Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Red Sandstone and Saints

We’ve been in the red state of Utah for almost two weeks and we’ve learned a few things. First, the natural beauty and abundance of National Parks make this state a great place to spend lots of time. Second, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) is the underlying drone to nearly all of the harmonies that play out across this land. And third, the Church was very much involved in the economic history and settlement of the state and subsequently continues to have difficulties with the Federal government over many things. Historically, the church lost out on the subject of marriage equality ( ie. polygamy) but currently fights over Federal lands are alive and well. It seems pretty clear why the overpowering lyrics here contain the lines, “Don’t tread on me”. That being said, we have had nothing but gracious interactions with practically everyone we met.

Rehearsal of Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra
To get better acquainted we conducted a serious immersion program in Salt Lake City by accepting the LDS-sponsored shuttle from the KOA campground, which  included a drive-by tour of Temple Square, suggestions for our visit, and a ride home at day’s end. We followed some of their advice and toured the visitor’s center, where we were squired around by a couple of sweet Mormon Sisters, who, like young male missionaries who come to your door, were giving a year of service to share their faith with folks like us who are polite enough to listen. We also looked up our long -dead ancestors at the Family History Library, and very much enjoyed a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 

Straying from the program, we also enjoyed a visit to the public library and a stroll through downtown. It appeared to us there were unusually high numbers of folks asking for handouts and sleeping on the streets in the area surrounding the opulent walled-in Temple Square which occupies several blocks in the center of town. This was similar to our experience at the edge of town where we had considered boondocking at the Wal-Mart. We had been quite excited about the covered 13- foot-high garage and the warm welcome from the management, but soon found there were a number of very decrepit vehicles and unhappy people hanging around the premises. Our discomfort resulted in a move to the KOA.
Fall Roundup on Utah State Route 89
After our day in SLC we were eager to leave the city and braved the freeway through the rest of urban Utah (a 150-mile strip from Ogden through SLC and ending at Provo) finally landing in the land of red earth and Mormon pioneer farms. Soon we had a delightful encounter with a 200-head cattle drive on a narrow, twisty mountain road and experienced the 10,500 foot altitude at Cedar Breaks National Monument, which confirmed our suspicions that we really are sea-level girls. 

Antelope Canyon (near Page, AZ) was breathtaking
Now, having ascended the Colorado Plateau repeatedly and having descended into countless river valleys, we’ve decided there are many reasons why we prefer looking up at red sandstone magnificence rather than looking down on it. We reached this realization from several experiences: the first being our visit to Zion National Park.  Unfortunately it fell on the weekend that apparently all of Las Vegas was celebrating Indigenous People’s Day by communing with nature. The shuttle ride up Zion Canyon reminded us of the Boston MTA on the way to Fenway Field. But at the end of the road, when we got out and walked up the Virgin River canyon, it was serene and comforting to be surrounded by sheer cliff walls of deliciously tinted red sandstone. We felt the same when we (again accompanied by way too many people) experienced the luscious walls of Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon carved by flash floods through soft red and gray sandstone. It was stunningly beautiful.
All American Road Utah SR 12 starts in Red Canyon
The alternative to being at the bottom of a canyon is being on top of the mesas, buttes, ridges and plateaus that rim them. This was our experience at Bryce Canyon and along the All American Road known as Scenic Byway 12 which runs through beautiful Red Canyon, past Bryce National Park all the way to Torrey, Utah. One of the most exciting parts of this road is Hogback Ridge where the land drops away from the shoulder-less road on both sides, the next level place being thousands of feet below. It reminded us a lot of  Montana's Beartooth Highway. When driving these stretches Liz reminds herself it’s just a road like all others, the point being to stay between the lines, and Janna keeps her eyes shut. We got to Arches National Park and enjoyed these kinds of views from the big screen in the Visitor Center, then went on to bicycle and camp along the river, happily looking up at the beautiful canyon walls.

Another interesting stop along the way was Angel Canyon, home of Best Friends Animal Society. Janna had time to practice her new musical instrument, while Liz toured the 4000-acre center, home to over 1500 animals, including many dogs, cats, horses, parrots, rabbits and wild animals as well. We enjoyed the $5 vegetarian buffet at their Angel Café, a nice surprise and well-kept secret. 

Colorado River near Moab, at sunset
The past couple of days we’ve been enjoying the interesting town of Moab, filled with athletic looking people of all ages who drive monster all-terrain vehicles or muddy mountain bikes. We shopped at the well-stocked community co-op; also found a few items at a unique outdoor retail establishment called the Gearhead; and did some trading with a business called Gear Trader. Liz got a music lesson in the park from a local fiddler and Janna got a Skype music lesson using the internet at the local library. Now we are headed further south and east to San Juan County (Utah that is), then on to Colorado, with Lilypad sporting a new bike rack.


  1. In 1997 a friend and I visited Zion National Park, in June, with almost no one around...It was unusually hot, and we made the questionable decision to ascend a steep, long trail to reach the access point, way up on the plateeau, to Angel's Landing: a tiny round mesa about 30 -40 feet in circumference (as I recall), connected with the main plateau only by a slim (3-4 foot wide) drooping connector of land, maybe 30 yards long--with a very profound sheer drop to the valley floor on either side. My friend Jennifer and I balked once we were facing the "link" to Angel's Landing. Then we saw a woman who appeared to be in her 60s or 70s literally striding toward us along that connecting strip. We looked at each other and said, "If she can do it, we can." I focused on not tripping. We made it across and back (as you may infer). Exhilarating to be on a "spot" of land with, I don't know, maybe 1500 foot drops around 340 degrees of it! It was rather like being in a basket up in a hot air balloon. But more scary. At any rate, Zion remains a beautiful experience in my memory. Angel's Landing plus those sandstone canyons....

  2. We heard about Angel's Landing and decided we were two 60+ and 70 year olds that would stay on the canyon floor. I greatly enjoyed the drive east of the tunnel, but Janna refused to go out that way so we ended up 120 miles out of our way...it got us on an interesting Navaho Nation road that went by huge piles of what looked like fossilized herbivore dinosaur dung. Not the sort of thing one reads about in most travelogues. Now we are in a commercial campground in Cortez, CO, watching SF pound KC. Are you still up for a visit in late November or early December? Send us an email with your availability.