high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Taste of the West: Main Course

The next part of the journey from Columbus to Irvine took Divya and I through two of the three national parks we would see along the way. The first of these was Arches National Park...

Part III: Frisco to Arches National Park

Upon entering Utah, we were welcomed with the standard greeting of "Welcome to (insert name of state)!"  You can see on the sign that there is an image of a stone structure.  This is an arch.  Specifically, we would find out later, it is an image of Delicate Arch.  A picture of the actual Delicate Arch will appear later in this post.  If you think that the state of Utah must be proud of Delicate Arch to put it on their greeting sign, then I think you are probably correct.  However, it should be noted that there are a limited number of things to choose from in Utah which are worthy of putting on a greeting sign.  Notice that behind the greeting sign in this picture is a whole lot of nothing.  I had been told that Utah is somewhat desolate, and indeed it is.

Being an NBA basketball fan from a young age, I'm familiar with the various teams in the league, as well as the fact that teams occasionally move to new cities.  Sometimes when this occurs the team keeps their name, even though the name has no connection to the new city.  For example, the current Los Angeles Lakers actually originated in Minneapolis, where there are many lakes.  Get it?  Well, the Utah Jazz are another such example.  The Jazz originated in New Orleans, which coincidentally is now the home of the New Orleans Hornets, a team that came from Charlotte.  New Orleans clearly has a rich history of jazz, but the extent of the irony found in the fact that the Jazz are now located in Utah did not hit me until I saw Utah in person.  Let me assure you that there is nothing - nothing - jazzy about Utah.  A much more appropriate name would be the Utah Arches.  But then the Arches would probably just end up moving somewhere like Baltimore.    
This is one of the more popular arches at Arches National Park.  It is called Landscape Arch.  It is very long, but it's hard to tell the scale in this picture because people are not allowed to stand under Landscape Arch.  This is because back in the 70's (I believe), a portion of Landscape Arch broke away and came crashing to the ground where people had been sitting just shortly before, enjoying a close-up view.

From the start of our trip I knew we would be going to Arches National Park, but I honestly didn't know until we got there that the reason the Park is named "Arches" is because they, in fact, have lots of arches.  I just thought the name came from some person who had discovered or developed the Park way back when.  You know, like Jebadiah Arches, explorer of the West.
Here are two arches commonly called The Windows.  If things look pretty dry to you in Utah, you have developed an accurate idea of how things are there.  It is very, very dry.  So dry that they have warning signs about drinking water at the start of various hiking trails.  Knowing that it was important to have a supply of drinking water, even while driving in the car, we decided to stop at a small gas station/convenience store we came to on our way into the Park because we didn't know if water would be available inside the Park.  I grabbed two gallons of water, a lighter for starting a fire in the evening, and proceeded to the cash register.  The total?  $10.79.  For two gallons of water and a lighter.  Remember how Utah is all desolate and there's nothing for miles and miles?  Well, the result is that this convenience store owner (Papa Joe's Grab n' Go is the name of the place) basically has a corner on the market and can therefore gouge people.

We would find out later that there is a small town called Moab on the other side of the park which has a grocery store selling the exact same gallons of water for only $0.79 each.  So I guess the owner of Papa Joe's doesn't really have a corner on the market, just a strategic location off the highway where unsuspecting tourists think he has a corner on the market.  I can console myself about being gouged by remembering that the owner of Papa Joe's, while he may be making a nice profit per gallon of water, is still living on the outskirts of Moab f*cking Utah.
This is what happens when you try to do the whole hold-the-camera-at-arm's-length-and-take-a-picture-of-you-and-the-person-you're-with thing, but there is a significant height differential between you and the person you are with.
After taking the previous picture, we saw some friendly Europeans approaching and asked them to take a picture.  This created the opposite effect in that we got full body shots.  No matter.  Here we are, Jay and Divya, in the middle of the desolation of Moab, Utah, with the candlestick.

Here's a little-known factoid about Arches National Park that you may find interesting: There are quite a few national parks in the country, and they obviously compete (to some extent) for tourists and each try to market themselves as a great place to visit.  But what you probably don't know is that there is an annual competition among the parks held in Anchorage, Alaska in which representatives from each park face off in various feats of endurance and toughness.  Events include rock climbing, cross-country running, a Royal Rumble-style no-holds-barred wrestling match, and a rattlesnake venom sucking competition, which is usually the highlight of the weekend.  For four years in a row now, Arches National Park has taken home the title, thanks in large part to their featured representative, Park Ranger Obadiah "Knuckles" Pritchett, reigning champion of the boulder punching competition.
This is a rock formation called Balanced Rock.  It didn't dawn on me until scanning through these pictures that I got my picture taken, sitting and smiling, under Balanced Rock.  In retrospect, I would describe the look on my face as "unsuspecting," or perhaps "oblivious."
This is a place called Broken Arch.  You can see Divya sitting in front of the bush at the forefront of the picture.  It is believed (or perhaps proven, not sure) that at one time a complete arch existed here.  To me, it seems like Arches National Park was trying to fit in one more tourist attraction, so they picked out two big rocks next to each other and called it Broken Arch.  It's actually kind of a nice spot though, and you can do cool things like....
...take artsy pictures with the help of the sunset behind you!

After visiting Broken Arch we headed back to camp and prepared our campfire for the night.  I'm no boy scout, but everyone knows that starting a fire is a big-time manly badge of honor, so I definitely didn't want to fail in this aspect of the trip, and did some extra research ahead of time accordingly.  I did a Google search about the best materials for starting fires (aside from basic kindling) and found that newspapers are one of the more common items.  I found this to be true, as the two copies of The USA Today that we picked up served very well to start the fire.  I was lucky enough to gain some extra paper material in the form of brochures given to us by some Jehovah's Witnesses who approached us at a rest area.  Finally, in what I thought was a supremely cool symbolic act, I attempted to burn the AAA maps for the states we had already passed through.  Interestingly, AAA maps do not burn well at all.  Helpful for navigating, not helpful for starting fires.
Here is the previously mentioned Delicate Arch (or as I like to call it, the Great Stone Bow-Legged Cowboy Pants).  As you can tell from the homo sapiens standing under the Arch, it is quite largo.

Time for one more factoid before we depart Arches National Park.  Most environments, even ones as dry and desolate as Arches, support some type of native wildlife.  At Arches, there is a unique animal called the Three-Eyed Drilby.  No, it doesn't literally have three eyes.  It has four!  It's just that one is hidden under a special tuft of fur and is only utilized for night vision.  The drilby, nicknamed a TED by some admirers, feeds on insects, foliage, and various fungi.  The drilby sheds its fur each year, and a scarf or pair of gloves made of drilby fur is a prized gift for children at holidays.  Drilby fur items are sold at some gift shops in Moab, and a few imitation items are sold for exorbitant prices at Papa Joe's Grab n' Go.  In an event very similar to Groundhog's Day, people gather at Delicate Arch every April 16th to see if a resident drilby will walk through the Arch when it awakes and comes out of its hole in the morning.  There aren't any supposed implications connected with the drilby walking through the Arch (like another month of winter), but everyone likes it better when the drilby does walk through the Arch. 

Part IV: Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park

Next stop on the trip was Bryce Canyon National Park.  This was really the highlight of the trip, as Bryce is a cool place.   We'll just look at few of these pictures without the commentary.  Feel free to click on any of them for a larger image. 

Some of the lookout points at Bryce are not connected to hiking trails, so you basically just park, get out, and see the view.  Well, crows are smart birds, and this crow figured out that there was no need to go around sticking his beak in the ground looking for bugs when it was far easier to just wait for the next platter (bumper) to drive up and park for awhile.  Then he could take his pick of the choicest morsels.
Apparently at Bryce, and perhaps in other national parks as well, they name the forest fires.  This one, as you can see, was called the Mutton Hollow Fire and resulted in the Riggs Spring Trail being closed.

Okay, one more factoid before we bring this leg of the trip to a close.  This factoid will be about forest fires.  Most kids are familiar with Smokey the Bear, the cartoon character bear who warns kids about the dangers of forest fires.  His slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires!" is oft-repeated, for good reason.  However, Smokey's friendly cartoon appearance is actually a reflection of the times.  Over the years, relations with children have softened a bit, and we have become wiser about the ways we get kids to do what we want.  The emphasis has gone from strict discipline and obedience to convincing kids that they want what we want.  Friendly Smokey convinces kids to be careful around fire because they'll be better people if they are careful.  But back in the day, in keeping with a more hard-line approach, Smokey was a fearsome vision for kids everywhere.  Forget about daddy's belt!  Smokey will maul you!  The message was "Don't start forest fires."  Period.  These messages were accompanied by videos of an enormous grizzly bear roaring, slaying people, and generally wreaking havoc.  Flash to an image of a bear roaring.  "Don't start forest fires."  Flash to an image of a bear overturning a car with teenagers inside.  "Don't start forest fires."  You get the idea.  These videos have been banned from YouTube, or I would link to one.
Unlike the Mutton Hollow Fire, the park rangers will occasionally do a controlled fire, which actually helps to prevent the uncontrolled fires.  This is kind of a nice picture of one of the areas where a controlled fire was conducted.  Even the burned out trees have their own beauty in the fading light of the day.

In the same way that the park rangers did a "controlled burn" in this area, I tried to do my own personal "controlled burn" while on vacation.  Just as it is important to drink plenty of water while out hiking in these environments, it is also important to wear sun screen, because in some places there is little shelter from the sun.  Well, being a shade somewhere between alabaster and eggshell, I'm usually envious of people who get nice and tan in the summer, and therefore was determined to get at least a little sun while on this trip.  Therefore, for the first day I didn't wear sun screen, planning to wear it each day thereafter, carefully executing a controlled burn.  The plan worked to perfection in that I got a bit burned on the first day, but didn't get re-burned on the second day or any day later.  Unfortunately, my timing was off, because by the time the trip had concluded I had gone through the burned stage, the flaking stage, the ever-so-slightly-tanned stage, and had returned to a fine, pure pale when I touched down in Columbus at the beginning of the next week.  Maybe next time I should just go all out and risk the uncontrolled burn.  Because, you know, Smokey is friendly now.
Speaking of burning, we've now reached the end of post 2 and will continue on to Las Vegas/Hell in part 3 after another couple days.

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