In Montana I passed through the Big Belt Mountains, over the Missouri River, I saw antelope. I stopped in the historic mining town of Butte for lunch. Chicken fried steak with peppered milk gravy. It is a western regional favorite and resembles Wiener Schnitzel.
I crossed the Idaho state line again. This time it was 3:40PM (15:40) and at 3080 total miles (4956 km). I saw volcanic rock again. And unique storage buildings covered by sod! Possibly potato storage as I saw the sign for the Potato Museum. Irrigation sprinklers shot sparkling water high over deep green alfalfa fields. I phoned my husband, my sister, my brother, my cousin, but got their voice mail. Nobody was home to help me pass the time. What luck! Then I drove over Molad Pass and into Utah, the Beehive State. It was 5:30 (17:30) and I’d driven 3197 miles (5145 km).
I could see an arm of the Great Salt Lake. Boats! I watched a V-shaped flock of birds winging toward the lake. Then, there was traffic. I inched through Salt Lake City. I overpaid for gas in Provo, UT. Finally I emerged from the congestion. Cities, yuck!
The sun set at 8 PM (20:00). The speed limit increased to 80 MPH (128 KPH) but I wasn’t planning to drive an unfamiliar rural highway at that high speed.
After 13 ½ hours I exited I-15. In the dark I drove slower and slower. Finally I stopped to rest at 10:34 (22:34) after logging 814 miles (1310 km) this day. The sign at the Rest Area said no overnight camping. But I wasn’t camping. I simply pulled out my pillow, reclined my seat and grabbed 6 hours of sleep.
Day 12 (27 August)
I awoke in the dark at 5:00AM (05:00), 44° (7°C) - cool at last! I drove 77 miles (124 km) to Bryce Canyon National Park where I set up a picnic breakfast to greet sunrise at Sunset Point! It was quite chilly at 8000 feet (2438 m) at that hour but as the morning sun illuminated the amphitheater, I warmed to the red rock scenery. Hoodoos, pillars of fantastic shapes went on row after row. It’s amazing what wind and water can sculpt. The Paiute Indians who lived here called the shapes the Legend People that Coyote had turned to stone.
Despite my knee that protested every step, I went to three overlooks and enjoyed the scenic points unexpectedly near a large group of German-speaking tourists. At the visitor center I bought more postcards and decided to prematurely leave after only getting a brief taste of the colorful geologic sights here. I left at 8:45AM (08:45), passing a small herd of deer snacking at the side of the road and stalling a handful of cars as we all gawked at the ruminants, rarely so near to observe.
At 11:30 AM (11:30) I crossed into Arizona and it became 10:30 because the Grand Canyon State does not participate in Daylight Savings Time.
I spent a half hour admiring the 583 foot (177m) tall, concrete arch Glen Canyon Dam that impounds 185 miles (297 km) of water called Lake Powell. I re-crossed the cold Colorado River and paused in Page, AZ to buy gas. Then as I climbed away from the river valley I entered the great Navajo Nation. The reservation is so big, that it takes 2 hours to cross it non-stop on its shortest side. It is 16 million acres or a bit bigger than the state of West Virginia.
In Flagstaff AZ I had to creep through road construction on Lake Mary Road that I kept calling Lake St Mary, confusing it with the Glacier Park lake. Though both lakes are long and narrow, Arizona’s Lake Mary is a shadow of a lake, the lower part is regularly dry, empty due to drought.
Finally I was wheeling across the White Mountains. Almost home although still over 4 hours distant. As I passed above Mormon Lake I looked down on a herd of 200 elk, more wildlife than I’d seen in 7 other states. I had a picnic lunch near Happy Jack, AZ. Although I was in Arizona’s cool high country, I remained in the shade of a Pine as even here the heat was penetrating.
My final gas was self-pumped (unlike in Oregon) in Globe, AZ for 2 cents more per gallon than I had paid at this same store 12 days earlier. Still the cheapest fuel of my trip.
I couldn’t help but smile when “my” mountain came into view, still an hour from home.
After 4115 miles (6622 km) I pulled into my driveway. It was 7 PM (19:00) and sunset. Another great adventure ended. Most of the trip I was battling the heat. It was August though. But now I was safely home, with one good knee. It would have been worse, of course, if I had never gone.