Thursday, August 16, 2007
I write this after my first full day back at TimeHaven, as a reflection on the last few turbulent days of our trip.
I had a preconceived notion that it was still totally possible to make it fifteen hundred miles in three days. It ended up taking four days, but still seemed ridiculously pressed.
We woke up on the morning of our twenty-sixth day in the Silver Saddle Motel in Boulder, Colorado. We both had slept well, and felt energetic enough for a quick hike up the canyon on a well-maintained trail. Our caffeine was found at a local shop - notable mainly because it was by far the best we have had in nearly the last month; so good, in fact, that mom bought a small amount of grounds so we might make more in her handy "AeroPress."
Before making an attempt at serious evening and night driving, we spent most of the day going through the absolutely gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park. A little over half way through we finally emerged from the swath of overweight American RV tourists, and basically had the road to ourselves. We stopped for lunch at around eight thousand feet near a rather oddly shaped alpine lake.
Just outside the Western bounds of the park, we had another latté break before driving into the fading light on Highway 40. We wanted to make time, but couldn't resist the pull of 24 soaking pools at Hot Sulphur Springs. We tried most of them, my favorite being "Lupe," a piping-hot stone-lined pool that turned us bright red. The waterfall pool with natural rock sides was another high point, but many of the pools had mineral scum in them that kind of turned me off. Our grand finale was going into the recreational pool, where Mom impulsively went down the vertical slide, banging her head and sustaining whiplash. Not a relaxing end to our twilight soak.
Back on the road, the iPhone yielded very few decent hotels, so we thought in the dropping temperatures and tolerable humidity level that camping would be a suitable alternative and cost effective way of getting rest. We asked our host and waitress at the upscale restaurant "L'Apogee" (in Steamboat Springs) about the surrounding camping options, and ended up at Yampa River State Park, another forty miles or so down the road. I'd wanted to try sleeping the car at least once on our trip, so we decided this was our night. Pulling into a campsite, we got out our sleeping bags, lowered the seats, and slept -- for just over 5 hours. It was not dissimilar from the fiery depths of hell in terms of comfort.
We woke up at dawn the next day, decided to not pay for our unused campsite, and moved on into Craig, where we had a simply acceptable breakfast and then on to Maybell, where we found showers at the cityl park. Feeling bad about not paying the campground, we gave them double what they were asking for the showers - again, though, no one was present to accept our money.
For the rest of the day, we drove, with the exception of making a side trip to the Dinosaur National Monument to view some of its unique rock formations caused by massive pressure and uplifting of plates in the rock... It gave us both a sense of insignificance. We didn't see any Dinosaurs though. Bummer. Since Salt Lake City is basically the end of Highway 40, we had to go through it. Since I'm writing this with the intent of having people from the unknown read it, I'll go easy on my lack of excitement about Salt Lake City and its influence by a certain church. We had a heck of a time trying to get to the lake itself... we went north on I-80 a bit to an exit that appeared to connect to a street that went right out to the shoreline, but no! Of course not! Upon getting there, much of the once underwater land (mainly sand and salt deposits) was built up with thousands of cookie-cutter houses in neat but unoccupied cul-de-sacs, all bound to sink into the unstable ground in just a few short years. So basically, it was a maze, and we couldn't get back to the freeway. Eventually, we just gave up on getting to the East bank of Great Salt Lake, and resumed a Northerly trajectory.
We made it all the way into Burley, a humble (but oddly busy town) in Southern Idaho. There was one non-smoking room available at a Best Western, so we took it, and attempted a trick I thought might work - show the receptionist at the check-in desk a stack of bills, and say "I have $55, and I want a non-smoking room," but it failed horribly, and the lady had no idea what we were doing. At least we got a comfy room to enjoy for all of nine hours before hitting the road again, Portland-bound.
One would expect a lot to happen on the last day of a trip, but the most notable experiences were crossing the crooked time zone line into Pacific time, and getting absolutely craptastic milkshakes in the Gorge somewhere. Nonetheless, we went through a section of Oregon I was not familiar with. Like the Gorge, it's full of rolling hills and small shrubs among expanses of gold grass, but unlike the Gorge, it doesn't have the steady supply of water, and therefore completely arid. I got to thinking as we descended into one valley after another that a trek into that land would actually be amazing. No one would be watching it, nor would they ever have to find out that someone had been there. MIles away from the freeway there would only be the noise of wind and rustling grass - no animals, no vehicles, nothing. But that's just a fantasy. I was too anxious to do the last few hundred miles to give it any more thought.
Once we got into the Gorge, night was arriving, and driving became a chore rather than a pleasure. I did the last couple hours of driving - mom was getting tired. A few times we stopped to look at the stars, which were surprisingly bright for being so close to Portland. On our last stop for stargazing, we were lucky enough to catch oodles of meteors, leaving huge trails across the Milky Way.
Getting our first glimpse of the brilliantly bright Portland night skyline, I felt an immediate sense of intimacy with the region, and knew we were home.
I pulled the car into the driveway, the familiar crackle of the gravel a delight. Dad was asleep when we came to the door, but his abruptly awoken state was still the best thing we had seen in almost eight thousand miles.
It's good to be back.