THE LAST FIVE ...

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- Friday, April 21, 2006

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101 in 1001
American Road Trip, 1998


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Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:10 p.m.

From the desert to the mountains


St. George to Blanding, via the Canyon

I'm just not good about keeping up with this whole "let's force everyone to relive my cross-country adventures with me" series, am I? And with that, how many of you said, "Well then, give it up already!" That's fine, so long as I don't get any lame-ass, cowardly anonymous guestbook signatures. To be honest, I find insulting anonymous guestbook signatures more annoying than guestbook spam, which is pretty damn annoying.

But I digress. Story of my life.

It bothers me when I hear people talk about the Grand Canyon as "just a hole in the ground." I mean, I do it too, but in jest. I'm still in awe of it. Many of those I hear dismissing it as such are doing so without ever having seen it and as a way of suggesting they don't care to see it. Yes, it is just a hole in the ground, but what a hole! I'm glad I saw it from the North Rim first, driving down an open (except for the construction) solitary two-lane road through the pine forest to a tiny visitors center and inn. The trees and buildings blocked the view of the canyon from the parking lot, but that didn't bother me because beyond them I could tell the trees stopped while the sky continued and it added a level of anticipation that made the unveiling as I walked the short path through the trees all the more exciting. And being smaller and more remote, the North Rim has way less traffic, only adding to the experience. When Bryan and I went to the South Rim a year later and arrived for sunrise, we were there with two tour buses of tourists who talked and shouted, watched the sunrise, took their pictures, clapped after the sunrise, boarded their buses and left. After that, when there were maybe a dozen of us left, is when it became enjoyable again.

I'd love to raft down the Canyon, and maybe hike down to spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch at the bottom. I'd like to see it from all sides, but I have no desire to intrude upon the silence by taking a helicopter ride over it. It'd be fun to go back.



Blanding to Idaho Springs, via Arches

I think this was my most well-written passage. Maybe because I was tired from the long day and was quick and straightforward about it, not trying to be too free, too creative, too Kerouac. Sometimes I slip into a mode and just suck. I realize that now. Writing takes time and thought and consideration then further consideration followed by rewriting. Even Kerouac went over his words and rewrote phrases and passages here and there. Everyone gets so caught up in his free-flowing, hellbent style of writing without realizing that after those long periods of typing onto an uninterrupted scroll of paper, he'd go back over what he'd come up with.

Look at that: Digression, again.

It wasn't until Utah that I realized why the desert felt different. Sure, I'd seen great distances spread out before me from hills and mountains in Pennsylvania and the Northeast, but something seemed different in the desert. In Utah, I finally realized what it was: the color. In noting the comfort I felt at the trees on the roadside while cruising Utah 178, it hit me. There's a sense of adventure and exhilaration looking out across the red rock desert plain, but while breathtaking in the early morning or late evening light, the harsh reds, browns and oranges of the Southwest can be uninviting for an Easterner. There's no shade unless you crawl on several legs an inch from the ground and can scurry under a rock. The lush green of trees and meadows provides a promise of shade, relief from the scorching sun, and the unconscious knowledge that there's water somewhere nearby.

As amazing as the Grand Canyon is, it's probably just as amazing that gradually, over a relatively short stretch of a few hundred miles, someone driving east from Utah can go from the parched red rock desert to snow-capped Rocky Mountains in July. The landscape changes rather quickly along I-70, one of the prettiest interstates in America by virtue of its traveling partner: the Colorado River. So many of the mountain towns in Colorado seem like old-time sets, like they're only a decade or two away from ghost town status. It's not true, of course, but their locations in the mountains and valleys give off that impression by preserving much of what was built a century ago or more when the boom hit this place.

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