Eye-popping Views and a Detour that Actually Wasn’t

In Travels With Myself on July 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

At Green River, Utah, the road leaves the Grand Valley, with its long stretches of unchanging landscape, and enters the Sinbad Valley. Within ten miles, the first hills appear on both sides, short, steeply sloped bumps in the valley floor, with bursts of green shrubbery. Then the road begins to rise slightly, the hills become larger and lusher. Then it enters some of the most spectacular countryside on this continent. Black Box, San Rafael Reef, San Rafael Swell, Eagle Canon; great geological parfaits of red, black, brown and nearly white stone swing into view around each turn and at the crest of the hills. The canyons drop down into the desert floor. These time-worn etchings are sometimes describes as scars. But I like to think of them as the Earth’s smile lines. Nothing tragic formed them; they are the inevitable signs of the aging of a living planet, growing mature enough to care for all its children.
About three-quarters of the way through the 106 mile stretch from Green River to Salina, the road starts to climb again, very subtly at first, then more clearly; for a full 20 miles the road rises, to, topping out about 7600 feet above sea level. Then it starts down again, 20 miles of descent. Going up, the engine pulls and struggles, tries to gain some ground against the constant hill; on the descent, the van wants to race ahead and needs to be held in check by the transmission and the brakes. At the end is a chance to rest in Salinas before starting through the last 50 miles that will go between the Pahvant Range and the Tushart Mountains and connect I 70 with I 15, the route I am looking for to take me south.
In Salina, I stopped at a small building with a big blue sign: the Visitor’s Information Center. Inside were three people who could as easily been sitting in those same chairs in that same semi-circle around a pot-bellied stove in an old country store. I asked them the same question I have asked at every stop since Pueblo: How’s the road to the west of here? I explained that I am from Connecticut, where hills don’t last 20 miles, well, I could use a bit of nice flat road for a while. They smiled. I 70, I was told, would not give me that; it climbs again before it drops down to Cove Fort and Route 15. The woman sitting to my left said, “Well, we’re all used to it out here. I used drive all over these roads for my job. It never bothered me.” Then they offered me a chair and asked about what brought me so far from Connecticut. So I told them the story of my road trip; and the woman who had spoken before asked if I was stopping at all the state parks, and confessed that she herself had never been to Bryce Canyon, though she was planning to visit it next year. No, I said, I was looking for something else this trip, something more like sitting in this little room talking to folks like them.
The lone man among my three hosts, suggested that I might do better to head a bit north out of town, up to Scipio. That road goes along the valley floor and does an end run around the mountains before it links up to I 15. It was a nice road with no big hills and would only add 10 miles or so over all to my trip. Wary as I have become of locals’ descriptions of the roads, I asked if I could see a map, having left mine in the van. The road to Scipio, it turned out, was US 50. Figuring this was a sign, since I had proposed back in West Virginia that I would take Route 50 all the way to I 15 in Utah, I thanked them very much for their help and their conversation, and left with an idea of once more getting off the highway for at least a short time.
It was a good choice. The road was flat and straight; and fine green fields spread out across the valley, breaking up, the dry sagebrush landscape. It’s amazing to see these farms carved out of the desert, and with all the heat and drought surrounding them, that they can still survive. When I got to the other side of the mountains and started down I 15, with the mountains off to my left and the Black Rock Desert to my right, it became hotter and dryer and windier. Wind socks in the center strip alert drivers to the strength and direction of the gusts that can sweep across the highway unexpectedly. I wondered if anyone had considered that this only works if there happens to be a wind sock nearby when you need it, and that by the time you see the wind sock the gust is already there and it’s too late to do anything about it.
When I stopped for the night in Beaver, I was told that the area had finally been ordered to restrict its water use; and to the east a small, new brush fire could be seen burning. It’s a common thing. The forecast for cooler temperatures means 60’s in the morning and only 90’s during the day; and nobody’s predicting rain, except east of the mountains, for quite a while.

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