American desert panoramas

Highway driving in Arizona can be as much fun as stopping at tourist destinations
from Wiki commons, this phenomenal photo shows the effects that create graupel

{as always, click images to enlarge}

When I took my suitcase out to the car this morning, it was snowing!! And there was about an inch of fresh graupel on my car (no, the meteorologist has not been erased from me – though I haven’t worked for the NWS since 2003). Mom’s husband Jim has been looking up my location on his atlas this entire week, so I’ve been keeping them updated on where I am. He told me that the reason it’s so cold here could be because the elevation of Flagstaff is 7000 feet. Aha! Good reason.

I gassed up for reasonable prices again this morning. The lowest prices I have seen the whole trip were in Payson, Arizona at $3.35 a gallon for regular. The highest so far has been near Bakersfield, California, on a huge truck stop sign flashing gigantic red lights: “ONLY $4.27 a gallon!” Funny how salesmen think that adding the word “only” will fool us into thinking we’re getting a bargain.

My trusty dragon wagon

Serendipity has favoured me with stellar highways this week. I continue to choose my route according to the compass orientation of the little red squiggles on my maps. So far the rewards have been better than I could have hoped for. Today I got up early and was on the highway early, chanting to myself “I will make good time today.” (like Annette Bening in American Beauty “I will sell this house today.”) It tore at my heart to speed past vast American panoramas that were screaming at me to be photographed. I acquiesced in part by snapping photos through the car windows (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) as I flew through northern Arizona and southern Utah along highways marked Speed Limit: 80 mph. It was surprising how good some of the pictures turned out.

Along Vermilion Cliffs Scenic Drive
Flags and cliffs

On AZ Highway 89a, I passed a sign that said Vermilion Cliffs Scenic Drive and thought that sounded promising. Well, look at the photos and decide for yourself. Incredible! I was compelled to pull

The Grand Canyon is less impressive here, but still awesome

over for photos a couple of times. I rolled across a bridge over what should have been an inspiring canyon, but everyone was looking up, not down. I pulled over and saw that California Condors were giving a show, diving in the wind. By the time I got parked and got my gear out onto the bridge, the condors had tired of showing off for tourists. I only managed a couple blurry shots. The giant bird I captured is tagged on one wing. I also snapped some photos of the canyon and moved on once more. I was so caught up in the birds that I eventually drove on, and didn’t find out till after my trip that the canyon is actually THE Canyon! It’s farther upstream of the Grand Canyon, which I did not visit due to time constraints.

Let me tell you once again about my serendipitous day: Zion National Park. I saw that Highway 9 in southern Utah crossed eventually over to the Interstate, so I took that route. Damned if I didn’t end up smack in the middle of my favourite National Park in the country. I texted my mother “I am a spaz, but hopefully it’s endearing.”

Remarkably fine photo taken from inside the car at approximately 70 mph

Ever since Hoby took his science class to Zion on a high school field trip back in the 1980s, this has been my favourite park. I visited it on a winter trip years later, and now I am here again in warmer months. Since I had to pay $25 to drive through, I was tempted to pay a little extra for a year pass. I want to come through when it’s a little warmer, and camp for three nights maybe, and get a really good look at the place. Ah well. “I must make good time today.” I surpassed even my own expectations of myself by dragging my camera kicking and screaming through that incredible park in only about 30 minutes. If that isn’t a sin, I don’t know what is.

In case you’re wondering why the rush, it’s because my daughter gets home on the plane at the Portland airport at 1:30pm Saturday. I need to be there to pick her up. Since it took me three days to get to Arizona, I’m guessing it will take me three days to get back.

looking out from the tunnel

Radio is sparse in this part of the country, so I have relied quite a bit on my iPod. I’ve got news (LinkTV, BBC, NPR), music, and stories from I finished Pope Joan, which was a very good read. Listened to a bunch of interviews with authors, and lamented the fact that I didn’t put more books on my mobile device before I left. Eventually, iPod options exhausted, I found an actual news station at one point, and heard there is a Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon opening tonight.

windows of the tunnel from the outside

I can’t wait for an opportunity to see it because many years ago I was a Mormon, and I’m sure the jokes will be a riot because I’ll have a little insight. Of course there is controversy about the musical, but people who have actually SEEN it – including LDS who have seen it – say the message very sweet, and actually is respectful of Mormon beliefs, if you can get over the colorful language.

OK! Back on the Interstate it was easier to put miles behind me. I put all my will into getting as far north as I could while I was still awake enough to drive safely. The corridor of communities serving Salt Lake City is as bad as those I drove through around Phoenix – 8 lanes of frantic traffic made worse by construction. Yipes! I made it as far as Layton, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City.

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