Saturday, June 03, 2006

Monticello, Utah

Cortez, Colorado

I think the most awesome thing about Cortez, Colorado—possibly the only awesome thing about Cortez, Colorado—is that the town has a police car with flames painted down the sides.

I arrived in Cortez on graduation day for the high school, and to celebrate the dorky kids and mostly their parents came to Cortez City Park to hear Ralph's Dinosaurs1 play the classics: "I Feel Good," "Born to be Wild," "Jenny (867-5309)," "Fortunate Son," "Turning Japanese" (by request). The cool kids were up the street, idling their cars in front of Gecko's Sport & Night Club and waiting for nothing to happen.

But about that car: This same weekend was the Cortez Classic Car Show2, also in Cortez City Park, in which lots of cars were parked on the grass, detailing examined, leather fingered, and hoods popped. The Cortez Police Department entry is not an appropriate car for the show—it's a modern Ford or Chevy—but it sits there anyway, perhaps to show that Cortez is "cool" and "with it." As they are, as only a town of 6,000 can be.

1 Name has not been changed.

2 Name has been made up.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Driving (I)

Sometimes along a long lonely highway I'll imagine I'm traveling with someone, her bare feet leaving smudged toeprints on the windshield. It keeps me sane, this fantasy, I think.

But I don't talk to this companion of mine. Instead we are the type who can be silent and content, together, forever.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hole N" the Rock

I have my first Confederate flag sighting 12 miles south of Moab. This is at the Hole N" the Rock (sic) gift shop, on a shot glass examined by a man wearing a "Live to Hunt—Kill More...Than Time" hat. He doesn't buy it, just sets it back in place, the flag no longer centered on the shelf.

I missed the Hole N" the Rock the first time, pulling off instead at a rest stop with picnic benches and Kentucky bluegrass in the middle of the desert. I was on the wrong side of the rock, it turned out. The rest stop was empty, though there were other cars parked with no drivers, as near as I could tell.

My tour group for the Hole N" the Rock comprised myself, Mr. Live to Hunt, his wife, and a young couple who might or might not have been with them. Mr. Live to Hunt was a miner who hunched over when he walked and had taken the tour before, which he demonstrated by saying, "That's the flue" just before the guide—a bored, dumpy woman who had clearly given too many tours— would say, "This is the flue."

The Hole N" the Rock is, for the most part, the creation of Albert Christiansen, a cook, miner, and part-time taxidermist. (His wife, Gladys, was responsible for most of the decoration and for the bathroom.) At first, Hole N" the Rock was a roadside diner; as Albert blasted more rock, it became a house, of sorts, as well. The restuarant closed after Albert's first heart attack in, I believe, 1953. 1 He died of a second heart attack in 1957, just as he was beginning a staircase to a new patio level. Gladys lived there until her death in the 70s; they have a burial site under a rock overhang a short ways away.

The thing about Hole N" the Rock is that it's the strange fantasy of a 10 year old brought to life. "It would be so cool! You could make a house in the rock!" Well, Albert Christiansen did.

Outside, there is a large bust of Franklin Roosevelt carved into the sandstone. "Christiansen was a great admirer of Roosevelt's," the guide says. The bust is enormous, and hard to miss when approaching the gift shop. Still, Mr. Live to Hunt snickers. The guide ignores him and dutifully continues on.

1 But I could have made that up.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Potash, Utah

Coming from the south, cross the Colorado and take the first left. There is not another left for 12 miles, so don't miss it. You will approach Potash from the north, because the only way to approach Potash is from the north.

Continue for 16 miles. The road will hug the sandstone cliffs and sometimes seem cantilevered out over the water. It's not. Stop at the petroglyphs, or not. Stop at the dinosaur footprint, or not. The speed limit is 50, but driving that fast is not recommended, as it is easy to miss these monuments and making a u-turn is often difficult.

You will see a man with poles and long bladed roller skates. This is normal; he is training for cross country skiing in the winter. Pass him. A dirt bike will overtake you, crossing over the double yellow lines in a blind curve, but this is also normal. Don't take it personally.

When you get to Potash, don't be surprised that there is nothing there, because there is nothing there. It's just a salt factory and a railroad spur, and the road turns to dirt where the tracks end. Rock climbers love this area, but you won't see them.

Take pictures. Get shooed away by a security guard. Keep taking pictures anyway, because it is a public road. He won't challenge you, and you have the law on your side.

Get back in the car and head toward the crossroads. Pass the man on rollerskis, now headed the other direction. Get passed again by the dirt bike. As you drive, watch the gas need drop farther and farther, faster and faster. The gas light might or might not work, and you don't know how big the tank is.

Drive slow, don't stop, and pray you won't have to walk.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Moab, Utah

It seems like everyone in Moab works two jobs: the jailer is also the night clerk at the Maverik gas station; the Moab Schools music teacher is also a server at the Moab Diner; the river guide I meet moonlights as a river guide (she works for two different companies). I think this is because there isn't much else to do in Moab besides work and drink if you're inside all day long. 1

Still, Moab's not a bad place, even if the Mormons abandoned it in 1855, probably because those Mormons didn't mountain bike, climb, or kayak. 2 The town today has bike lanes, two supermarkets (one of which carries "organic" sunscreen), and a topographic relief map done in Balsa wood of the region from the La Sal Mountains to Dead Horse State Park, which took 20 years for John Urbanek to complete and resides in the Dan O'Laurie Museum of Moab.

Moab's becoming a resort town, I think, but it's not quite there yet. The hostel still costs $9 per night, and the regional airlines that fly to the airport 15 or so miles away keep going out of business. But out-and-out-development is coming, and everyone knows it.

1 John, another river guide I meet, tells me that "Moab is the closest thing Utah has to a 24-hour town." That may be so, but it's still Utah.

2 According to some Utah cyclists I met, Mormons are also bad drivers.