Thursday, September 13, 2018

Let Me Be Your Salty Dog

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“Standin’ on the corner with the lowdown blues/A great big hole in the bottom of my shoes/Honey, let me be your salty dog.”---The Morris Brothers

Two days in Albuquerque.  Two more in Santa Fe.  A couple in Taos, five in Moab and a grand finale in Salt Lake City.  People look at this schedule and wonder; is it exhilarating or exhausting?  How many times can you load and unload the car?  How about a nice two weeks on the Firth of Forth with an occasional hovercraft ride to Portobello or Kirkcaldy?

We get your angst.  It’s not for everybody.  We weren’t even sure it was for us. When we started this vacation business, it was a single-site adventure.  Several days at the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas, with a stop at Hoover Dam and a side trip to Sedona.  Another year, one solid week at Glacier National Park, the next year at Yosemite, a third at Rocky Mountain National Park with the requisite visit to the old hippie shrine at Nederland.  When we visited Yellowstone, however, Grand Teton N.P. was so close we added a couple of days in Jackson Hole.  The move was no big deal so we decided to trek through California, starting with two days San Francisco, then a two-night stopover in Monterey, the gateway to Big Sur, after which a stop in Camarillo to visit Santa Monica, Venice and L.A. with my sister Alice.  We finished up descending to Laguna Beach to check on my oldest living pal, Jack Gordon.  We didn’t find all the traveling and bed changing bothersome.  We went to Seattle, then Port Angeles to visit the Hoh Rain Forest and Olympic National Park.  Later that trip, we drove to Mt. St. Helen’s and poked around the Ape Caves, then dipped into Oregon, took a look at Multnomah Falls, ogled Mount Hood, climbed up to Crater Lake, stayed at Bend, drove through Eugene and finished with two nights in Portland.  Easy peasy.  Some might hate it but we thrived.  We never felt we were anywhere too long, never got bored.  If we felt the need to return somewhere, there was always next year.

As we remarked, it ain’t for everyone.  But is it for you?  You never know til you try.  Maybe there’s a hidden Jack Kerouac secreted deep in your persona.






(1) Rugged coffee at the Outlaw Cafe, (2) Scenic delights invade the windshield of the Moab-Salt Lake City Express, (3) Wind farms dot the trail, (4) Nearing the Big City, (5) Arrival.

On The Road Again

Occasionally on these multi-destination trips, a reconsideration is in order.  In the planning stages, Bill went back and forth on Moab--four nights or five?  He decided Arches National Park might require two days and booked five nights at The Gonzo Inn only to discover Arches would be wrapped up nicely in a day.  Sometimes you have to call an audible.  We went to the Gonzo desk, told them we’d be leaving a day early and they could keep the change.  To their credit, they wouldn’t hear of it.  We compromised on half the rent and lit out for Salt Lake City.  Some might ask why not take it night by night, reserve for a day or two and extend it by the day.  Not possible in a tourist town no bigger than Moab.  You’ll be sleeping in your car, something we learned years ago when we got stuck at a motel full of crazed bikers in Babb, Montana.

The drive to Salt Lake is just under four hours, the first part via rural U.S. Rte. 191, most of the balance over scenic interstate highways 70 and 15.  Before you get to SLC, you might want to turn off the highway at American Fork and mosey on over to the Timpanogos Cave National Monument in the Wasatch Mountains for a stiff hike and, if you make it inside the cave, some real relief from the heat.  It’s 46 degrees Fahrenheit in there.  Unfortunately, they only let a few people a day inside to keep it that way.  It might be just as well.  We noticed miner’s helmets and knee pads at the entrance, which suggests crawling around in the dark in a refrigerator.  We had enough trouble in the Ape Caves, where it was 20 degrees warmer.

There are actually three caves at the monument, Timpanogos, Hansen Cave and Middle Cave, interconnected by man-made tunnels blasted out in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, a merry band of jokers which rambled around the country in those days blowing things up and having a great old time.  These caves are full of speleothems, among them helictites--hollowed, twisted, spiraling straws of deposited calcite or aragonite, formed when water travels through the tube and then evaporates.  Also available for your inspection are flowstone, cave popcorn, cave drapery and the requisite stalagmites and stalactites.  We immediately phoned our geologist pal Chuck LeMasters back in Jonesville, Florida, figuring he’d be on the next plane, but his pup Timmy had a presentation at pre-school the next day and Chuck demurred.  It’s virtually impossible to get LeMasters out of the house these days.








Images from the Timpanogos Cave trail in the Wasatch Range.

The Hike

There is only one way to get to Timpanogos Cave—a strenuous hike up a very steep 1 1/2 mile paved trail which rises 1092 feet to an evelvation of 6730 feet by the time you get there.  Along the way, you meet grim senior citizens and children who won’t budge another foot, testimony to the laborious effort.  Little signs are placed in the rock every quarter-mile so hikers can measure thier progress or be chagrined at the lack of it.  You’d be shocked to discover what a chore a quarter-mile can be.

The trail is scenic and filled with well-placed signs describing the history and geology of the area.  If you are extremely lucky, you may see a bobcat in the nearby woods, as Bill did.  Reservations must be made in advance to enter the caves, which means a family hauling a passle of tots must cleverly calculate how long it will take to drag them to the top.  Arrive late and the Cave Nazi waves a niggling finger at you: “No speleothems for YOU today!”  Siobhan and Bill made it in the customary hour-and-a-half without much trouble.  Siobhan held out hope that one or another straggler would not show up and the kindly park rangers would allow her a peek inside.  Maybe they would have if she’d shown up in her nifty Las Vegas cocktail dress and stilettos, but her hiking outfit possessed insufficient charm.  We hung around for awhile looking for a sympathetic face and finally surrendered.  The trip back down was uneventful until Bill felt a twinge in an outer thigh muscle with 1/16th of a mile to go.  Usually, the culprit on these hilly descents is the shin area, unused to walking on steep downhills.  But that’s why they have massage parlors, right?  Okay, that’s one of the reasons.









(1-3) Timpanogos Trail views, (4) Bill spots a Bobcat on the mountain; Siobhan is disappointed at the quality of his find, (5-6) Trail views, (7) Entrance to the cave, (8) Hopeful hikers waiting for a peek inside.

Salt Lake City

For those inclined to resort to the nefarious Bucket List, Salt Lake City is somewhere below the horizon, perhaps snuggled in with Albuquerque, Kansas City and Des Moines as a paramount destination.  But then there is the famous story of a man from Arkansas who won a contest the prize for which was an all-expenses-paid vacation to anywhere….the French Riviera….Bolivia….Uttar Pradesh….and he inconceivably chose Salt Lake.  The ultimate example of different strokes for different folks.  There’s just no explaining some people’s tastes.

Maybe he just wanted to see Gilgal Gardens, a fantasyland created by retired Mormon bishop Thomas Battersby Child Jr. back in 1945.  The bishop named his place after the fabled gardens near the River Jordan where the Israelites had crossed on their way to the Promised Land.  Child and his sculptor pal Maurice Brooks spent about twenty years on the garden located on a half-acre behind his home, filling it with 12 original sculptures and over 70 engraved stones, one of them a sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith.  The acreage is loaded with strange carved images such as grasshoppers and disembodied heads.  There is even a life-sized statue of the bishop himself.  A visitor must walk a stone path to view these wonders, each stone of the path engraved with biblical or literary quotes.

Maybe the Arkansas Traveler just wanted to drive around unobstructed.  Salt Lake City’s broad avenues make motoring a joy, with very few traffic jams and plenty of parking.  Perhaps that contest winner was looking for an open-minded community.  Surprising to some, there are not Mormon recruiting booths on every corner and SLC was once (in 2012) named the “Gayest City in the USA” by Advocate.  The LGBT community is huge and the annual Pride Festival draws 25,000 attendees, including a hundred or so members of the Church of Latter Day Saints who show up to provide support.

Maybe the man from Arkansas was looking for a job.  Salt Lake has a few spots available.  In the space of a couple of days, we asked for directions a number of times with little success—seems everybody we asked had just moved there.  The International Rescue Committee and other advocacy groups have a big presence in SLC.  Each year, hundreds of refugees are resettled there and receive the help they need to become self-sufficient citizens.  We met a newly-arrived waiter from Cambodia and hotel workers from various countries.

Perhaps the contest-winner needed some help with his family tree.  The incomparable Family History Library in Temple Square is the largest genealogical library in the world and whoever is in second place isn’t even close.  The Library is open to the public at no charge.  It holds genealogical records for over 110 countries, territories and possessions and its collections include over 1.6 million rolls of microfilmed records onsite and access the total collection of more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials and other formats; 4500 periodicals; 3725 electronic resources including subscriptions to the major genealogical websites.  The Library will assign you a consultant when you walk in, if needed.

Oh, and if you need help getting around, the Salt Lake City, the trolleys are free.

There are tours galore in SLC.  We took a trolley tour (not free) which rambled around the downtown area with get-out-and-take-pictures opportunities at the fabulous Cathedral of the Madeleine and the spiffy State House.  The narrator, in his other life an actor, was knowledgeable, colorful and not shy.  There are other tours galore of the various points of interest, including the Mormon Tabernacle, famous for its unparalleled acoustics, where you can actually hear a pin drop.  Yes, really.

So maybe the man from Arkansas knew what he was doing after all.  Salt Lake is a sprightly city in a spectacular setting peopled with cheerful citizens.  The prices for goods and services are more than reasonable.  You can motor out to the countryside in no time or trolley for free to your heart’s content.  The impressions of a place we gather from far away are often misinformed, unenlightened or dead-wrong.  It’s even possible there’s something to be said for Des Moines. 








(1) The landmark tower at Trolley Square, (2) A stop on the tour, (3) The venerable Union Pacific building, circa 1908, a model for Disney, (4) Free trolley on the move, (5-6) Inside the Cathedral of the Madeleine, (7) Siobhan surveys the mountains in the distance from the Capitol steps.

The Last Word

And so, another vacation in the books.  We sang with the mariachis in Albuquerque and trammed to its highest mountain.  We invaded the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe and ballooned over Espanola.  We hiked the Ghost Ranch, soaked in the mud at Ojo Caliente, visited the Earthships in Taos and lunched in Durango.  Finally, we explored the vast wonderlands of Canyonlands and Arches national parks, an unforgettable experience.  Bill got an amazing birthday knife and Siobhan collected rocks.  There was even a nighttime boat ride down the Colorado.  We met great people, hardy fellow-travelers like John Whitehouse of Manchester, England, who is undoubtedly standing on a large rock somewhere as we speak.

All this is possible because of the administrative aid of the Ellison family, Stuart and Mary, the devotion to duty of Siobhan’s illustrious Pathogenes crew, starring Julie and Laura, and the animal-care talents of Janis Peterson the hardest working girl in show business.

Next year, it’s off to Idaho to make sure ex-Subterranean Circus staffer Mike (Jagger) Hatcherson is still rockin’ and rollin’.  Coupled with a revisit to Yellowstone, where we never got to see the waterfalls in the southwestern part of the park.  Siobhan says the water in Pocatello is the best in the universe, so we’ll have to bottle up a few gallons for Christmas gifts.

We hope our tales of derring-do and derring-don’t inspire the lot of you to make plans to visit the Great Outdoors while your arms and legs are still working.  It’s a miracle out there and it’s yours for the taking.  The Cosmic Arbiter gives everybody just one spin of the wheel so this is no time to sit back and talk about some day.  It’s up to you whether some day ever comes.

That’s all, folks….  

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Under The Russet Arches


Moaby Schtick

Leave it to the Mormons.  They come wandering out here in the late 1800s, bump into a landscape of gigantic rock formations and mind-numbing canyons with a spectacular river running through the property and what do they call the place?  Moab.  Can we have a do-over?

The Spanish gave us San Francisco, the English provided Providence, the Dutch contributed Greenwich Village.  The Germans delivered Anaheim and 42 Berlins.  Is it any wonder then that the residents of surrounding states promptly built a fence around Utah to keep the Mormons from running loose and malnaming further villages?  We don’t think so.

Right from the start, however, the name was controversial.  The original Moab was a Biblical name for an area of land located on the eastern side of the Jordan River, a city teeming with incestuous and idolatrous citizens, a refuge of sinners and used-carriage salesmen.  One petition in 1890 contained 59 angry signatures demanding a name change to “Vina.”  Another effort thought “Uvadalia” might be nice.  Obviously, these Mormons have a congenital disease which prevents proper naming.  Somehow, “Moab” stuck.

The current-day city is the home of about 5200, not to mention a significant batch of galumphing tourists stomping around nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks.  Moab is not particularly interested in historical edifices or museums like Santa Fe, nor is it a cutesy haven of the arts, ala Taos.  It is more a bedroom community to Arches and Canyonlands national parks and more than adequate to the job.  The people who come here are hikers, bikers, rock climbers, folks who’d rather be outside mashing through the underbrush than inside speculating on geegaws and tee shirts.  There are Jeep tours, jetboat rides, rafting adventures and bumpy UTV extravaganzas.  If you are an overfed schlub, unfit and wobbly, you can still see a lot through your car windows.  Put it on your calendar for further inspection.  And don’t worry, all the Mormons have run off to Namibia, where the government lets everybody have 65 wives.  Most of them are settled around the townlet of New Moab.

To be used for western river or moab adventure center only copyright willie holdman


Downtown Moab, Utah.


Arch Envy

Gargantuan Canyonlands National Park may be the bully of the bayou but nearby Arches N.P. is nothing to sneeze at.  A piffling five miles down the road from lovely Moab, Arches offers 76,518 acres of colossal sandstone fins, massive balanced rocks, soaring pinnacles and a raft of hiking trails.  Oh, and by the way, the name is not for nothing.  They’ve got arches.  Large ones, small ones, some as big as your head.  Give ‘em a twist, a flick of the wrist, is what the showman said.  We counted 2000 of the things before we started seeing spots in front of our eyes and gave up.  A nice scenic paved drive will deliver you within range of most of the arches and you can easily wheel your walker  the rest of the way.

You have a question.  Why are there a ridiculous 2000-plus arches in ANP and none in my yard?  A reasonable query.  Go get a pencil and write all this down.  Natural arches form in a variety of rock types such as limestone, slate, granite or even basalt, whatever that is.  In Utah, sandstone is the most common geological substrate for their formation.  Several of Utah’s sandstone bedrock units meet the favorable conditions of being strong enough to support the weight of large natural arches yet soft enough to be easily eroded by the natural processes of wind, water and gravity.  The region’s semiarid climate also plays an important role in forming and maintaining the needed exposures of these sandstone units.  Because of sandstone’s unique permeability and porosity, a climate that is too wet tends to destroy sandstone’s ability to form cliffs by allowing groundwater to leach out too much of the mineral cement that holds the sand grains together.  Conversely, a climate which is too dry will not sustain the perennial streams responsible for the effective development of the cliffs and canyons where arches most often form. 

Arch formation in Utah is also facilitated by an abundance of regional parallel joint systems or sequences of bedrock fractures.  These joint systems tend to be located on the flanks of broad, gently sloping uplifts or folds.  Many of the arches found in iconic places such as Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Zion national parks, for instance, formed along deeply eroded fracture systems bordering folds created during compressional tectonic events.  In Arches, subsurface salt migration played a role in creating these elongated domed structures.  In other areas, such as Zion National Park, more recent extensional tectonics played a role in enlarging preexisting joint systems.  Over time, these joints and fractures become exposed at the surface and erode into a network of canyons and rock fins ideal for the formation of arches.

Bottom Line: if you want an arch over your gazebo, move to Utah.  Otherwise, buy a poster.





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Hiking The Park 

The most popular hike in Arches N. P. is to Delicate Arch, the park’s logo superstar, a three-mile round trip over shadeless ground, often open slickrock.  The last part of the trail involves a rock ledge 200 yards long.  The park guidebook calls this trail “difficult.”  When Siobhan gets her park paraphernalia these days, she turns to the hiking trails page and crosses out anything that says “difficult.”  We used to do these trails all the time but she says we’re old now and we should listen to the Clint Eastwood of Dirty Harry movies.  Harry famously said, “A man has to know his limitations.”  Yeah, but how do you find out what they are if you don’t overdo it every now and then?

The second major trail in Arches is the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop, a four or five-hour perambulation which leads to eight fancy arches reached by traversing narrow ledges.  “Expect rocky surface hiking and scrambling on slickrock.  Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy” the book said.  “What?” I asked my frowning partner.  “It’s not a bit snowy.”

We took a shorter trail to a Delicate Arch viewpoint and went about halfway on the Devil’s Garden Loop, visiting four or five headline arches and avoiding narrow ledges and scary slickrock.  It was a very busy trail, populated by at least half the population of China, whose natives are getting out more.  We also visited the preposterous Balanced Rock, which looks like it could fall any minute now.  My hiking partner didn’t tumble over any cliffs, pass out from exhaustion or break her neck scrambling on slickrock, so I guess it was a good day.  Me, I like a little scare every now and then.  It comes from being a lifelong Red Sox fan.










Dead Horse Point

When we were sailing the Colorado with Captain Lee and his jolly tars, the captain advised us we should make it a priority to see Dead Horse Point State Park, one of the gems of the Utah park system conveniently located right next to Canyonlands.  Who’s going to argue with Captain Lee?  We tootled out there on the fourth day of our Moab stay and took a peek.  Not bad.  It’s bike-friendly and there are miles of developed hiking trails in the park, including a paved trail which provides access to some of the most scenic views.  Mountain bikers will find their bliss on the new Intrepid Trail System with slickrock sections, looping singletrack, sandy washes and incredible scenery.  The view from Dead Horse Point provides a spectacular picture of a sweeping oxbow of the Colorado River some 2000 feet below, an image you’ve likely seen before.

The park’s odd name is derived from a disastrous turn of the century event.  At the time, The Point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top.  Cowboys herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto The Point, which was fenced off with branches and brush.  On one occasion, the horses were inexplicably were left penned and abandoned, dying of thirst within view of the flowing Colorado below.

Millions of years of geologic activity created the magnificent views from DHPSP.  Deposition of sediments by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams and wind-blown sand dunes created the rock layers of canyon country.  Igneous activity formed the high mountains that rise like cool blue islands from the desert below.  It’s another Beehive state wonderland and, best of all, you’ll have the place to yourself.  The morning we went there were less than two dozen invaders roaming around, half of them wrapped around the smoothie truck at the modern visitor center.

Don’t forget to visit the friendly gift shop, where you can get a guaranteed official tee shirt with the name of the park emblazoned on the front.  Bill did, and when he got home a chipper kid at the Orlando airport piped up, “Nice shirt, Mister, but that’s not a real place, right?”  Bill smiled at the boy and nodded.  “It exists alright,” he said, “but it’s hidden away far across the land in a magical kingdom called ‘Utah.’  Only the best people are allowed in.”  The kid stopped in his tracks.  “Wow!” he exclaimed.  “I’m going there some day!  I can be one of the best people.”

“Make sure you are,” Bill told him, seriously.  “They check the records.” 




Next week: the final installment of this year’s vacation epistle as Siobhan and Bill wend their way west to Mount Timpanogos and the Mormon stronghold at Salt Lake City.  Hang around for awhile after the movie for a Q&A session with some of the leading characters and make sure you pick up one of our inexpensive CDs in the lobby.

That’s almost all, folks….