Thursday, July 19, 2012

The end of the road

Well, as hard as it is to believe, my trip is over.  I pulled into my parents' house about an hour ago and emptied out the (rather smelly and dirty) car.  I had a fantastic trip and the last few days have been no exception.

On Monday, I went white water rafting in West Water Canyon on the Colorado river.  The trip was amazing with about a half dozen Class III and Class IV rapids and more smaller rapids.  At least once I was tossed into the raft by large rapids.  More impressive than the rapids was the scenery.  The base of the canyon is formed by very hard, very old black rock.  This rock doesn't erode as much as the other stone, so it helps form the narrower canyon and shapes the rapids.  Above the dense black rock, red, pink, white, and yellow stone rose hundreds of feet into the air.

On Tuesday, I traveled the very scenic Highway 12 in Utah.  This road runs through three national parks and has additional national parks on either end.  The road starts in beautiful red rock area of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and then flattens into some rather brush desert.  Soon, white cliffs begin to rise in the desert as the road climbs these jagged peaks, before crashing down into another valley.  The road then curls its way up Boulder Mountain.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Boulder Mountain is covered in dense aspen and pine forest despite the desert surrounding it on all sides.

After leaving Boulder Mountain, the road enters the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  This park, larger in area than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, features such various geologic features as the road rises and falls with the landscape.  The highlight of the drive had to be the road on Hogback Ridge.  The road traces the top of the ridge for about two miles.  The narrow, serpentine road has a sheer drop-off on both sides, with no guard rail for protection.  Driving the road was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

The last park on the drive was otherworldly Bryce Canyon National Park.  The highlight of the park is the Bryce Amphitheater, which is a wide and deep canyon with hundreds if not thousands of "hoodoos."  Hoodoos look like large stalagmites on the canyon floor that reach hundreds of feet into the air.  The hoodoos are formed from erosion, but the sheer number of identical hoodoos is what makes this park so amazing.  

Just past highway 12 lies Zion National Park.  Although I drove down to Zion (and through the creepy 1.1 mile tunnel), I didn't get to really explore anything in the park because I arrived too late, but what I did see was gorgeous huge rock.  Some of the large rocks looked like just like Jabba the Hut - same coloring, same texture, same shape, only about 1000x bigger.  I would definitely love to go back to Zion and explore a bit more.

The final national park on the tour was the grand daddy of them all - the Grand Canyon.  This is also the only park I had been to before.  We had always been to the more popular and easier to get to south rim, but since I was already in the north, I decided to check out the north rim.  It was pretty stunning - as expected- but given that everything the past month had exceeded expectations, this was the first place that merely met expectations.  I won't say it was disappointing (because it wasn't), but the drive in and out of the park was mostly 'blah', so relative to the Utah parks, it left something to be desired.  To top it off, I got pulled over by a park ranger for speeding on my way out of town.  Thankfully, he didn't give me a ticket.

On facebook, people keep telling me that I have just taken the trip of a lifetime.  While on home leave, I wanted to make a point of seeing America.  I think I accomplished that.  Over the last four weeks, I have seen nine states, thirteen national parks and driven over five thousand miles.  I played in the World Series of Poker, rode a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, saw wild bears in the Redwood Forests, spent two weeks with one of my best friends, and watched Old Faithful blow its top (albeit a few minutes late).  I really do live in a spectacular country and I am so grateful I have gotten the chance to explore it.  I don't know what my life will be like on my next home leave in 2015, but hopefully I will get to explore another corner of this fabulous land.

Road Trip by the numbers -

  • 5,666.4 - Total number of miles driven
  • $53 - cost of the single parking ticket I got on this trip while parked in Venice Beach (I parked over the line) 
  • 48 - Number of state license plates that we saw, plus D.C., several Canadian and Mexican plates, and even a U.S. diplomatic plate.  We never found Rhode Island or Delaware.
  • 45% - Percentage of total miles on the rental car that I put on during this trip
  • 28 - total number of days traveled.
  • 15 - Number of shot glasses I purchased (I collect them)
  • 14 - Number of pressed pennies that I made on the road trip
  • 13 - Number of national parks visited  (Joshua Tree, Redwoods, Olympic, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon)
  • 9 - Number of states visited including Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon*, Washington*, Idaho*, Montana*, Wyoming* and Utah (* denotes state I have never visited before.  This brings my total to 38.  I hope to be over 40 by the end of the year).
  • 6 - Number of Christmas ornaments I purchased on the trip (our family tradition is to decorate our Christmas tree with ornaments that we buy on vacations.  This makes decorating the tree a trip down memory lane.  I may have gone overboard with six ornaments, but it was a long trip).
  • 5 - Number of film sites visited.  Bellagio in Vegas (Oceans 11), Goonies house in Astoria, Sleepless in Seattle House in Seattle, Lone Ranger set in Moab, UT (starring Johnny Depp, they wrapped up finished two days before I arrived, part of the set was still there), and Kanab, UT, where countless Westerns were filmed from the 1920s until the 1970s.
  • 4 - Number of friends visited on the trip, sort of.  I met up with Ashley in San Diego, Sam drove with me for two weeks and went to dinner with Ciao in Seattle.  We also stayed with my friend's daughters in Seattle.
  • $3.99 - Highest gas price paid in Eureka, CA
  • $3.39 - Lowest gas price paid in Florence, OR (and they pump the gas too)
  • 1 - Number of times I set an alarm (to go white water rafting)
  • 1 - Number of times I was pulled over for speeding
  • 0 - Number of times I was ticketed for speeding!

Finally, in addition to looking for license plates for every state, Sam and I also created our own roadtrip scavenger hunt.  When we left San Francisco, we wrote down the following list and searched the rest of the trip to find the items.  The list is below.  All items that are crossed out were found.  Note that all animals were found outside zoos except llamas.
  • Horse and Buggy
  • Giant piece of fruit
  • Customized Car
  • Double Roadkill (two roadkill in a short span)
  • Hot hitchhiker
  • Llamas
  • Bears
  • Moose
  • Elk
  • Wildfire
  • Native American in Native American costume
  • Totem Pole
  • Earthquake
  • Bald Eagle
A few final notes about the trip.  

First, there are many things that make the United States of America fantastic, but one of the amazing things about our country is our infrastructure.  Say what you want about bureaucracy and politicians and everything else, I traveled for twenty-eight days on absolutely pristine highways.  After living in Belize for two years, I can no longer overlook how amazing our roads are.  Throughout the trip, I kept seeing signs that said "rough road" and I would brace myself for the upcoming jolt, which never came.  In America, we take these things for granted, but I truly appreciated the roads and bridges on this trip.  

Moreover, I was not driving the interstate the whole way.  I spent as much time as possible on the two lane highways of America.  These roads and bridges cut through some of the most rugged terrain in the world.  They hug the coast, cross over mountains, span canyons and rivers, tunnel through mountains.  And every road I traveled was in practically perfect condition.  

Second, I think I saw more foreign tourists on this trip than American tourists.  That didn't surprise me in the cities, but it surprised me in the national parks.  Places like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Park are not easy to reach, especially for international travelers.  Most of these places are at least a day's drive from any major international airport.  Yet, I heard Italian, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish (although not as much as you'd expect), French, Russian (Sam and I helped a Russian hotel heiress get a taxi from the Golden Gate Bridge), Greek, Portuguese, and Hindi.  (At least I think it was Hindi, it was an Indian language.)  I've met many foreigners outside the U.S. and never really heard them exclaim that they wanted to visit the national parks in the U.S. (except the Grand Canyon), but I am glad to see that so many are making the worthwhile trek to this part of America.

Third, I had fantastic weather on this trip.  With the exception of Las Vegas, I don't think I had any daytime temperature go over 100 degrees.  While the rest of the country was sweltering in a massive heatwave, I was a bit chilly on the Pacific.  When we moved east away from the coast, the heatwave broke by a day or two in front of us.  Everywhere I went, locals remarked on the fantastic weather.  I stayed dry, too.  The big storm had always just passed us by.  The first rain on the whole trip hit while drove through Yellowstone and continued off and on for three days, but that was it.  It never even rained in Seattle.  I couldn't have asked for better weather (although it could have been a bit warmer in San Francisco).

Finally, the late sunsets keep messing with my internal clock.  For two years in Belize, I got used to the sun setting early.  Everyday, it was dark by no later than 7.  (Belize does not observe daylight savings time, so it observes mountain time during the summer even though it is further east than St. Louis).  So, when I arrive in California and it stays light until after 9, it begins messing with my head just a bit.  I found myself eating later meals and unable to sleep before midnight simply because I needed "night" time to relax before bed. I know I will get used to the late sunsets in no time, but for the past month it has been freaking me out.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff Al -just bummed my West Coast legs in LA, LV and Seattle didn't match your schedule.