Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ten Days in the Desert - Part 1

I've never been in the desert before, and probably my nearest experience of it (barring a nice empty beach on a sunny day) had been through watching the recent BBC David Attenborough series "Life in Cold Blood" where desert reptiles had featured large. So to spend 10 days travelling through the desert areas in Utah and Arizona to visit the many canyons and national parks there was an adventure packed full of new experiences.

I didn't know, for instance, that my skin would react painfully to the dry desert atmosphere, and was puzzled on Day 2 to discover I had chapped sore skin on my arms, legs, shoulders. I've only ever had chapped skin in cold weather before, but the combination of dry air, wind, heat and sun does an equally good job. The body lotion supplied at all the motels we stayed in was put to good use! My eyes didn't like the dry air and wind either; they were sore and went a nice shade of red. Eye lotion soon got that under control, and what I saw was well worth that little bit of discomfort. The trip was a most amazing experience.
Stunning Bryce Canyon
Spectacular Capitol Reef
My family, who we were travelling with, had already been to a couple of the canyons we visited, but most of it was new for them too. For the 4 of us in our hired 4x4 every day brought spectacular vistas, and for every day where we saw something that we thought couldn't be surpassed, the next day the scenery somehow got even jaw-droppingly better! We saw weird deep red/gold "hoodoos" (stone pinnacles) of Bryce Canyon. In Capitol Reef State Park the incredible colours of the rocks ranged through greys, pinks, clarets and greens, all in amazing formations. There, we did a 60 mile off-road scenic trip - dusty, bumpy, spectacular, and at the very end, exciting. We had to drive through a river to get back on the main road, and it wasn't just straight across, it was in, over to the far bank, then along for a bit before getting out up the slope.

"ET" in Goblin's National Park
Goblin Valley State Park is odd - full of strangely shaped rock formations which, with a bit of imagination could look like ET, or a sleeping Mexican, or Donald Duck. The elegant natural stone arches in Arches National Park form a spectacular frame for photo opportunities - but you have to remember not to step back! My tummy was doing daily flips and somersaults when I looked at views from the top of 1,000 ft high cliffs, or got out of the car to take a new large vista.

Just one of the many viewpoints
A few observations on the state of Utah. Bleak, barren, remote, forbidding, stunning scenery, impossible to tame or to make inroads into earning a small living off the land by farming. The native American Indians, who live there in the huge area called the Navajo Nation, were probably the best adapted to this land as their attitude to the rocky barren landscape is different and reverential in ways which the early settlers didn't understand. Utah was mined for uranium and much of it (outside of the Navajo Nation) is peopled by Mormons, as this is the state of the Church of the Latter Days Saints. The towns and settlements are small and modest. The Utans are polite and friendly, but quite reserved. Their faith is an integral part of life, yet there is humour in evidence too. The local brew is called "Polygamy Porter" with the strap line of the label saying "Take some home for the wives"! Barry & Hugh seemed to like it; the wives didn't try it. In Hanksville, a tiny townlet in the middle of nowhere (nearest place was 40 miles away) a guy working in the cafe where we had breakfast was wearing a t-shirt saying "Where the hell is Hanksville?" (Answer - middle of nowhere!). And in Kayenta, surrounded by desert, we wanted a coffee and the only place we could find was a Chinese Restaurant run by American Indians. . and our waiter was gay. It was a bizarre coffee break.


barbara said...

That is the experience of a lifetime, Joyce !

Your pictures are so interesting. Mother nature is quite an artist.
When I was a toddler, my Dad had orders for a Marine station called 29 Palms, in S California. It was really a desert, with all the daily problems like sandstorms, heat & the like.

He he; Mormon humor !
You take care.

Maylis & Hugh said...

Great pictures, great text!! Keep them coming! :-)
I already feel like going on another road trip...

Mellow Yellow said...

Hi Barbara & Maylis,

Yes, there will be more to come so thank you for the encouraging comments! That Mormon humour - I've dined out on that one quite a bit! And yes, another road trip would do me nicely - loved it, loved it!

J x