Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I've been everywhere, man

The number of places visited doesn't give one self-worth.                                                              What is done at those places, however, could.

I have traveled a large bit of the country in the past week and a half. I put one thousand miles on the first rental car. I slept in all of the continental United States time zones in five nights. I hiked in soft falling snow, looked out across the remnants of an in-land sea, felt the dry breath of a red desert, looked down upon a city of lights hopes and sorrows, and stayed in the same city in two states. It’s been an eventful couple weeks, to be sure, but not at home and not with my love. The good and the bad of traveling for work – I’m getting to see the country and do things far from home, but I’m doing it for a company first and foremost and fitting in bits and pieces of things I enjoy around that.

Act One
SLC (punk)

A coworker and I arrived in Utah separately. I had a few hours to while away after his flight was delayed due to a cardiac arrest of a passenger on the flight (ekk!). I got the rental car and drove down to the Great Salt Lake. I took a walk across the lake-bed to reach the water’s edge. The wind swept cold across the landscape, reminding me that spring hadn't taken hold yet. I watched the sun sink over the horizon, illuminating the far mountains. Finally, silhouetted by the suns corona, the mountain peaks gave way to darkness. I drove back, feeling hope and contentment.

We worked efficiently over the next few days, when we got the chance we enjoyed the area. We drove around Pineview Reservoir on a long lunch, up through a canyon, the mountains above us still wearing white. The high valley wreathed in white capped mountains was a world apart from the city just below. After work one day we went out to Antelope Island State Park, which not many Utah natives have visited when we conducted an informal poll. The park was gorgeous, denuded of trees, and where bison roam. I traversed 1000 feet up a knob to get a wonderful panoramic view of much of the island. The island is large, large enough to contain on its ridged back a spiny line of mountains with snow at their tops. Far in the distance of my knob-top view I could see herds of bison, a squall of rain way out over the lake, and clumps of trees huddling around a spring like winter hikers around a campfire.

A herd of Bison in the distance
My cameras zoom isn't that good

Mike and I climbed a trail to Waterfall Canyon, where in the deep winter ice-climbers climb. We got views down into Ogden and got close to the feet of the looming hulks of rock that make the so impenetrable wall and backdrop of the city.

After we had wrapped up work we stayed with Mike’s brother that happens to live in the area. One night we stayed in Sandy, the next in St George. On our way to Sandy we took the western route and stopped in Park City. The town that is a ski resort. Very posh, as one would expect from a ski resort. Later in Sandy we took a drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird and Alta. The change that comes with elevation has never been more dramatic. Spring owned the valley and deep deep snow as we got close to 10,000 feet. The mountains crowded over us and transported us to a much more northern clime.

Mike went with his brother the next morning to drop his niece off at the airport. Given a couple hours I went for a hike! I arrived at a trail head as the flurries flew. As I quickly ascended up the foothills the snow fell and the noises of the city faded to a memory. Less than a mile from the trailhead and I could no longer hear the hum and hiss of traffic. A small lake lay nestled in the snow caked hills, a few itinerant ducks my only company. I did a loop of the lake and headed back down, my tracks already gone as I descended.
We jumped in the car and headed south.

Act Two
Desert or Dessert?

As we drove south the snow fell heavily, not wanting us to make our escape. But the south won out, and the line of dark clouds stewed in the rear view. The sun and a chill breeze broke out over the line of mountains we followed on either side. This is BIG country in southern Utah. Big, lonesome forgotten mountains. I stared out the window at the miles of hills, fronted by the miles of pasture land backed up to them, I pondered when the last person traveled up those valleys, when someone had last strode over those peaks.
After some hours of driving we stopped at the western part of Zion National Park and visited Kolob Canyon and the little used lookout there. There wasn't much here, but a good start to a long hike – unfortunately not a long hike I would be taking. I was here for the topical views, as time was of the essence. We took our pictures and inhaled the dazzling views, but too quickly headed back to the car. We headed around to Zion “proper”, through Springdale, and familiar memories (and my first blog entry). Mike and I stopped at Weeping Rock and stood beneath the dropping drips, seeing what water and time can do. I stared up at Angels Landing, remembering what it was like to look down from Angels Landing. But not this time, sunlight grew short and people had to be met.

From St George we drove very briefly through Colorado and into Nevada. From there we headed east to the Valley of Fire. We didn't have cash and only did the short hike to Elephant Rock on the edge of the fantastical red rocks sprouting through the desolate desert. We headed into Lake Mead NRA and went to the lake shore. The amount of parking this place has and the size of the boat ramp it must be a different scene when the weather is warm! We had the place almost to ourselves, excepting some brave fisher-people that didn't mind the 50 degree temps.

The land got almost monotonous as we continued towards Hoover Dam. Mile after mile of desolate land, surrounded by turtle fences, and large barren mountains. I wondered how anything could survive this harshness. At the southern end the road came close to the edge of the National Recreation Area and like a blight or an oasis (depending on your point of view) condos and green grass sprouted from the desolate land. The water that must be sprinkled to support the lush grasses surrounding the expanse of wealth must be disturbing. We neared Hoover Dam, and soon found our way past a casino and to the Dam area. The tourist flocked , in their Uggs and heels. Up stairs and ramps, cutting the other off for a good parking spot and acting generally impatient with others. Back into civilization. Back into the trap for tourists. I dutifully snapped my tourists lens and marveled at the greatness of man, better than a beaver (again depending on your point of view). We went to the gift shop and saw the stuff that people love to be owned by. The history intrigued me, but the destruction and rampant change to the environment to enable this "magnificent" testament to humanity made me wonder. This country is large enough to support it's current population without having to live in these desolate places, without having to bend the earth to our wishes while disrupting these fragile far away places.

On to Sin City. A city I've visited multiple times, and will again visit. It's mostly a hate relationship. It's a convenient place to land to go exploring the area. The city itself is depressing and at times desperate feeling. It is also a big city. From the top of the Stratosphere the views after dark were horizon to horizon human habitation. The entire town was booked, I had looked and called around to many places and everything was full. This town with 62,000 hotel rooms just on the Strip was fully booked. I was beginning to worry we would need to sleep in the airport. I went on and found a room at the Stratosphere for more than I would have liked, but Mike and I split the room the make the price as reasonable as possible.
It wasn't a late night or a Vegas night. It was a stay in a city to catch a flight the next morning. We went to the top of the tower and watched the sun go down, watched the lights come up, and drank a few over-priced brews. We walked around the casino a couple time until the beers were empty and the bed called my name. With a 6am wake-up call I wasn't interested in partying. No gambling, no debauchery, no hangover either!

Act Three
We're not in Kansas anymore! Oh, actually, yes, yes we are.

Our flight landed in Kansas City at 4pm and the cold wind cut like a knife outside the terminal. The news was saying, "Kansas City Slammed!". Not really. The roads were clear and the snow was no longer falling. After being in the west at 29 degrees and feeling not bad outside, the 34 degrees with the moist air wormed into the bones, and we hurried from car to hotel. Kansas City, KS rolls up it's sidewalks at night but we found a local Mexican joint that was out of this world!
At work the next day people from the Missouri side stated they hadn't been to KS in a long time. A mile and a half away and they had the attitude that there were flesh-eaters there, "We don't go there no more!" It was an evidently depressed economy on the KS side but I never felt threatened. Of course on the MO side we found a outside stage (were it summer it would've been rocking) and a Gordon Biersch.
After work was done I had a few hours to evaporate before the jet ride home (yay!!!!). I found a park north of Kansas City, Weston Bend State Park. The overlook viewed the Missouri River and some cornfields, the comforting sounds of an active rail system churning up from below. When in a flat state, any elevation warrants an overlook, I guess! I did a nice little 3 mile hike in the melty snow, only falling in a mud puddle a couple times (slick as goose poo that mud). Apparently birding is very prevalent here, signs littered the parks' trails explaining the tweeters that flit through the area from time to time. 
And then right before I got in the car to head towards the airport an owl hooted loudly a couple times. The throaty "who" reverberating through the forest and through me. Such strong memories of being out in the woods, sleeping under tarp or tent hearing the call of the Wise Old Fellow. 

The Mormon Bonus
No story about Utah is complete without a mention of the Mormons. There is a fort, somewhere in Utah, signs for the fort are displayed along the highway, along with signs for a respite area. So lured, we parked and were open to some local history. Half way through the introductory film the nature of the place became apparent. Church of Latter Day Saints. A required tour guide, and a free gift at the end! What could it be!? A book of Mormon. As to not waste paper or plastic I declined the book and the DVD as well. So as not to offend I wore a smile and nodded in all the right places. I did not drink the Koolaid however. The sneakiness of this tactic bothered me a bit, as there was no warning until you were already firmly committed. The 'Sister' was not pushy but made you feel a bit guilty for not accepting Joe as a prophet (or is that profit?)

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