Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Utah Adventure Part 1 - Ever Changing Landscapes

The coffee pot at this Super 8 Motel in Green River is a bit distracting, noisily brewing our second pot of 'in room' java. It's a distraction that Kathy and I are enjoying however considering we didn't have any coffee at the Super 8 in Kanab yesterday, not even from the fancy brew station in the office. And coffee is definitely needed before starting out on our next portion of this Utah Adventure.

Our journey together wouldn't begin until Friday. I had just wrapped up a successful week with my real job in Radio Automation at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas. It was a fantastic show, with our product winning a 2008 Cool Stuff Award from Radio World. Kathy had met me at the Hilton Wednesday night and was experiencing some cool stuff of her own, including a call from OK Magazine with one of the most unusual requests she has come across yet. Wish I could write all the details here, but I gotta wait until after the April 23rd edition of OK Magazine hits news stands. Be sure to check back for all the details next week. She also had some interesting experiences with the local folk at Good Springs Nevada, but I'll let her tell that tale in her own blog.

Vegas to Zion....

Both of us on a good role, and excited to get out of Vegas, we hit the road Friday morning up I-15 toward Utah, taking an unrelated side stop at St George to see a co-worker of mine. Beautiful second home for my California friend, and experiencing the land scape I could understand why many from that state would migrate there. It was only the beginning of our true appreciation for this incredible state however, as being Kansans I don't think we realized the incredible beauty that Utah has to offer.

From St. George we shot up past Leeds and turned off on on State 17 through Toquerville, where just a short ways out we experienced our first quirkiness in Ash Creek. Kathy gets excited over some of the strangest things, so it was no surprise she would be forcing me into a u-turn as soon as we passed the Shoe Tree. Yes, a tree full of shoes hanging by their strings. I know, exciting stuff huh. Keep in mind I'm traveling with a woman that wants to buy land, create a road on it called PP Highway, and put a bottle out house at the end. A little further up the road after turning off on State Highway 9, we were stopping again at Virgin Utah, and Kathy being Kathy just had to get a picture of herself standing below the sign. She offered to take mine in return, but I didn't find the notion as flattering, considering I turn 40 this August (Steve Carell reference).

We almost missed our first targeted Ghost Town. Grafton is hidden off the road near Rockville, and if you blink you'll miss the sign toward the east edge of Rockville that points you there. You can tell that the area is an artists haven, with beautiful landscapes and the towering cliffs of Zion National Park nearby. There are still several structures from the 1800's settlement, including a church that appears to be well maintained. While we were there we spotted a local painter taking advantage of a gorgeous blue sky day, capturing a small, luscious green field and cozy little home perched at the edge valley in the shadows of the cliffs nearby. Definitely a good stop for ghost town enthusiast's and those just dreaming of a beautiful place to live.

After Grafton and Rockville, we reached Springdale and crossed into Zion National Park. Travelers should note you have to pay to travel this highway through the park, but it's worth every penny of the $25 admission (2008 rates). Huge monolithic red cliffs carved over millions of years that made us immediately feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of earths life. Awed at the beauty, then amazed at the ingenuity of workers back in the late 1920's who completed a mile long tunnel through one of the cliffs, allowing visitors to pass to the other side and beyond into the next valley below. It would be our first National Park on this trip, and just a teaser for the views to come.

Only Dummies speed through Kanab....

After leaving the park we turned off Highway 9 back south toward Kanab on State Highway 89. We probably would have turned north, but looking at the maps we didn't get a warm and fuzzy feeling about any other places to stay within reach that late in the day. Kanab is a quaint little town, but large enough to offer several choices of hotels. Home to the Kanab Movie Ranch, several westerns have been filmed here, from "The Outlaw Jose Wales" to "The Lone Ranger". We made sure to get a feel of the town, traveling all the way through to make sure we wouldn't miss anything.

On the other side of town we passed one of the local sheriffs officers sitting on the side of the road. Being my friendly self I thought about waving, but then realized something was a 'off' in his demeanor. "I think that's a dummy!" My proclamation sounding unsure as we made our U-turn back into town. Kathy now insisting that I pull up beside the cruiser so she can get a pic, while my mind racing to prepare questions to ask the officer in case I was mistaken. I wasn' was a dummy sitting with his eye slightly turned toward his side mirror, giving one the impression as you passed by that he was closely monitoring your movements. "I guess that's one way to save the tax payer!" Now giddily amused at our find, we head back to the main intersection, ready to turn East to explore the rest of the town. At the other end we passed by another officer on the side of the road, and Kathy was already squawking for me to slow down least until we saw him turn his head. Enough of that quirkiness, we got a room and called it a night.

If you ever go through Kanab, make sure to stop and eat at Houston's Trails End. Talk about your hometown goodness with a touch of Old West flare! The waitresses wear gun holsters to keep their pen and tickets handy, and greet you with a darling smile. And the food, oh my the food...I had a Spanish Omlet that morning that could have been my only meal of the day. Stuffed with all that you would expect, then add in a special seasoned taco meat...YUM YUM. Just thinking about it, I may have to go find myself a snak before finishing this blog...I'm hungry all over again.

Kanab to Green River...Are we on another Planet?

After finishing off a great breakfast at Houstons, we traveled north on 89, then East on Highway 12. First on our agenda that morning was Bryce Canyon National Park, a must see attraction into the weird wonders of mother natures force. Carved out of the sides of a Canyon, huge spiral columns of red rock give the appearance of giant stilagmites as you peer over their incredible beauty toward the valley below. Looks like the National Park calls them Hoodoos, but what ever they are, I had no idea we had such enormous beauty in Utah. There are lots of hiking trails through the hoodoos, so if you're in shape and want an adventure, this is a great stop. It will cost you another $25 (2008 rate) to get into the park. Kathy had the foresight to purchase an Annual National Parks pass ($80- 2008 rate) back at Zion, so we were covered.

After Bryce, we started back down into the valley below to check out some Ghost Towns near Cannonville. All that remains really is a cemetery and a couple of old, falling down houses that used to be Georgetown. This was also the first time we noted how desolate and unwelcoming the landscape was in this part of Utah. I couldn't imagine how anyone could live off this land, though the beauty that surrounds it is nice. Very dry, dusty and overall seems to be unsupporting of life back in the Old West...I guess there could have been more water back then, but it's not there anymore, and neither are the Ghost Towns we were out to seek.

Continuing on Highway 12 through Henryville, the road changes to "A Journey Through Time Bye-Way". This stretch to Escalante was just unreal. The grey rock and dirt that cover parts of the trip are a sharp contrast to the bright red columns of Bryce Canyon, and you almost have the feel you have been launched to the moon. It's the strangest landscape we'd seen on this journey, and a great place to "drive through".

We made another stop in Boulder to see the Anasazai Indian Village State Park. Nice little museum and relatively recent discovered ruins mark the most northern evidence of the Anasazai race in America. Don't expect Mesa Verde here, but if you are an Native American history buff, it's a good stop. We couldn't stay long as we still had plenty of Utah to cover, so on up Highway 12 we went, turning east on Highway 24 to our next target, Capital Reef National Park and the Ghost Town of Fruita.

Now this was right up Kathy and I's alley. The drive to the park was nice I guess, but inside was more incredible views of the Monolithic Red cliffs, with a beautiful green valley that was home to many until the 1950's. Fruita's economy appeared to be dominated by Cherry Orchards, and several building's have been well maintained for visitors to catch a glimpse of what life was like.

While stopped at one of the historic buildings we spied a barn off the side of the road with a couple of horses milling about. I thought it would be a good picture opportunity to get Kathy petting one of them, so I called one over. It seemed eager enough to greet us, but as soon as Kathy reached out to pet it, the horse bit her arm. It was just a nip, but made Kathy re-think what she believed was her natural animal magnetism.

Just beyond Fruita is a scenic drive that takes you along the path of the pioneers. It's a slow go, and will cost you $10 (2008 rate), or National Parks Pass, but a good journey back in time eventually through a Gorge that towers above you closely on each side. We almost felt claustrophobic in some places, but the incredible surroundings were enough to push on. At the end of the road you park and hike through the canyon another mile or so to see an authentic Pioneer Register carved into the canyon walls. There's also a couples of Petroglyph's from ancient Indians along the way that give you a real since you've stepped back in time. For us, definitively worth the hike.

By this time Kathy and I are worried about where we are going to stay the night. Our travel plans take us on northeast toward Green River, however it's late enough to call it a day in Hanksville. As we exit the park, the landscape changes yet again, becoming more desolate as we move on, and while I'm sure Hanksvilles a nice place, we didn't get the feeling there would be any Pizza delivery, much less wireless internet. So on to Green River we went, up 24 to I-70, then a jog east to Green River.

Next on the agenda, more incredible Utah beauty in State and National Parks, then some more of what we really came to Utah for....Ghost Towns of the American West.

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