Typing this at 6 am in our hotel in Chicago – we should be in SLC, so we’re behind schedule before we’ve actually started!
Quite a day yesterday and it already seems light years ago. Journey to Heathrow was fine, though there was quite a long delay in Luton which started to concern me. Anyway, I checked in and met Steve in Costa Coffee as planned. The flight was fine and we arrived in Chicago exactly on schedule. We walked through deserted corridors towards immigration with an ample 90 mins to spare before our flight to SLC. We then arrived in the immigration hall to see enormous queues awaiting clearance. We were still there when our flight left for SLC. What made it more annoying was the constant repetition of a pre-recorded message starting with one of those mellifluous American male voices saying ‘Welcome to the United States ’. We guessed that there would be another flight to SLC, but we still had to clear customs and recheck in our bags with American for the onward flight. So, we joined another line of frustrated punters who had missed their flights. When we finally got to the desk we were told that American did not have another flight but they could possibly get us on the United flight at 2008. They booked us on it and told us to rush to the United desk to check in – too late, the flight had closed! So, back to American to rejoin the line of frustrated punters who had missed their flights. I was by now getting very angry and ready to lay into the American agent on the desk, but of course it was nothing to do with American that we had been delayed. Why should they pay for a hotel for us when they were not responsible for the delay? Anyway, we got a subsidized voucher for a hotel near the airport and relaxed with a couple of beers and a bar snack (which was very nice and reasonably priced) in the hotel sportsbar, surrounded by screens showing baseball, so we know for sure now that we’ve arrived in the US.
Got a few hours of good sleep and we’re now ready to get in the air again. We still want to drive into SLC and see the centre, though this means that we shall be pushed to get into Zion National Park by nightfall. Might have to book into a hotel! What I now realize is just how much I want to get into the car so we can control our own destiny and make our own choices. Rarin’ to go!
Got to the airport in good time for our flight to SLC. Breakfast at the airport and then security. Bugger me, if they didn’t frisk both of us and go through our bags, taking swabs which they then tested on a computer. Glad to see the back of Chicago ! Great descent into SLC with snow-capped peaks surrounding the city. Picked up the car and headed downtown to Temple Square , home of the Mormon religion. Yuck! Beautiful buildings surrounded by a 15 foot wall and looking like an ice sculpture. Hordes of men in suits and young girls in long dresses to help you, all wearing serene smiles. Heard a few minutes of an organ recital in the Tabernacle – amazing acoustics, which were demonstrated by someone tearing paper and dropping pins on the stage and which could be heard throughout the auditorium. Also popped into the Family History Centre, which was most impressive. After an hour, it was back into the car and onto the open road. Took the I15 south towards Las Vegas , hoping to reach Zion and the camp site before nightfall. No hope really and we ended up phoning ahead and booking a room in a recommended B&B in Cedar City . Lucky to get a room in Cedar City as it has a very popular Shakespeare festival all summer every summer. Haven’t found out why yet. Amazing B&B – very ornate with every corner and surface stuffed with toby jugs, dolls etc. Had a lovely dinner at the Garden House. Dressed salad followed by a great slab of prime rib of beef with asparagus – all for £9.
Back to the Great Yellow Inn for bed. Really nice guy runs this place. He also has another place across the road – called the Across The Road Inn!
Mileage on Day 2 – 250. Weather hot, hot, hot. Steve and I are having a wager on the total mileage.
Had an excellent breakfast in our B&B. Most of the clientele were there for the plays, including some critics who were having a very erudite discussion about last night’s performance. We were joined at our table by an American couple who, it transpired, were locals. They were about to look after the four children of some friends, who had bought them a night in the B&B as a thank you. I told them that we had been in Temple Square and they asked me what I thought about it. After I told them, predictably it transpired that they were Mormons.
Eventually, we got under way and it felt as thought the adventure was really beginning. As we approached Zion National Park , our destination for the previous night, the landscape became quite extraordinary, and once we were in the park, stunning. We did some of the prescribed routes, which I think Steve has detailed, and boy was it hot – over 100. Walking uphill was very debilitating and we eventually realized why – these national parks are at over 8000 feet! We had a wonderful day and then set off for Bryce Canyon National Park . The drive was again extraordinary, a landscape like I’ve never seen. To cap it all, as we were driving along we came across a herd of bison, including young, in a field, and they were grazing alongside the fence at the roadside. We eventually arrived at Bryce and found our pitch in the campsite. To my amazement, the tent was up in 5 mins, looking totally uninviting. Anyway, we went and got some beers and dined royally on Pringles, marshmallows and Budweiser (we are generally eating very well by the way). As night started to fall, I wandered up a slope about 100 yards from our tent, to discover that I was looking straight across the canyon. About 100 photos later, it was time to sample the delights of the self-inflating mattress and pillow. More of that in tomorrow’s entry!
Mileage:150. Weather – hot, hot, hot, hot at over a 100. Quite a relief to be told when we arrived at Bryce that the temperatures are about 20 less than Zion .
I woke up this morning – many, many times! Despite that, I think I had more sleep than at any time on the trip so far. Comfortable would not describe it, but it was ok. I also managed to avoid having to get up to use the facilities during the night. Steve had to, and had an interesting encounter with a deer! I’m sure he’ll mention that (we do not see each other’s journals). Anyway, a healthy breakfast of fresh fruit and we were off to the canyon. What an amazing place – I don’t think I’ve been anywhere quite so unique and enervating. We initially went to several of the viewpoints to see the canyon in the early morning light and then we went on a 3-mile hike down on to the canyon floor. The only problem here is that all the trailheads are on the rim of the canyon, so you always finish by coming back up. We were over 9000 feet at times today, and as soon as you start climbing you struggle for breath and feel the lack of lactic acid in your legs (this is not just me, Steve feels it as well). Anyway, the hike was amazing (finding superlatives is becoming difficult), despite the heat (a comfortable 85). Yes, I’m remembering to put the sun cream on. No showers here, by the way, so we’re getting a bit ripe!
After lunch (£6 for an eat as much as you want buffet – just outside the park gate so probably a rip-off price!), the unthinkable happened – clouds came over and it started to rain! We are in the month of high risk of thunderstorms, after all. We did hear thunder but never overhead. Anyway, the rain scotched our plan to go to a rodeo this evening. Instead, we dined on Budweiser and Pringles (is this becoming familiar?) and will probably have some marshmallows when we get back to the tent (don’t mention that word). The idea of the marshmallows was to roast them on the campfire, but we’ve never got round to buying some wood for the fire!
Anyway, a glorious day that will take some beating. It’s an early start tomorrow – getting up early shouldn’t be a problem, as long as the back and legs are still functioning. 400 miles to Durango , our longest leg so far. Having just a great time, completely up to expectations.
Mileage: about 60, hot at 87 but then rain (big drops and very cold).
Got up this morning after a rather uncomfortable night to discover that I had managed to roll off the sleeping mat – as Steve remarked, they really should put that in the instructions! Anyway, we were mightily impressed that we were able to strike camp and be on the road by 0705 – not sure that our sleeping neighbours were similarly impressed. One abiding memory of camping in the country is that everyone within a 50 yard radius seems to be in your tent with you. Anyway, today was our first big journey – 400 miles to Durango with a diversion to the Mesa Verde National Park , time permitting. What a magical day it has been. We crossed southern Utah into Colorado through the most unremittingly hostile terrain you could envisage. A truly spectacular, post-holocaust landscape. It was just how I imagined our trip would be. We drove about 300 miles and came across 6 towns, not of which were worthy of the name. We pinpointed a place called Monticello as our lunch stop, which turned out to be a good choice. Last Thursday was Pioneer Day, a state holiday, and Monticello was having a town fete on the ‘village green’. A couple of stalls selling tat and about 5 food outlets! Anyway, we had a good Carne Asada for lunch, followed by a web cake! I struck up a conversation with an old lady who was cooking whole turkey legs on a huge charcoal grill. This concluded when she asked me which part of Germany I came from. One thing I’ve rapidly learnt is that the answer to the ‘where do you guys come from?’ question is not ‘near Cambridge ’, it’s ‘ England ’. They don’t have a clue! That said, everyone is so friendly and interested in what we are doing.
Anyway, we made the National Park. It is a site of some large cliff dwellings that were constructed in the 14th century and evacuated about a century later. No-one knows why they were built or why they were abandoned. Very interesting. We rolled into Durango about 1800 and collected our tickets for the railroad journey. Hampton Inn is very nice, with Cloud 9 beds, the best, Steve tells me, and most welcome as far as I am concerned. Went into town on the trolley (50 cents a ride!) and had a meal and a few beers in the recommended bar in Durango . An excellent day!
Mileage: about 450. Weather, warm but with quite a bit of cloud cover and some rain later on.