Tuesday, April 21, 1992 Intersection of Utah 12 & Utah 24

Well, hopefully that meager path through the wilderness of experience I was talking about is sufficient to give you a feel for what it's really like where I am. Or at least allow you to develop an imaginative substitute. That, I suppose, is all a writer can hope for. Although the words convey little of the true complexity and the narrative little of the life, perhaps it is enough to let you fill in the gaps. Hopefully, too, my meager path through the vastness of this country is enough to let me fill in the gaps. For although I cannot see every box canyon or alpine meadow, I can see some and thus get a feel for their local variety. And I do occasionally find a gem. Quite a number of them lately. How do I know a gem when I find it, you ask? A peaceful feeling envelops me, my pace slows as I crane my neck in all directions or simply lie back and look up at the sky. The trees and rocks glow from within, quivering with their joy, inviting touch. I run my hands over their contours, press my cheek against their coolness. Usually, too, some trinket, some bizarre seed pod or bone will find me and suck me in, eventually make it's way to my dashboard and there join the jumble of similar oddities that jiggle and bounce down the road with me.

You may have noticed that my writing style has reverted once again to the chrono-narrative. As usual, my style reflects my life, and right now my life is a smooth flow of places and people. Southern Utah is a beautiful place and I'm very content driving and camping here. And the camping is truly stupendous. The Dixie National Forest is quite extensive; it's pygmy forest just sparse enough to allow lots of off-road spots. Every dirt spur is guaranteed to have a fire pit within the first mile, and there's no shortage of wood. It took me a while, though, to realize I could actually have a fire. Wood in the Northeast was too wet and in the South it was unnecessary, so by the time I reached Northern Arizona I was conditioned against it. Finally I jumped sideways a couple nights ago as the temperature dropped into the 30s: I am completely surrounded by the driest wood on Earth, and there's a fire pit right next to me! I quickly gathered scraps of pinyon pine and juniper (which I just learned today is the same thing as cedar -- that would explain the familiar smell) and crumpled up the various Park newspapers I'd assembled. The wood was so dry and brittle I could pull off dead branches twice as thick as my arm with ease. And contrary to my few attempts at fire-making in the Northeast, this wood leaped into flame at the slightest touch of a match. Warm, hypnotic and aromatic, I finally had something to occupy my night hours. Very, very happy.

So: after my awe had been returned by the sunset over the Grand Canyon, I went around by way of Lee's Ferry to the North Rim and down to Kanab, Utah. I sometimes forget where I am but am reminded by the scarcity of beer and sights like the following that I am truly in Utah: a man with I swear to God fifteen daughters in his wake, all about a year apart and all looking dead-on Little House on the Prairie -- flowered dresses and long pony tails. Their big, doe eyes stared at me in confusion, and one girl ran to her father's side in terror. I should have leered at them.

Anyway, I soon found myself at Zion National Park, a stupendous place that was much less crowded than the Canyon. Yosemite in sandstone, Zion's sheer cliffs rise up 2000 feet on each side, making hiking a rather strenuous and occasionally vertiginous experience. Beautiful, though, and lush and relaxing. The trails are mostly sand and smooth, warm rock and are perfect for barefooting. This confused a lot of other hikers, who mostly commented: "Toughening up yer feet, eh?" Two kids thought I was totally manly, and only one guy got it right: "Getting a better feel for the land, eh?" Better traction on the smooth rocks, too.

I should take this moment to thank my parents for raising me as a map-reader. There were some really lost people in Zion and in all the parks since. Many of these people don't even seem to grasp the concept of a map. Others seem unable to differentiate between solid and dashed lines. It totally perplexes me. I remember a man way back in Alabama, I think, of whom I asked directions. My map showed a small local road and I wanted to get to it. I handed him the map and he spent five minutes at least turning it over, right-side-up and upside-down, trying to orient himself. Finally I just asked him where to road to so-and-so was and he instantly directed me. I'm the same way with Berkeley, the city where I grew up. I can usually drive somewhere faster than I can locate it on a map -- simply because that's the way I learned it. The map view of Berkeley looks alien to me. Seattle, though, where I moved at the age of 18, is in my head entirely in map form. My mental picture of it corresponds exactly to the six USGS metric quads that adorned my wall for a couple years. Of course, not all maps are correct... My Rand McNally Road Atlas is chock full of mistakes, some of them rather glaring. But none comes close to the mistake the Grand Canyon rangers told me about. One of them owns a computerized direction-finder, the kind that, given two locations, tells you all the routes and turns to make to get from one to the other. When you enter Tusayan as your destination (the city on the South Rim of the Canyon) it directs you to the North Rim. Just 25 miles apart, true....

I drove out of Zion the next day and up US98 to Utah 12. Just inside the Dixie N.F. I pulled up a side canyon and parked for the night. I was in Red Canyon, the mirror image of (if slightly less intricate than) Bryce Canyon on the other side of the ridge. My campsite was a green pasture alongside a dry wash in the heart of the lumpy red hills and dagger-like spires. This was the night of my first fire, and I went for a walk in the evening to gather wood -- up the brittle, steep slopes, around the pinyons and junipers, and onto the mesas above. I cooked my ramen in the blue smoke and orange coals and went to sleep very satisfied.

The next morning I was awakened by the sound of human voices. I sat up and parted the curtains to my left. There, under a gorgeous blue sky, were a dozen or so vehicles. I thought for a moment it might be another hunting weekend like I encountered in Virginia, but that didn't seem right. I looked out the other side of my truck and saw more cars and a stream of people heading up the wash, all dressed in fine clothes. Craning my neck further, I saw an immense mansion in the distance, way up the wash. It was massive, four stories and three wings, with Versaille-style turrets. I couldn't figure out why I hadn't seen it the night before.

A lady approached my truck then and tried to open the door. Failing, she walked to the back and tried the tailgate. I called out, asking her what she wanted. She asked me what I was doing there and I replied, "I'm sorry, I didn't know there was a wedding. I'll pack up and leave as soon as I can." She said OK and walked back past the front of the truck. Following her with my vision, I saw her turn and squat, pointing back across the hood of my truck, and remark in baby-voice to a friend of hers, "Ooooo! Look at the cute Negro child!" She looked a lot like Barbra Streisand.

I sat up and began getting my things together. My truck was all a mess, like I'd been sleeping violently. While putting things back in their proper places I nicked myself on a broken beer bottle -- remnants of a party long ago. I pushed my backpack up against the wheel well and noticed for the first time that the side panel of the pickup bed was missing. I became very confused. Suddenly I realized what was going on and instantly woke up. It was a dream.

The next in the long string of National Parks was Bryce Canyon -- impossibly intricate, painful to look at, like some psychedelic xerox art. I took a long hike down into Fairyland and across the rolling lunar landscape, pink and white blending on the convex slopes below the spires. Bryce is one place where words don't do the slightest amount of good.

From there I continued on Utah 12 East towards Capitol Reef N.P. Not enough can be said about Utah 12, it's beauty is incomparable. Everyone should drive this road sooner or later, preferably in a car with reliable steering. There's one particular place called The Razorback which is rather tough on the nerves. The road winds, sinuous, along the flattened ridge of a thin finger butte, 1000 feet down on either side and no guard rails.

Just before this, though, I found Calf Creek Recreation Area, under the management of the BLM. Carved from the same Navajo Sandstone as Zion, this valley is just as beautiful and not nearly as crowded. A three mile path leads to what is perhaps the most peaceful waterfall and emerald pool I've ever seen. Also on the BLM lands is the Box Death Hollow Wilderness Area, someplace I'd really like to explore someday, given a week or two.

Seeing these places calls into question the designation of "National Park". Calf Creek is just as beautiful and only slightly less spectacular than Zion. Steinbeck said that National Parks are the sideshow freaks of nature, glorified by our government. He avoided them. Me, I've been hitting them all, primarily because they are Destinations and are guaranteed to have Sights. People, too. If the BLM lands were marked on any map I might go see them, too, especially in this region where the scenery does not stop at the Park boundary.

From Calf Creek, Utah 12 climbs up over a 10,000 ft. mountain and down again to the restaurant where I now sit drinking coffee. This is an unusual occurrence these days. Although I seem to remember proclaiming coffee as the Elixir of the Muses somewhere in Maine, lately it has brought me nothing but pain and misery, usually in the form of shattered nerves followed by a precipitous crash. Casting out my devils, I have been caffeine-free for a couple of weeks and have been finding my days far more enjoyable, not to mention consistent. Until today, and I don't plan on drinking much.

This entire time, ever since my cleansing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, my travels have been fruitful and full of wonder. I don't know how long this will last, but I plan on making the most of it now. Sensual pleasure is my objective and I've got the whole of Southeastern Utah to help me out. From there on into Colorado and up to Boulder where resides my friend Peg. She'll be the first friend whose house I've stayed in since Florida, and the first close friend since Tennessee. I'm rather looking forward to it.

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Chez Zeus: Writing: No Simple Highway: Southern Utah

Last modified: Mon Dec 10 16:06:15 2001
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