The wife (Cruella) and I are on the road again, this time traveling the highways and byways of the great American Southwest. We’re making a point of stopping at as many national parks as we can. Last year we purchased the lifetime annual pass, a program that allows seniors (over 62) to pay $80 for a lifetime pass for two to every national park. If you have reached that age or will one day do so it is the best deal you could ever hope for as currently parks cost between $20 and $35 to enter. So far on this trip we’ve been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. We will continue on to the Grand Canyon in a few days before heading to Los Angeles to visit the newlyweds and then home.
On this trip we have company. Our friends Powder Boy and Serenity (walkie-talkie handles only to protect their innocence) have joined us, having flown into Las Vegas, our starting point, from their home in Southern California. We drove to Vegas, a drive that tested our faith in the effectiveness of our hybrid car. We were not disappointed.
The less said about Vegas the better as far as I’m concerned, but I will say it was the first time I’d been there in probably 20 years and I was stunned by the way branding has taken over the Strip. Most every restaurant has a celebrity chef’s name attached to it no matter how upscale or down it is. Bobby Flay’s Burgers sits cheek to jowl with Giada’s Italian Cuisine. The Food Network presents Live On The Vegas Strip!
The other thing I couldn’t help noticing was how crowded the Strip was and how empty the casinos were. Somewhere Benny (don’t call him Bugsy) Siegal is weeping.
We couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Past the neon, past the explosion of building, past the enormous solar power farms (a good use for the desert), and out into the great American open highway. There is definitely a serenity to be found in watching the mileposts clipping by as you’re doing excessively over the speed limit because it’s just you and your companion vehicle out where there is nothing to be found but endless highway.
Our plan had been to spend the day in Zion on our way to Bryce where we would stay a couple of nights. But Zion, being fairly close to Las Vegas and now surrounded by sprawling suburbs has become the defacto backyard for tens of thousands of people. Park in the park? Forget it, park outside and take the shuttle in, along with three or four dozen of your closest hiking buddies. Arrival at the park entrance found it even more congested. The four of us looked at each other and without saying a word decided we’d bag the hike and get back on the road.
That’s when we discovered the true beauty of Zion National Park. The drive out presented spectacular scenery and some jaw dropping vistas, all of which we would have had to speed through had we hiked. Well there’s a good reason for lethargy.
Once inside Bryce Canyon we took an evening hike out to Sunset Point to, well, watch the sunset. It was pretty spectacular, but not as spectacular as the Sunrise Point the next morning
Bryce Canyon is a series of phenomenal views. The best way to see all of them is to drive to the view points, get out and hike for a bit, then get back in the car and move on to the next one. Eight stops in all, taking the better part of the late morning and all afternoon and requiring a nap afterward since, well, we got up to do the sunrise hike.
Hey, this is supposed to be a vacation.
The next day we headed out Moab, home to Arches National Park. Moab was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a dingy, somewhat out of the way location with a couple of hotels and maybe a restaurant or two. Instead we found ourselves in a bustling city with a lively interest in the arts and a very cosmopolitan feel to it. Kind of the little sister to Park Slope. Or maybe the mirror image since it’s more about the desert than the skiing.
According to the waitress at the restaurant we had dinner in, Moab has changed considerably in the last few years. Housing stock has become more limited as properties are bought up to be rented out on a short term basis (AirBnB) which in turn has caused housing prices to accelerate causing all pricing to inflate. Meanwhile just to the east of Moab is a popular dune buggy racing area that brings countless numbers to the town. Dune buggies parade down the street on their way out to the desert. But the desert is being destroyed by the buggies, to the point that soon there will be no desert to careen in, over, around, or under.
But Arches National Park is a total wonder. Powder Boy and I debated if we had stepped into a John Ford western or Lawrence of Arabia. Everywhere were soaring towers of sandstone carved out tens of millions of years ago yet looking for all the world like they had been hand sculpted by some mad drip artist.
Then there are the arches that give the park it’s name. Giant holes in the rock created by water rushing through that dwarf any human who stands beneath. Dozens of them throughout the park.
And the best part about all the parks? People come from all over the country to see them. Our California car was surrounded by cars from nearly every other state in the union. No politics, no debates, just Americans enjoying the wonders the country’s landscape has to offer. Everyone helping each other with hiking equipment or giving advise about what’s around the next bend or just sitting at rest for a moment and taking in the scene. Together, one nation, indivisible.
And then it’s off to the next leg of the journey. We’ll go out with what should be the national anthem.