Day 34-36: Feeling low in the High Desert

IMG_2103Leaving Las Vegas was easy.  I got out as quickly as possible, grabbing bite and coffee at Micky D’s, filling up the tank, and then heading out and up to Zion National Park.

The drive up to Zion was pleasant but long.  By the time I rolled into Springdale, it was after 2 PM.  Springdale is a cute park-town, with some nice hotels and restaurants and several grocery stores for those camping.  I picked up some food for the next few days (yogurt, fruit, a bottle of IPA) and some ice.

By the time I entered the park I was hungry and tired and so I made the mistake of driving off in the direction of the east entrance.  This drive takes about 30-40 minutes along switchbacks and into tunnels dug out in the 1930’s.  I was mesmerized by the beauty and then when I got to the opposite side of the park, I realized my mistake and had to back track all the way back to the visitor center.  Turns out, you cannot drive into the park-proper.  You have to park and take the shuttle bus.

So, I parked and jumped on the shuttle to get into the park but now the sun was starting to set and the temps were dipping into the 40’s.  I realized that I had at least another 2 hour drive to my cheap-cheap motel in Hatch, Utah, so my trek into the park was short and sweet.  I hit the important sights, but had no time to hike.  This was disappointing, but the scenery made up for it.

After stepping off the shuttle, I got into my car and drove, once again, towards the east entrance.  Back and forth on the switchback, up to the top of the mountain, then through the long, dark, and narrow tunnel to the other side of the range.  Upon exiting the tunnel, the setting sun cast a golden glow on the surrounding rock formations, hoodoos and fins.

Rounding a corner, I came upon a large white van parked along the side of the road, and next to the van a large family stood on top of red rock.  There must have been 14 children, all dressed in similar orange-colored gingham clothes.  The girls all wore long dresses with high necks and braided their hair in french braids.  The boys wore matching gingham vests.  There were several adult women and the photographer was probably the father.  This was jarring.  I can only assume this was a polygamous family of the orthodox branch of the Later Day Saints (LDS).  Man, mormons are weird.  Utah is weird.   I needed a drink but good luck finding a place that serves liquor or coffee out here in the wilds of Utah.

The long, winding road to Hatch was beautiful but dangerous as the sun set and the mule deer came out and onto the roadways.  Luckily, I was able to slow down and dodge a pair that had wandered onto the road in front of me.

By the time I made it to the one-horse, two-motel, one-gas station, one-Mormon church town, I was exhausted and nerve shattered.  Inside the Bryce Zion Inn office, a middle aged woman sat talking to a man.  I tried to engage them in conversation about the deer and the cold temps, but they seemed uninterested, if not wary about one other stranger stopping in their town.

The motel room was actually quiet comfortable, with a large flat screen TV and a fake fireplace that warmed the room.  Outside the temps had dipped into the lower 30’s and snow was expected.  I was relieved to have a warm room, despite knowing I was out in the middle of a strange place with even stranger people.  Talk about being out of my bubble!

After stretching and loading up with Ibuprofen, I managed to drive the 40 minute drive to Bryce Canyon.  It was worth it.  The hoodoos, the colors of the rocks that changed from orange to red to green to grey, the canyons, were magnificent.

I managed to do the rim walk (easy) and part of the Queen’s Garden walk (very steep and not good if you have any amount of vertigo) and then drove the rest of the park, stopping to take the requisite photos.

Having now traveled thru at least nine national parks on this journey, I have the park trek down to a science.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like a chore when you have to deal with pain as well.

Here is what I have come to:  cross into the park entrance using my Annual Pass, get the map from the ranger, pull over, check where the road goes and plan a route, follow the route, pulling over when photo ops present themselves, take at least one hike depending upon how my back feels and how much time I have.  All of this is done with the consideration of how much time it will take so I am back on the road to my motel before twilight and the wildlife become a problem.   So far, this has worked well for me, but I have to confess, it can sometimes feel like “work” than pleasure.  It might be time for me to start planning my route home now.

When I returned to my room in Hatch, I was hopeful to go across the street to the Outlaw bar and restaurant.  From their website, I knew that they served alcohol (rare in this part of Utah) and had a decent looking menu, but when I got their I saw the sign that read “closed on Tuesdays.”  Bummer.  This left me only two choices:  The Hatch Station Cafe, or the Hatch Diner.  Neither served anything stronger than soda, so I went to the diner thinking it at least had some character.  It didn’t.  And the pork loin was dry and the mashed potatoes tasted like bad margarine with canned gravy on top.  Sigh.  But this is small town Utah, not Manhattan so you take what you get.

The next day I woke with more pain, so much so I was in tears trying to stretch out my piriformis.  I felt discouraged because the day before I had walked more than I drove.  But I hadn’t slept at all the night before due to pain and the tossing and turning had taken a toll on my mental health.  I was broken, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

So, I did what I knew would help and I called friend, Tom.  He helped me realize I could come home any time and just knowing that I had already accomplished so much, I shouldn’t feel ashamed if I decided to alter my route and come home sooner.  That soothed my fragile ego and empowered me.

This journey has taught me to respect my body, take things slower, and realize I had the control to do both.  Again, the words of Steinbeck echoed in my mind: you don’t make the journey, the journey makes you.  So, if this journey is about learning to let go of some of my stubborness, to slow down, and realize that I can take care of myself, then that is what it is about.  I embrace that now and somehow, I am feeling slightly better.  Just the knowledge that I can go home and hold my head high despite not going to every place I wanted to, is the empowerment I need to start to heal my body and my mind.

I was down so low here in the high desert, but I knew, I could get out.   And I did.

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