July 22nd, 23rd
Day 1, Day 2:
Well, would be lovely to say that we've arrived safely at our destination, Salt Lake City . Especially given the exact and thorough exercise we've gone through in planning every single day of this holiday. Unfortunately my favourite US Customs & Immigration had other ideas. They have those important, efficient looking uniforms. Talk about false marketing. They're rubbish! The 2 hours it took them to get our flight through meant we (and many others) missed our connecting flights. The only bloody point of Chicago O'Hare (the world’s busiest airport, which we've affectionately renamed Chicago Night'Mare) is connecting flights. Get it right! Given that we had departed from the world’s second busiest airport (Heathrow), we probably broke some kind of record for queues in one day. Definitely a PB for me, smashing my existing Aug 10th 1985 at Alton Towers best.
They nearly got us on another flight, and had us running around the check-in desks like a couple of blue-arsed flies (the running type I guess, not the flying type). But it was a false hope. We were stuck. And so I write this in the lovely Wyndham Hotel (our room, left) about 40mins outside downtown Chicago, up ridiculously early cos of jetlag and a fire alarm some plonker set off. At some point I'm hoping Dad gives me my book back. I think he's trying to hide the extent of the water damage he caused when the brand new book was literally minutes out of the shop (sorry Mum, I know I should never buy full price books – perhaps you gave us that advice because you had similar experiences with father?). And to think Carly was worried about a creased spine and folded corners! But it does give me time to get a bit of an update down on paper (well, screen, if you're being fussy).
So, we're on a flight to Salt Lake City this morning. The aim is to give Salt Lake City short shrift (basically, a cursory glance as we pick up our rental car and drive through to get on the road South). By all accounts, it's a fairly good choice of place to give short shrift. However, it’s a bit weird to be flying in to a place and immediately have to turn around and set off on a 6-7 hour drive somewhere else.
So, it’s been an inauspicious start, and it’s a big drive to a campsite planned next (have I made a dangerous assumption about flights and car pick-up going smoothly?). I’m feeling the pressure. The camping was most definitely not Dad’s idea. And it took A LOT of persuading. And after the start we’ve had, we don’t want any more problems. God I hope all the bits are in the tent bag, and we don’t get lost in the desert, and the bears leave us alone. Or I’ll never hear the end of it. We can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car, and on the road, and under our own control. I’ve been wondering what we’ll do with all that time together in the ‘cockpit’. That sounds terrible doesn’t it. It’s like the reverse of that Russell Brand item on his radio show where they come up with words that sound nice, but actually mean something terrible (like brainwash, or ethnic cleansing…….I came up with one as well – athlete’s foot). Anyway, more likely we’ll just complete a thorough analysis of what Iwelmo will bring to the team next serason, and who Merlin the Magician is going to start come opening day, and what will happen to him if he doesn’t get them to the play-offs again.
Well we nearly caught up on our schedule.. We ended up staying the night at the most over the top B&B in a town called Cedar City . I think the guy collects collections. Cedar City sounded terrible. I have an immediate bad feeling about anywhere called something ‘City’, though I haven’t actually been able to work out why (have I been to any terrible places called something ‘City’?). But it is actually a reasonably nice little town, and currently in the midst of a Shakespeare festival. Earlier in the day we’d managed the flight to Salt Lake City generally without incident (the air travel god had given us the day off). Although Chicago Night’Mare could’t resist a parting shot, having us both selected for the thorough search at security. And shortly after midday we had our car (pretty much our home for the next 3 weeks) and were on the road. We gave Salt Lake City about 90 minutes of our time, taking a look round all the main Mormon Buildings in Temple Square . They were incredibly impressive. The sound of a pin dropping in the Tabernacle was like no pin drop I’d ever heard before. But it was all a bit creepy. And the city just seemed to be hotels.
About 2:30 we hit the I15, with Zion National Park our destination. We felt brave enough to get off the Interstate and on to the more scenic highway (89), but once we’d managed to lose that within 5 minutes of getting on it, we decided just to head back to the Interstate and get some miles under our belt. The scenery was still absolutely spectacular. Flat plains, with mini-mountain ranges on either side, and burning heat. It felt like it really probably hadn’t changed since the pioneers had crossed it. The road wound ahead and behind like a river, all long shallow curves. I had views in my mirrors that looked like Easy Rock CD covers. The other excitement of the day was seeing a blowout happen. In fact Dad was so excited he accelerated to get right in the midst of the hot shredded rubber shower. Apparently just a case of confusing the accelerator and the brake. That gives me great comfort for my remaining time in the passenger seat.
I can’t not mention that he just got out of the shower praising how delightful it was to shower in soft water. To paraphrase, ‘oooohhh, I love it when it lathers up right away’. I bet he made a foam hat for himself in there. I truly am learning a lot about the man. Anyway, gotta go as it’s my turn. Just got to clear out his bath toys first.
Great day. Felt like the first real day of the holiday. The first day we didn’t have to deal with any airports. A great brekkie at our chintzy b&b got us started. Computer frustrations have pretty much meant us giving up on any internet contact with the outside world (at least wirelessly). Anyway hit the road to head to Zion National Park . Only took us an hour, and then we were there, amongst the hordes of other tourists. Before that though, we stopped at an awesomely cheesy mock Wild West town. It was in a canyon called Virgin as well. Talk about making it easy for those slogans on tacky souvenirs.
They really have the Zion experience set up well. A free shuttle bus takes you up and down the whole canyon. You can alight wherever you want to do a hike. All nicely trailed out and clearly signposted. We ended up doing 3 hikes. A relatively shaded Riverside Walk, the short Weeping Rock trail, so named as you end up at a rock alcove with dripping springs. Welcome refreshment as it was getting bloody hot. We stopped off for a beer and then finally hit the Lower Emerald Pool trail, which felt like pretty hard work, but probably entirely because we were in the best the sun had to throw at us. The hikes flew by as the Funster kept me amused. I think the highlight was him likening Mum to Jackie Charlton.
Then it was back on the road to Bryce Canyon , and more importantly, a campsite! Most amazingly scenic and fun drive. We went through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, 1.1 miles long and built back in the 1920s. Numerous stop-offs to photograph the scenery. We saw some bison. Dad made the mistake of asking what the difference between a buffalo and a bison was. Sometimes he just lines them up for me.
As we drew nearer to Bryce Canyon I could feel Dad getting nervous. There was still plenty of sun in the sky, and nothing that seemed likely to stop us. He could tell he was running out of chances for anything to save him from a first night of camping. I had begun to learn why he doubted his suitability for such accommodations. His choices of where to place things seem entirely devoid of any consideration of when or where he may need them next. Sunglasses and socks always disappear from handy, easy to find places (like the glove compartment, or on his feet), and reappear (after much head scratching) in the weirdest spots (like deep in the trunk, or next to the spare tyre).
However, I think he was surprised how easy it was to put the tent up (especially if it's left for someone else to do - if you ever see a misleading photo of him stood proudly next to a tent with his chest puffed out, I've provided evidence of the true story), and was in a much cheerier mood once we’d also invested in a cooler, and a few things to fill it with (Clamato and Bud Light). Restless as ever, he headed of on a sunset stroll, and within minutes was back to get me. Just metres from our tent was our first view of Bryce Canyon, and it was spectacular. So we headed to bed with our hearts filled with glee, and stomachs full with beer (we didn’t really do dinner).
The one thing that’s amazing about camping is how it seems like everyone in the campsite is in your tent with you. It makes the acoustics in the Mormon Tabernacle seem pathetic. And there’s not many other places you find yourself bumping into a deer on the way back from the toilets at 3am. I did get some sleep though. I realized I could have got more when Dad pointed out I could blow up my sleeping mat. Almost made me look forward getting my head down tonight. But before that we had a canyon named after a husband and wife called Bryce to explore.
Bryce Canyon is absolutely freakin’ spectacular. Zion is nice, but Bryce is unique. Hopefully some of the shots do it justice. We did a drive around in the morning taking in the viewpoints. Unfortunately we had to move camping lot cos someone had ours reserved that night. So we had to pack up everything, move 100 yards, and set it all up again. But being the practiced outdoorsmen we are, we already done our drive by and moved lots by about 11, and were ready to get out hiking. A cloudy day this time. Slightly unexpected. But this and the altitude kept everything a lot cooler, and the hikes were never anything more than a pleasant stroll. Having said that, we avoided anything in the trail guide where the words ‘strenuous’ or ‘arduous’ were involved. During our third little hike the rain came. Bit cheeky. I wasn’t expecting to see rain for 3 weeks. But apparently July comes 2nd of 12 in number of thunderstorms. And yep, we had it all. Forked lightening and thunder. It was kind of cool. And then I remembered the tent. And how we’d not bothered with tent pegs, or guy ropes, or all that nonsense. I’m sure it would have been more amusing for all you if this had developed into a disastrous story of a washed away tent and a night out under the rain. Fortunately for us though, the tent was fine.
We disappeared off to watch a lovely sunset from a café with an outdoor patio and that most priceless of commodities, high speed internet! Oh, and how we dined. It was the same as the night before. Pringles and bud light. Well, you’ve got to stick with a winner. Anyway, to close out, it was bed at 9pm. Up at 6am, and the start of another day.
Big driving day. At least 400 miles to cover. Packed up and out by 7.05 am. Impressed huh?
The first couple of hours were scenic highway 12. And my, how scenic it was. We passed through about 3 different landscapes. Miles where the road snaked around or sometimes through walls of rock. There were injuns watching us from the top of the rocky outcrops. And they followed us. Luckily we found a waterfall to hide behind. Oh shucks, I’ve got myself confused with Last of the Mohicans.
And then we also had flat, arid, god don’t even know how to describe it scenery. And then green and trees, bit like ol’ England . As far as we could tell we were still at high altitude pretty much the whole way. In fact Utah seems to be all high up in the air. We never seemed to go below 7000ft. Highest point in UK is only 4000something ft. If Dad mentions that in his blog too, then I have to give him credit as he passed on that bit of information. Despite starting off slow, we’d covered a good 300 by the time we stopped for lunch at about 1:30. Dad wanted to stop in a town called Blanding, but I suggested hanging in there until Monticello . I’ve come up with what seems to be a foolproof system for knowing whether a US town is going to be a dump or lovely before I even get there. The clue is in the name. Hell I was wrong about Cedar City , but that’s because I focused on the wrong part. City instead of Cedar. There’s nothing better than trees. But back to our new choice. Monticello sounds nice and exotic and warm. I could imagine the man from Monticello saying yes. It even includes a lovely warm deep tonal string instrument in the name. Whereas Blanding just sounds, well, Bland. We drove through Blanding and it was an absolute dump, and predictably, Monticello was having a town fair, which was lovely, and we had carne asado with rice (con arroz I believe), and funnel cake from a stall where the lady asked Dad where in Germany he was from, but I’m sure he’s covered that. She was mighty embarrassed. We probably shouldn’t have laughed at her so hard.
Back on the road, and much closer to our destination, which gave us time to fit in the tour round Mesa Verde National Park that we had planned. Mesa Verde was the first national park set aside “to preserve the works of man”. Nicked that sentence from the leaflet verbatim. It is fascinating though. These Ancetral Puebloan dudes lived there years and years ago and built these cliff dwellings. You’d really need to see pictures to appreciate, but yahoo travel planner sucks (got them up there in the end). The amazing thing is that these cliff dwellings were built 800 years ago. And they weren’t discovered until the 1880’s when these two cowboys looking for a lost cow in the snow stumbled across them. So, untouched for over 500 years. The Ancestral Puebloans had shipped out all of a sudden in around 1300. To this day they can’t work out why. These cliff dwellings were bloody cool though. And on top of that, it was just lovely to see Americans looking at history that was actually old.
Got into Durango about 6. Aaaaahhhh Hampton Inn, bed, warm drinks, yummy yummy. But before I could get my head down, we obviously had to go out. But don’t let the bravado in that sentence fool you. I managed food, two pints, and an ice-cream, and then told my daddy I wanted to go home. He didn’t actually say wimporama, but I could see it in his eyes. So we got the 50c tram back to the hotel (nicest people ever on those trams), and I went straight into an awesome sleep. I was on cloud 9. Literally as it happens:
our dreamy beds