Out of the Mountains and Getting Nowhere Fast

In Travels With Myself on July 2, 2013 at 1:41 am

Okay. I finally made it out of the mountains. An early start this morning took me through the last of the foothills that stood between me and Utah. This involved a lot of twists and turns along a generally good road, one last climb (only a very gradual 4 miles this time), one last descent (I have no idea how long as my time was occupied with things like breathing, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white and trying to keep Taliesin on the road (which had me on the precipice side this time). Along the way I shared the road with construction crews ( at least 3 miles down hill on the wrong side of the road – the precipice side when I was supposed to be safely tucked next to the mountain side), truckers, people who think that 65 miles-an-hour is actually a sane speed for that road, two deer, three horses (and their frantic owner who was trying to get everyone to drive very slowly until her mares could be rounded up), and something that may have been a road runner. I’m sure it was beautiful, but I didn’t dare look.
I love mountains, but next time I’ll let someone else drive.
Then, when I reached Montrose, all that changed. The land flattened out, the hills fell back behind me, and I was in Black Canyon. From there, for most of the ride through Olathe to Delta, the towns are all connected, with US 50 running through their town centers. Beyond Delta, it was a gentle ride through the canyon to Grand Junction, the last city before the Utah line. To either side of the road, the valley floor bubbles up into little hillocks, lightly dotted with scrubby brush and desert grasses. Except for a few industrial facilities of some kind, and one or two ranches, nothing is out there to show the presence of humans except the roads. But it was a relaxed and interesting ride after the mountains.
I stopped to take a break in Grand Junction. From here I would take I 70 into Utah and follow it all the way to I 15, which would take me close to my sister Linda’s place in Enterprise, and I wanted to make sure I was ready. It was a good idea. I bought a map and a couple of other things at a small store and got into a short conversation with the young woman at the register. I had bought some Provence spices, and she asked about them. She noticed that the mix contained lavender and remarked that it was one of her favorite herbs. In fact, she assured me, a local gelato shop, owned by a real Italian fellow and located right on Main Street, sold a lavender gelato. This seemed so extraordinary, and I was so ready for a cold treat, that I decided to go looking for the place.
I not only found the gelato (they didn’t have lavender today, so I settled for a scoop of bilberry and one of mascarpone), but I also found a small square that had an “interactive fountain.” At exactly noon (and several other times during the day) water shoots up through a pattern of holes and grids in the sidewalk and keeps going for an hour or more. Children are encouraged to play in the fountain – so I did, of course. I took off my shoes and splashed for a few moments in the water spouts before getting back into Taliesin and back on the road.
I 70, which shares with US 50 at this point, was not very different from the US 50 I had followed pretty much all the way from Indiana. It’s an old, gray road patched with strands of tar. It runs straight ahead through the upper valleys that started as soon as I crossed into Utah.
Let me interject here that Utah is hot right now. The temperature reached at least 98˚ today, and even though I was able to keep cool with the van’s air conditioner, I determined to stop at every opportunity to keep Taliesin from running too long in the heat. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
I 70 enters Utah and a sign immediately alerts the driver that the very next exit has the last services for 60 miles. There are random turnouts and an occasional exit that doesn’t appear to be leading anywhere, but nothing like a town, or a gas station, or a watering hole. At 40 miles there is a visitor center with bathrooms and one attendant who hands out maps and answers questions.
This part of the trip was worse than driving down the mountain. At least struggling to survive, while trying to keep my heart out of my throat, gave me something to do. And every turnout on the mountain afforded spectacular new vistas to keep me entertained. But the high valley (a valley at 5000 feet above sea level sounds like an oxymoron to me) is essentially a vast mountain desert, yellow-green with dry grasses dotted with sage; and at every horizon are far distant hills and mesas and the mountains I had left behind and others that I would never reach. It’s hard to describe it adequately.
Imagine that you are driving along a road and looking out the window. Things close to the road go zipping by; as things get farther away, however, they stay in view longer. The house out in the field seems to be running along with you on the other side of the telephone poles until it loses the race and falls back; the line of trees on a distant hill keep pace even longer; and the pale white crescent moon hanging incongruously in the blue summer sky follows you for mile after mile.
Now imagine a landscape with no trees, no houses, no differences in color or texture; pale green and yellow, with a backdrop of brown and black mesas far enough beyond so that, like the moon, they follow you for miles. The result is a hot, dry, abandoned scene that never changes, mile after mile after interminable mile. It’s as if you had asked Scotty to beam you somewhere else, but no matter where he transported you, you ended up back where you started. It’s like driving on a treadmill, with the road passing underneath you like a conveyor belt and you not actually getting anywhere. Everywhere I have traveled so far, I have always had a sense that I was making progress. Today I couldn’t tell how far I had gone, how far I still had to go, or even whether there was anywhere up ahead to get to at all.
But I have made it through the mountains. And nobody ever fell off the edge of a desert. So I will head out early again tomorrow, before the heat of the day gets a grip on the valley. Soon enough I will be passing the Wasatch Plateau and the Pahvant Range and will then turn south with desert on only one side and the mountains on the other. Now if someone could only do something about this heat.

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